"We don't want to continue dying from cancer."
This is the message that Emergildo Criollo, leader of the indigenous Cofan tribe in Ecuador's Amazon region, is sending to John Watson, the new CEO of Chevron, in a new video.
Just days into Mr. Watson's tenure as Chairman and CEO of California-based Chevron Corporation, the affected communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon have recorded a heartfelt video message, in which they appeal directly to Watson to visit Ecuador, and address the oil company's toxic legacy.
The powerful video message accompanies the launch of a global petition driven by Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign (yes, I'm an organizer with the campaign). The petition supports the communities' demands for clean-up of the contamination, compensation for health and environmental impacts, and access to health care and potable water for the affected people. You can sign the petition here: www.ChevronToxico.com.
In the video, several different men and women, young and old, indigenous to the region and more recent settlers, address Mr. Watson directly, appealing to him to "do whatever you can to find a solution, to remediate, clean up, and restore the areas affected by your company.
Servio Curipoma, a campesino from the village of San Carlos, sheds tears as he describes how his father died of cancer on the very same day that his son was born. Servio also lost his mother and sister to cancer, and believes he may have developed cancer himself, but is afraid to be tested.
After more than 16 years, a verdict is expected in the lawsuit against the company over the next few months. But as I've written about before here, Chevron is still waging an aggressive lobbying and PR campaign to evade responsibility, and says it won't pay even if ordered to do so in court. One company spokesman has promised a "lifetime of litigation." Another told a reporter, "We're going to fight this until hell freezes over, and then we'll fight it out on the ice."
In the video, Mariana Jimenez, whose children have suffered recurring illnesses for years, says, "we're hoping for a rational person," and invites Mr. Watson to visit the region assuring him, "you'll be received well here in Ecuador."
John Watson knows the company's brand name and reputation are increasingly under fire for its refusal to rectify the human rights and environmental disaster experts call the "Amazon Chernobyl." But in a talk to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a couple months before becoming CEO, Watson toed the company line.
In an open letter to Mr. Watson posted here, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, Atossa Soltani expresses the hope that as new Chairman and CEO, John Watson will take a new approach to the crisis in Ecuador and finally do the right thing.
The people sending their message from the Amazon are hoping for the same thing, and for them, the stakes could hardly be higher.
At this point, it's hard to tell if Mr. Watson could be the "rational person" they are hoping for. Please sign the petition and encourage Mr. Watson to come to his senses.
Follow Han Shan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/coldmtn