The gripping story of one American lawyer’s obsessive crusade—waged at any cost—against Big Oil on behalf of the poor farmers and indigenous tribes of the Amazon rainforest.
Steven Donziger, a self-styled social activist and Harvard educated lawyer, signed on to a budding class action lawsuit against multinational Texaco (which later merged with Chevron to become the third-largest corporation in America). The suit sought reparations for the Ecuadorian peasants and tribes people whose lives were affected by decades of oil production near their villages and fields. During twenty years of legal hostilities in federal courts in Manhattan and remote provincial tribunals in the Ecuadorian jungle, Donziger and Chevron’s lawyers followed fierce no-holds-barred rules. Donziger, a larger-than-life, loud-mouthed showman, proved himself a master orchestrator of the media, Hollywood, and public opinion. He cajoled and coerced Ecuadorian judges on the theory that his noble ends justified any means of persuasion. And in the end, he won an unlikely victory, a $19 billion judgment against Chevon–the biggest environmental damages award in history. But the company refused to surrender or compromise. Instead, Chevron targeted Donziger personally, and its counter-attack revealed damning evidence of his politicking and manipulation of evidence. Suddenly the verdict, and decades of Donziger’s single-minded pursuit of the case, began to unravel.
Written with the texture and flair of the best narrative nonfiction, Law of the Jungle is an unputdownable story in which there are countless victims, a vast region of ruined rivers and polluted rainforest, but very few heroes.
“Irresistable…a true-life, courtroom version of Heart of Darkness.”
“In a story possessing ‘no shortage of knaves and villains,’ Barrett skillfully weighs the ethics of both Donziger and Chevron and finds them wanting.”
“This chilling account of the bruising, bare-knuckled conflict between a deeply flawed do-gooder and a well-oiled legal steamrolling machine should give pause to anyone who believes that justice always prevails. Barrett brilliantly shows that in the real world, the law of the jungle—an oxymoron if there ever was one—trumps the rule of law.”
—Alan Dershowitz, professor, Harvard Law School, and author, Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law
“Law of the Jungle is a riveting piece of storytelling. The environmental insults make you furious and your heart breaks for the people whose ways of life are violated—but what happens after that challenges your beliefs about fairness and justice….This isn’t a simple David and Goliath story; it’s an engaging passion play that unfolds from the Ecuadorian jungles to the courtrooms of New York.”
—David Yarnold, President & CEO, National Audubon Society
“Paul Barrett’s Law of the Jungle is a cautionary tale — a deeply reported, well-written reminder that to be credible and effective, the fight against environmental misconduct must be waged within the rule of law. Our legal system can be a powerful force for environmental progress, but its rules have to be respected.”
—Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund
“This smart and gripping book by a first-class investigative journalist teaches a vital lesson that everyone who cares about business and the American economy needs to understand: When confronted with fraudulent courtroom shakedowns, corporations must fight back as Chevron did.”
—Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric and bestselling author of Winning
“Paul Barrett’s Law of the Jungle is the inside story of the international trial of the decade—a high stakes fight over oil, blood and money and a protagonist who is as fascinating as he is perplexing.”
—Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Oath and the Nine
“An engrossing, captivating account of litigation run amok. Barrett’s comprehensive, detailed book demonstrates all that is wrong with the American litigation system. Required reading for anyone who not only wants to learn more about protracted lawsuits in America but yearns for a page-turning legal thriller. I can’t wait for the movie.”
—Kenneth R. Feinberg, court-appointed special master for compensating victims of the 9/11 attacks, BP oil spill, Virginia Tech massacre, asbestos insulation, Dalkon Shield IUD, and Vietnam defoliant Agent Orange
“Paul Barrett’s Law of the Jungle creates an unforgettable rainbow of lawyers who do indeed live by the Law of the Jungle. You will be intrigued until the last page as to who will survive and your emotions will be struck to ask, who should?”
—Victor Schwartz, general counsel, American Tort Reform Association; partner, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Washington D.C.
“Masterfully written and carefully documented, Law of the Jungle tells the real story behind the historic Chevron oil pollution case, which I saw from the inside as technical consultant and court expert for the rain forest plaintiffs.”
—David L. Russell, P.E., chief executive, Global Environmental Operations Inc.
The lawyer Steven Donziger stepped out onto 104th Street. He looked west toward Riverside Park and east toward Broadway. The dark sedans had been tailing him for at least a month now. They followed him for blocks at a time, slowing when he slowed, stopping when he stopped, their passengers watching his every move.
Donziger lived on a quiet block on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He worked from home, a two-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife, their five-year-old son, and a cocker spaniel. Photographs and artwork from Latin America adorned the apartment. Documents in cardboard boxes surrounded the dining table. In the narrow foyer, stacks of stapled legal filings competed for space with a mud-spattered mountain bike.
