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Chevron Pollution Case Twist: Ecuadorians Back Away From Their American Lawyer

Employees of state-owned Petroecuador working to clean up a 30-year-old oil spill at the Rumipamba commune in the province of Orellana, Amazonia in 2011
Employees of state-owned Petroecuador working to clean up a 30-year-old oil spill at the Rumipamba commune in the province of Orellana, Amazonia in 2011Photograph by Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images

Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya people in the Ecuadorian rainforest, traveled a great distance to testify yesterday on behalf of Steven Donziger, the embattled New York plaintiffs’ attorney targeted by Chevron. Piaguaje took the witness stand in federal court in Lower Manhattan wearing a traditional crimson tunic, long strings of beads, and a multi-hued, disk-shaped headdress. Speaking via a translator, he demanded that Chevron clean up widespread pollution in his home region in northeastern Ecuador.

All this was to be expected on the final day of testimony in Chevron’s six-week civil-racketeering suit against Donziger. The company has accused the plaintiffs’ lawyer of using fabricated evidence and bribes to secure a $19 billion verdict against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court. What wasn’t expected yesterday was Piaguaje’s testimony that he and the other indigenous Ecuadorians represented by Donziger for two decades had limited the American’s role as their lawyer last January, in part, because they believed he had failed to account adequately for some $25 million he raised in their name to fight Chevron.