Decades of Fighting the Good Fight
The Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía, popularly known as the FDA for its Spanish acronym, is the grassroots organization in Ecuador's northern Amazon region that has won global praise for spearheading the historic environmental litigation (known as Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco) and social justice campaign against Chevron since the early 1990s.
In 2011, after eighteen years of intense litigation that saw Chevron use 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers and spend more money than any corporate defendant in history, the affected communities and the FDA won a dramatic court victory after an eight-year trial in the venue (Ecuador) where Chevron insisted the trial take place and where it had accepted jurisdiction.
The FDA is one of the leading citizen-based activist groups in Ecuador and is known throughout Latin American for its historic accomplishments, largely because of the success of the Aguinda case.
The Historic Victory
After finding at trial that Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic “formation waters” into indigenous ancestral waterways in the Amazon and abandoned roughly 1,000 toxic waste pits, the Ecuador court ordered the company to pay compensation for a comprehensive environmental remediation in the amount of US $9.5 billion. This is still considered the largest damages assessment in an environmental case from a trial in history.
The judgment against Chevron was affirmed unanimously in 2013 by Ecuador's highest court, the National Court of Justice.
Because Chevron had sold off its assets in Ecuador during the trial and had vowed never to pay the judgment, the damages liability is now being enforced under the FDA's leadership against the company's assets in Canada. Chevron has an estimated $15 billion to $25 billion worth of assets in Canada, making collection of the full amount of the judgment entirely realistic. Notably, Canada's Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Chevron after it tried to block the communities from proceeding with their enforcement action.
Why the FDA Keeps Fighting and What We Hope to Win
The FDA's goal is to hold Chevron responsible for its contamination of the Amazon and force the company to pay the full $9.5 billion judgment, plus interest and costs, as ordered by Ecuador's courts and then to facilitate the grassroots effort by indigenous groups and farmer communities to carry out an extensive remediation of the damage. Any environmental remediation, given the magnitude of the damage and the delicate nature of the Amazon ecosystem, is expected to take at least ten years to complete.
The FDA is the only original plaintiff in the case and is now the sole beneficiary of the judgment against Chevron. The FDA is also the sole financier of the litigation and maintains many relationships in that regard with supporters around the world, including with its long-time U.S. legal advisors, Steven Donziger and Aaron Page, and its Canadian counsels, Alan Lenczner and Peter Grant.
The FDA is currently engaged in the following initiatives:
- Representing the interests of Los Afectados in the ongoing Aguinda v. Chevron litigation;
- Capacity building to foster a new generation of leaders in local communities to expand community support networks;
- Environmental monitoring to prevent contamination caused by petroleum companies and other extractive industries;
- Defending the rights of the communities affected by petroleum, agricultural, and mining contamination; and
- Providing potable water to the families most severely affected by contamination and fighting for the recognition of clean water for human consumption as a basic human right.