On this morning in the spring of 2012, Donziger had wheeled the bicycle down the hall to the elevator and across the marble-floored lobby. Fifty years old, he dressed like a graduate student, in jeans, unironed button-down shirt, and tattered jacket.
“Como estas?” he asked the doorman as they bumped fists.
“Bien, muy bien, senor.”
Then Donziger had emerged from the building and, as was his habit, searched for the dark sedans. Six-foot-four and powerfully built, he would not have been difficult to track. Sometimes, in addition to the cars, he thought he saw men on foot, pretending to peer into store windows if he looked their way.
Donziger began pedaling toward Ocean Grill, a food restaurant where he did business over lunch. As he approached the corner, he glanced over his shoulder in time to see the large car pull out of its parking space and fall in behind him. He didn’t fear actual physical harm. The company was too smart, he thought, to turn him into a martyr. It wanted to distract him, intimidate him.
He despised his corporate foes: their money, their influence, their cynical disrespect for his clients in the Amazonian rain forest of northeastern Ecuador. The company would never willingly pay what it owed. Its lawyers and lobbyists had said as much. Now they were coming after him, making it personal. He’d written down license plate numbers, but the police weren’t interested. Every day people killed each other in New York. What did he expect the police to do about cars that might or might not have been following him?
The surveillance wasn’t his main worry. A year earlier, in February 2011, the company had sued him. The 193-page suit, filed under the federal antiracketeering statute, alleged that he had ginned up fraudulent evidence as part of a conspiracy to extort the company. A federal judge had taken the accusations seriously. The judge forced him to turn over his hard drives, e‑mail, and boxes of documents. Donziger had said some truly dumb things–he admitted that much–and now they were public. His bravado sounded incriminating, he also acknowledged, especially if it was taken out of context. He’d cut a few corners, used tactics they didn’t teach back at Harvard Law School. He could lose his law license. Conceivably, the U.S. Attorney’s Office could bring criminal charges.
The company, as Donziger saw it, fought dirty; he fought back in kind. Slugging it out, he’d pulled off something amazing. His ragtag team had gone to a provincial Ecuadorian courtroom and won a judgment that mighty Texaco had ruined the lives of thousands of farmers and Amazon tribesmen. Because of him, a tiny third-world nation had spoken truth to power. Donziger had pressed the case for nearly twenty years now, beginning as the most junior member of the plaintiffs’ legal team and ultimately rising to field commander. Before going after Texaco (which was acquired in 2001 by Chevron), he’d never brought even a slip-and-fall suit. That he’d survived this long must have shocked the oil company and its lawyers. No wonder they were branding him a racketeer and prying into his personal life.
He was not alone, though. Impressed by the potential for gargantuan legal fees, Patton Boggs, a tough corporate law firm, had joined Donziger. Together, they were seeking liens against refineries, terminals, and tankers worldwide. He’d retained a famous white-collar defense attorney to represent him in the racketeering suit. The Amazon pollution case had been featured on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Bloomberg Businessweek. In 2009, it was the subject of an acclaimed documentary that played at the Sundance Film Festival. A rock star in green-activism circles, Donziger had received support from Bianca Jagger, Sting, and Sting’s wife, the actress Trudie Styler. He had given Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie a private tour of the oil zone in Ecuador.
“I cannot believe what we have accomplished,” Donziger had written in private notes several years earlier, during a flight to Ecuador. “I cannot wait to get off the plane and see my fellow soldiers–often the only people I feel who get me. I want to look in their eyes and see if they understand the enormity of what this team has accomplished.” He had gone toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful multinationals in the world and won the largest pollution verdict in history: $19 billion. That was billion with a “b,” real money by anyone’s standard. If he could survive the vengeful countersuit and collect the judgment, the Ecuador case would, in Donziger’s expansive estimation, create a precedent benefitting “millions of persons victimized by human rights abuses committed by multinational corporations pursuing economic gain.” And it would make him a very wealthy man.
Arriving at the Ocean Grill, he slowed his bicycle. The surveillance sedan–Wait, were there two of them?–kept cruising south. Donziger chained his bike to a NO PARKING sign and shrugged off his backpack. The spy cars disappeared in traffic. He knew they would circle back. They always did.
Six years before he played cat-and-mouse in Manhattan with oil company private eyes, Donziger was headed one cool morning to the Palacio de Justicia in Quito, Ecuador. “We are going down to have a little chat with the judge,” he told the documentary film crew he had invited to follow him. He emphasized the word “chat” in a way that sounded menacing. “This is something you would never do in the United States,” he continued. “But in Ecuador, this is how the game is played. It’s dirty. We have to–occasionally–use pressure tactics to neutralize their corruption, and today is one of those examples.”
