Debra J. Saunders

For starters, Chevron execs can argue that Petroecuador owns the pits and that Ecuador should have cleaned up the mess years ago. And rightly so. They can point to a similar but separate lawsuit against Chevron, which a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed because the attorneys for those Ecuadoran plaintiffs "manufactured" cancer claims.

But the main reason why Chevron can't settle is that any deal it makes with the villagers of Lago Agrio could only serve to encourage more lawsuits.

Indeed, when I asked Amazon Watch's Anderson if other Ecuadorans should sue Chevron if the corporation reaches a settlement with the Lago Agrio residents, he would not answer yes or no. He said, "We think that Chevron is entirely responsible for environmental disaster and the human rights problems in Ecuador." Which sounds like: Yes.

And that certainly lets Petroecuador and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa off the hook, doesn't it? His government can fail to clean up oil waste, fail to clean up drinking water, and human rights groups blame a company that left the country two decades ago.

The villagers must figure that they stand to make out better with a foreign big bad oil company than with their own elected government.

In December, Ecuador defaulted on its foreign debt -- which Correa called "immoral and illegitimate."

With Correa's track record for not honoring his country's obligations, and not honoring its agreement with Texaco, Chevron's Robertson asked, "How do you get a government that has a track record of not honoring contracts to honor contracts?"

It's been my experience that large corporations prefer settling lawsuits that make them look bad. And Chevron does not look good when spokesmen make claims like this one from Robertson: "The idea that oil is making people sick is something that has yet to be substantiated." Chevron argues that fecal matter and bacteria have poisoned the water. Maybe, but even if you boiled it for days, you couldn't get me to drink that stuff.

Still, I have to agree with Robertson's point that if Chevron loses, then "You're going to have American companies that are getting taken to the cleaners over and over again not on the basis of evidence, but on the basis of emotion and populism and near-term political gain."

Debra J. Saunders

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