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Proposed large-scale mining is raising concerns among residents of remote communities in Ecuador.  Copper mining is underway, new mines are proposed, and citizens fear their voices will not be heard.

Workshop participants.

“They lack information they can trust,” says Meche Lu, ELAW Staff Scientist, “They need information and they want to participate in the decision-making processes.”

Earlier this month, Meche traveled to remote regions of Ecuador to participate in workshops for community leaders and residents seeking information about the real impacts of mining and how to review Environmental Impact Assessments for proposed projects.

“Large scale metal mining is proposed in areas with high rainfall and rugged terrain,” says Meche. “This poses substantial risk of soil erosion, water pollution, and acid mine drainage.  The biggest local concern is acid mine drainage.”

Mining operations are proposed for Ecuador’s sub-tropical Andes in fragile ecosystems such as the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve, home to the endangered spectacled bear and jaguar. Subsistence farmers and indigenous peoples here support themselves growing coffee, fruit, and sugarcane. They have been fighting gold and copper mining for years.

ELAW is pleased to work with local partners at ECOLEX to help the people of Ecuador understand their legal rights and make their voices heard about short-sighted mining projects.

We will keep you informed of our progress!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

The New York Times and media around the world are reporting on the court decision ordering Chevron to pay $9 billion in damages for polluting remote areas of Ecuadorean jungle.  The decision was announced on Monday by Judge Nicolás Zambrano in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

Pablo Fajardo

ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has fought a long, hard battle to win this victory against oil giant Chevron.  I am thrilled that ELAW has been able to help Pablo with legal and scientific support.  Pablo traveled to Eugene for an ELAW Fellowship in 2009.  Over his three months in Eugene, he was able to gain valuable skills and all of us at ELAW in Eugene, Oregon, enjoyed working with Pablo.  He has boundless courage and speaks truth to power.

When Pablo announced his victory on the ELAW network, people all over the world joined in the celebration.  Through the ELAW network, Pablo has received heartfelt congratulations from colleagues in more than 20 countries.  His victory is inspiring ELAW advocates all over the world, at the same time ELAW advocates are rallying in solidarity with Pablo.

This court decision from Ecuador is a huge step forward, but the struggle for justice is far from over.  As Pablo continues onward and upward, the ELAW network will be supporting him every step of the way.

Bern Johnson
Executive Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide

crude the movieCRUDE: The Real Price of Oil opened in New York.  This film documents the fight by ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo and others to remediate the damage done to their community members and the environment in northern Ecuador.  CRUDE shows the damage done by ChevronTexaco over the last 30+ years and the community’s efforts to receive justice.

The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott had this to say:

“Too many filmmakers seem to think that a noble cause, a good heart and a digital video camera are all that is required for an effective documentary. Luckily, Mr. Berlinger has both a strong narrative instinct and a keen eye for incongruous, evocative and powerful images.”  Read the entire review here.

CRUDE opens in other cities around the country over the next few weeks.  The schedule is on the film’s website:

I always love stories that start with Once Upon A Time.

So, I’m going to start this one that way…

Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in northeastern Ecuador. His name was Pablo Fajardo. He cherished his community and the beauty of the surrounding Amazon rainforest. But when he saw his neighbors’ livestock dying as the result of falling into petroleum pits and saw nearby streams oozing with oily sludge, he knew  something was wrong, and he vowed to do something about it.

He was only 16.Pablo Weekly cover

He became a leader of his community and begged the government to act to clean up the mess and help his neighbors who were getting sick from drinking and bathing in the polluted waters.  Officials told him that the only way to get results was to hire a lawyer.  He looked around but did not find one lawyer who could or would help.

So he looked in the mirror.  And then, as soon as he could, he went to law school.

Twenty years later, Pablo is still fighting to protect communities from devastation caused by oil extraction in Ecuador that began before he was born.

The current Eugene Weekly has Pablo on the cover, and reporter Camilla Mortensen does a fabulous job of telling his story and detailing the controversy surrounding the destruction of the Ecuadorean Amazon.  Read it here.

Pablo is going to tell some of the story and show documentary footage at a fundraising event for ELAW on August 27th at the Lord Leebrick Theater in Eugene.  More details on the ELAW website.  We hope you will come to hear more about Pablo’s world and what can be done to make it right so that his community can live (you saw this coming, right?) happily ever after.

