US: Protesters await Chevron meeting

Publisher Name: 
Houston Chronicle

When
Chevron Corp. shareholders gather Wednesday morning in the company's
suburban San Ramon headquarters for their annual meeting, the
protesters will be waiting.

Inside the meeting,
the company's executives will discuss the company's profits, its
operations, its prospects for finding more oil. Outside, activists will
try to hold Chevron to task for environmental and political issues from
Ecuador to Nigeria, Richmond, Calif., to Kazakhstan.

A coalition of
environmental and human rights groups offered a preview Tuesday when
they released their own alternate annual report for Chevron. Dubbed
"The True Cost of Chevron" and mimicking the company's own glossy
publications, the report compiles a litany of complaints about
Chevron's record around the world.

It accuses the
company of polluting the Amazon, Canada, Kazakhstan and Richmond, as
well as collaborating with repressive regimes in Burma and Nigeria.

"The problems in
Burma, in Nigeria, in Richmond are the same - it's the problem of a
company out of control," said Paul Donowitz, a campaign coordinator for
EarthRights International.

Chevron considers
the alternate annual report, and the protesters, to be part of a
campaign to pressure the company into settling a landmark court case in
Ecuador.

The long-running
lawsuit alleges that Texaco contaminated part of the Ecuadoran Amazon
between 1964 and 1992 and did a shoddy job of cleaning up afterward,
leaving polluted soil, polluted water and a sick population.

Chevron inherited
the suit when it bought Texaco in 2001, and contends that the company
fulfilled its cleanup contract with the Ecuadoran government, whose
state-run oil company continues to pump crude there. "Our position is
those claims are based on fabricated evidence and supported by a gross
manipulation of that country's judicial system," said Chevron spokesman
Don Campbell. "I would say that these tactics are defamatory to the
60,000 employees of Chevron."

The Ecuador lawsuit
could finally wrap up this year . Chevron executives have become
increasingly pessimistic about the trial, claiming that Ecuadoran
President Rafael Correa is trying to tilt the outcome in favor of the
plaintiffs. And while Chevron vehemently disputes the number, a
court-appointed expert has estimated that Chevron should pay $27
billion in damages and cleanup costs.

"The (shareholder)
meeting is happening in a different context than before. The case is in
a different place," said Luis Yanza, a community organizer in Ecuador
who last year won the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work on the
case. "Management is hiding from its shareholders the true state of
what's happening in Ecuador. And in the meeting, we're going to
reinforce this truth."

Yanza and several
other Chevron opponents plan to speak at the meeting. They will urge
shareholders to vote for a resolution that would force the company to
disclose how it asses the adequacy of environmental and health laws in
host countries.

Lots of spin by both sides

In the last week,
both sides of the Ecuador dispute have fired off pre-emptory letters to
shareholders. Advocates for the Ecuadorans claim the company has misled
shareholders about the case's potential risk to the bottom line, while
the company has accused the plaintiffs of skewing facts to spook
investors.

The statements of both sides have, at times, included heavy doses of spin.

The nonprofit group
Amazon Watch, for example, says Chevron is under a fraud investigation
by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to determine if the
company misled investors about its liability in Ecuador.

The group bases
that statement, however, on a letter Cuomo sent to Chevron earlier this
month that raised questions about the case and demanded information but
did not mention a full investigation.

Focus of documentary

Campbell said
Chevron has already sent Cuomo the requested information and has no
indication a larger investigation is under way. Cuomo's office did not
return a call for clarification on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Chevron
told shareholders last week that the company was not allowed to observe
the work of the Ecuadoran court expert who came up with the $27 billion
damage estimate. But a scene in a new documentary on the case, Crude,
shows one of Chevron's lawyers out in the field with the expert,
Richard Cabrera, offering suggestions on how he should proceed.

Chevron media
adviser James Craig said Tuesday that the company did, in fact, observe
some of Cabrera's field trips, but later learned that he had taken many
contamination samples without alerting Chevron and giving its lawyers
the chance to accompany him.

AMP Section Name:Energy