Myth 3: The judicial system in Ecuador is fair and independent
The judicial system in Ecuador is not fair and is far from independent.
Since assuming office in January 2007, President Correa has consolidated his power over all of Ecuador, including its political, financial, and media institutions:
Correa consolidated political power when the Constituent Assembly, which is dominated by his political party, Alianza PAIS, drafted a new constitution, dissolved the National Congress and announced that its decisions were superior to any other ruling by the judicial system.
He threatened that “[j]udges and tribunals that process any action contrary to the decisions of the Constituent Assembly shall be dismissed from their post and subject to corresponding prosecution” and has since made clear that this threat extends to judges that rule against state interests.
Correa claims that the “Executive Branch [can] exert pressure on the Judicial Branch to get the courts to “respond to the needs of the country” and that, as President, he “is not only the leader of the Executive Branch [but] of the entire State and the State is made up of the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial branches.”
Correa has also cancelled foreign corporations’ contracts and seized their assets while simultaneously foreclosing their possibilities for a fair resolution of the disputes by rejecting the jurisdiction of international arbitral tribunals and refusing to comply with their orders. He has also taken steps to control the media, which Correa considers “a corrupt instrument of the oligarchy” and the main “enemy of change,” including threatening to revoke hundreds of radio and television licenses because of alleged “irregularities.”
There is evidence going back to previous administrations that the lawyers representing the Lago Agrio plaintiffs and the Government of Ecuador are working together to ensure a verdict against Chevron in the Lago Agrio lawsuit. The Correa Administration has maintained and furthered this arrangement, converting the lawsuit against Chevron from a legal matter to a political cause.
The Government of Ecuador could benefit greatly from a decision against Chevron, which would absolve it of its own remediation obligations and result in the transfer of an enormous amount of money to Ecuador (the proposed $27 billion judgment would represent half of Ecuador’s GDP). Politically, the Lago Agrio case diverts attention and responsibility for environmental conditions away from Petroecuador and allows Correa to blame all social ills in the Oriente on Chevron.
Correa has publicly prejudged Chevron’s liability in the ongoing case, even taking the unfounded and highly offensive position that Texaco Petroleum was guilty of “crimes against humanity.” Ecuador’s Attorney General confirmed that “the Correa administration’s position in this case is clear: ‘The pollution is the result of Chevron’s actions and not of Petroecuador.’”
Correa has thrown the support of the Government behind the plaintiffs, even offering them “assistance in gathering evidence” against Chevron. In April 2007, just months after assuming office, President Correa took a media tour of the Amazon accompanied by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and representatives, calling plaintiffs’ attorney Pablo Fajardo and Amazon Defense Coalition leader Luis Yanza “real heroes…who have fought for years for their people, their Amazon.” He has also repeatedly referred to Fajardo and Yanza in Ecuador’s national press as “our compañeros” (“comrades”) and his “dear friend[s].”
Correa has called on Ecuador’s Prosecutor General to initiate criminal prosecution against the Chevron attorneys who signed the settlement and release agreements on behalf of Texaco Petroleum. Two previous Prosecutor Generals serving the Correa Administration, called for the criminal charges to be dismissed on three separate occasions. However, the next appointee, Washington Pesántez, then issued baseless indictments despite three earlier opinions that charges be dropped, without pointing to any new evidence, and notwithstanding his earlier opinion, as a District Prosecutor, that found no evidence to support the criminal charges and affirmed the recommendation to dismiss the criminal complaint.
Recently, Correa’s legal advisor, Alex Mera, and Correa’s sister, Pierina, were implicated in a $3 million bribery scheme aimed at guaranteeing remediation contracts that would result from a verdict against Chevron by one of the scheme’s organizers, Patricio García, who stated that he was a political operative for the ruling Alianza PAIS party. García also stated during one of the videotaped meetings that executive-branch lawyers would be sent to Lago Agrio to help Judge Núñez (who was also implicated in the scheme) draft his opinion.
Correa confirmed his alliance with the plaintiffs again after the bribery scheme was revealed, stating unequivocally “[o]f course I want our indigenous companions to win.” And as further proof of the Government’s control over the judicial process, despite repeated claims that the Government has no role in the litigation, Prosecutor General Washington Pesántez announced that he asked Judge Núñez to excuse himself from continuing in the process in order to “ensure that the ruling will not be delayed any longer” and so as not to allow Chevron “to avoid paying the compensation we believe is more than fair because it caused a lot of damage in our country.” Pesántez then confirmed the estimate that “90% [of any judgment against Chevron] would be delivered to the State for remediation and bio-remediation activities.”