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Beware: you are being recruited for a war--a deeply unjust war. It isn't fought with guns or bombs, but the consequences are no less dire. What is at stake is nothing less than the well-being of the nascent seed of international justice and the future of sustainable development in impoverished countries worldwide.

In 1964, Texpet entered into an "oil concession" with the government of Ecuador, in which Texpet was the minority shareholder and operator. Upon termination of the concession in 1992, Texpet conducted a $40 million environmental remediation campaign that was validated by independent laboratories and approved by Ecuador's government. The government then granted Texpet release from any remaining liability related to the consortium's operations.

Chevron (which acquired Texpet in 2001) is now being sued for $27 billion — 60 times Texpet's total earnings from the concession — for alleged environmental damage and illnesses resulting from the drilling operations. 

"Crude" is a documentary which attempts to reframe the story as a David vs. Goliath battle of indigenous tribal Amazonians versus a greedy, ruthless multinational corporation. It was showcased at Brown on Oct. 3 by the Amazon Defense Coalition and Esperanza International, two non-governmental organizations who hope to cash in on damages attributed to Chevron. Why do they bother trying to win over Brown students' hearts and minds? Because they know their case has no chance in a court of law.

For starters, the case is not fought by the indigenous people of the area, but by a contingency-fee attorney from the Upper West Side of Manhattan.     

The case was unapologetically filed ex post facto, under a law passed seven years after the concession was lawfully terminated. The NGOs propagating "Crude" would have us indefinitely delay the rule of law in underdeveloped countries in favor of knee-jerk reactions to transfer money from successful corporations to the poor.

Why should we care? If governments allow the invalidation of contracts they were a party to, the resulting legal volatility will deter any venture from developing capital-intensive infrastructure or introducing modern services to those who desperately need them.

Experts have concluded that there is no significant risk to human health at the remediated well sites. There has been no increased risk of cancer in or around the affected area and water samples met U.S. EPA and World Health Organization standards for hydrocarbons and metals. Why, then, is ill-health so prevalent amongst the indigenous tribes? The answer is simple: 90 out of 100 water samples contain dangerous quantities of human and animal waste.

The locales shown in "Crude" were filmed in areas that PetroEcuador, the government oil company, has been operating since the end of the concession. PetroEcuador has a long and well-documented history of environmental irresponsibility. Taking samples from these areas and blaming Texaco is akin to your current landlord calling you sixteen years after you moved out and demanding you pay a fine for a mess that subsequent tenants left behind.

This PR war is fought with misleading photography (transport a little girl in front of PetroEcuador oil, press "record"), insidious misnomers ("The Amazon Chernobyl") and shocking insinuations.

To wit: The Ecuadorean frontman for the plaintiff, Pablo Fajardo, repeatedly implies that Chevron murdered his brother and ominously intones that the incident has "never been investigated." In truth, Wilson Fajardo's death was investigated by the police, and the three local men responsible were identified.

The presiding judge recently recused himself after video evidence showed him soliciting bribes on the order of millions of dollars, acknowledging that the verdict has been pre-ordained and explaining how damages paid would end up in the hands of the government — which would use the cash windfall to drill more.

The plaintiff's case is hopeless. The Amazon Defense Coalition is clinging to "Crude" as a last ditch effort to embarrass Chevron into paying a handsome settlement.

Why are we Brown students so willing to abandon our critical faculties and jump to their aid? Because the way this story has been packaged, as that of a successful, evil capitalist company in a legal battle with exploited "underdog" indigenous people, fits into a baseless Manichean narrative that decides the issue for most people before the facts are ever heard.

When the CIA came to recruit at Brown, students writhed around in pools of fake blood to protest. When "Crude" came to do the same, students sat and imbibed two hours of contemptible propaganda.

Though less visible to the naked eye, the costs of complacent sanctimony are dear. I ask that we defy the temptation to indulge in uncritical self-righteousness, and search for truth and justice in places where our political inclinations tell us not to look.


Will Wray '10 is not (yet) employed by Big Oil.




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