Rita Radostitz

Director of Philanthropy

crude_reflectionsThis  summer, I have the privilege of sharing my office with ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo who is in Eugene to attend the American English Institute and consult with ELAW staff.  The other day,  Pablo showed me his copy of the book Crude Reflections — an amazing photographic essay documenting the people behind the lawsuit that he is leading against ChevronTexaco on behalf of 30,000 indigenous people in Ecuador.  I was struck not only by the environmental devastation but also by the cancer and other illnesses among the people living in the area.

The people’s suffering is horrifying.  The photographs in this book are difficult to look at — but the captions are even worse:  they chronicle case upon case of stomach cancer, ovarian and uterine cancer, and mis-formed limbs  — especially noticeable is the impact on the women and children.

I asked Pablo, Why?

He pointed to a photograph of a group of women and girls standing in the water, washing their clothes.  “They stand for hours, every day in that water” he said.  “Then, the cancer.”

(c) Lou Dematteis

Luz Maria Marin holds the head of her husband Angel Toala one day before he died of stomach cancer in his home in Shushufindi. (c) Lou Dematteis

The lawsuit is ongoing in Ecuadorean courts.  But ChevronTexaco says that even if it loses in Ecuador, it will turn to U.S. courts to avoid paying damages to people in Ecuador.

Pablo told me that his children are interested in becoming lawyers like him.  Why?  “So that they can be there to enforce the judgment.”  That’s how long, he says,  it might take for any judgment to be enforced.

“Ye gads” I thought — how long will these Ecuadorian people have to wait for justice?  And how many more women will die of uterine cancer, how many more children will be born with birth defects, how many more fathers won’t live to see their children grow up before the toxic contamination is cleaned up?  It is an outrage.

Sitting next to this amazing man (whose back story is fascinating — I can’t do it justice here, but you can read more about him in Vanity Fair) for the summer, I am again grateful that there are people like him who dedicate their lives to protecting their communities from environmental disasters.

We hope that the people of the Ecuadorean Amazon will soon get the justice they deserve, and the land will be cleaned up before more generations suffer the consequences of the toxic contamination.

by Rita Radostitz

Pablo Fajardo  photo by John Antonellism

Pablo Fajardo photo by John Antonelli

ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo is a fearless fighter who is working with the people of  Ecuador to protect the Amazon rain forest.

NPR featured Pablo in a story on Morning Edition:

The plaintiffs say Texaco, in 18 years of full-scale production, also dumped wastewater into rivers and that pipeline breaks spilled 17 million gallons of oil.

Pablo Fajardo, a 36-year-old lawyer, leads the plaintiffs’ team. He grew up poor in the area; this is his first legal case.

Fajardo says his side has proved there was damage, that Chevron was responsible and that the company should pay.

You can listen to the whole story here: NPR story about Pablo Fajardo or read about it on their website.

UPDATE:   60 Minutes will air “Amazon Crude” on Sunday May 3, 2009 — featuring the legal case to protect communities in the Amazon from polluting oil companies.  We’ll try to post the video when it becomes available.

ELAW has the privilege of working with amazing people all over the world who take on corporations and governments to secure environmental justice for their communities. Many of our partners are fighting classic “David v. Goliath” battles — they are taking on the giants.

Pablo Fajardo  photo by John Antonellism

Pablo Fajardo --- photo by John Antonelli

ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo is a David among Davids. He has taken on one of the largest corporations in the world – and he is winning. Of course, he is not doing it alone, but Pablo’s interminable will and work ethic has turned a case brought by a group of indigenous people in Ecuador into one of the most watched environmental cases in the world. (The lawsuit seeks to hold Texaco/Chevron accountable for oil extraction operations that destroyed portions of the Ecuadorian rain forest and created myriad health problems for the people living in the area.)

Pablo explained his philosophy to a Vanity Fair writer:
One of the problems with modern society is that it places more importance on things that have a price than on things that have a value. Breathing clean air, for instance, or having clean water in the rivers, or having legal rights—these are things that don’t have a price but have a huge value. Oil does have a price, but its value is much less.” (read the whole Vanity Fair profile here. )

For his work, Pablo won the prestigious environmental Goldman Prize in 2008. He will travel to Eugene for the 2009 ELAW Annual Meeting. He will also give a keynote address at the 27th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon.

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