A Sour Battle in Lago Agrio: The Judicial Protection of the Environment and Indigenous Rights in Ecuador

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:10 PM
Room: Booth 59
Oral Presentation
Manuel GOMEZ , Florida International University
Since at least the 1990s, representatives from several Ecuadorean indigenous communities have sought to obtain redress for an environmental disaster attributed to a consortium of oil concessionaries that operated in the Lago Agrio oil field of the Ecuadorean Amazon between 1964 and 1990. The alleged harm includes an unprecedented environmental degradation, and all sorts of health-related injuries to the inhabitants of those communities. The legal battle comprises a complex web of court, arbitration -both investment and commercial- and administrative proceedings in Ecuador, the US -where more than twenty courts and several administrative agencies are involved. Legal remedies have also been pursued in other countries. The centerpiece of this gargantuan battle, however, is an $18.2 billion judgment issued by an Ecuadorean court in early 2011 against Chevron. This judgment is the largest and most complex award rendered against a multinational oil company in Ecuador, and perhaps in the entire region. The Chevron saga has rekindled an interesting debate on the development of mechanisms for the protection of diffuse rights involving the environment, indigenous peoples, and human rights in general; the role of the courts in supervising compliance with judicial remedies, and their engagement in activities that go beyond their traditional role as simple adjudicators; and the role of privately-formed entities in the administration and supervision of monetary awards. My presentation will address these issues insofar they contribute to help understanding the current landscape of environmental and indigenous rights litigation in Latin America, and the interplay between the social, economic, and political factors in the development of large-scale litigation.