Donziger was not an ordinary lawyer. Just out of Harvard Law School, he had worked briefly in a conventional job as a public defender, representing teenagers accused of street crime. But that was a long time ago. The Ecuador oil pollution case had allowed him to grow into what he wanted to be–a human rights advocate, a rabble-rouser, a performance artist with a law degree. Clarence Darrow meets Martin Luther King Jr. meets Abbie Hoffman.
On this day, he aimed to convince an Ecuadorian judge to block Chevron’s attempt to inspect a laboratory Donziger’s team was using to analyze pollution evidence. The company alleged that the lab was incompetent and crooked. Donziger countered that the lab was fine; it was the oil company, he said, that was dishonestly harassing the plaintiffs. As he told the American film crew scrambling to keep up with him, justice in Ecuador often resembled a back-alley brawl.
Donziger and his entourage entered the courthouse and walked down a narrow hallway toward the judge’s office. He had arranged for Ecuadorian television news stations to cover the confrontation. Donziger ushered several cameramen into the judge’s chamber, a cubbyhole space that got so crowded there was no room to turn around. The judge, an elderly bald man, cowered at his desk, blinking behind large eyeglasses. “I sat down in the chair directly in front of the judge,” Donziger later recalled, “where he could smell my breath.”
“I am part of the plaintiffs’ legal team,” Donziger told the judge. The American lawyer wore a charcoal suit with a blue shirt and muted red tie. As a non-Ecuadorian, he did not have the right to speak in court as a lawyer, but technicalities did not deter Donziger. He rose to his feet, drew himself to his full height, and with piercing brown eyes peered down at the judge. “You have to be very careful with the Texaco lawyers,” he began in American-accented Spanish. “They play dirty. They are trying to corrupt a legal process that thirty thousand Ecuadorians are carrying out. They are fighting for their lives.” He repeated: “For their lives.”
The judge was breathing heavily, as if he might have a heart attack.
Donziger cited no Ecuadorian statute or precedent. He invoked only his own ferocious indignation. “They are trying to use you, Your Honor, to do an inspection that is not legal,” he lectured. “Please be careful. Please be very careful.”
The trembling judge announced on the spot that he would suspend the laboratory inspection “in order to study the issue further.” He placed a feeble hand on the sheaf of legal papers on his desk and added: “That’s what I have to offer you.”
At that moment, Diego Larrea, one of the oil company’s lawyers, entered the judge’s office. Larrea had learned belatedly of Donziger’s preemptive strike.
“You’ve suspended the order?” Larrea asked the judge, incredulous. “Your Honor, it must be clear, this is another maneuver.”
Donziger, towering over Larrea, who stood a good six inches shorter, assumed an expression of unrestrained wrath. “This is a corrupt Texaco lawyer!” he bellowed, pointing a long finger at Larrea. In fact, Chevron had subsumed Texaco five years earlier. Chevron paid Larrea’s fees and was the defendant in the litigation. But Texaco had been the oil company active in Ecuador years earlier, and it was Texaco (pronounced locally “Tek-ZAH-ko”) that would resonate with Ecuadorian television viewers.
“Sir,” Larrea said, turning to Donziger and pointing back at him, “you are going to be held responsible for what you say.”
“I take responsibility, sir. You are a corrupt lawyer.” His voice rising theatrically, Donziger repeated the epithet with relish, abogado Tek-ZAH-ko corrupto: “You are a corrupt Texaco lawyer! You are a corrupt lawyer!”
The TV cameras swiveled from combatant to combatant. The judge, unwilling or unable to restore order, reared back from his desk, but there was no place to escape. Finally, a flustered secretary took it upon herself to announce: “This is becoming personal! Step out, please!” The verbal rumble moved to the hallway, TV news and documentary cameras rolling.
Later, Donziger coolly assessed his performance. “Very effective,” he wrote in his notes. “Talk about corruption, talk about how they try to use innocent and good people as vehicles for their own corruption.” He had accomplished his purpose, both in the judge’s office and with Ecuadorian television viewers.
The righteous fury Donziger could summon seemingly at will on behalf of his rain forest clients flowed in equal parts from deeply felt empathy with their plight and his acute thespian instincts. One can genuinely care for the powerless while relishing the role of their protector.
In the personal notes he kept on a laptop comupter, Donziger recalled his first visit to a tribe called the Cofan along the Aguarico River: “When I arrived in the village, I could see the desperation and hope that was being projected onto my presence.” He wondered whether he “could deliver any tangible benefit” to the Indians, “either then or ever.” He hated what he saw as “the desperation in the eyes of the children, and the hollow resignation in the eyes of their parents.”
To honor him, the Cofan children sang traditional story songs for Donziger. Performing without musical accompaniment, the shabbily dressed choir described a time long before their birth when the forest was unspoiled, a common theme of the tribal repertoire. The children performed a dance in Donziger’s honor, dipping their hands in symbolic oil to illustrate what had befallen their culture and the rain forest they lived in and depended on. An elderly woman who sang with the children wore a colorful toucan feather through her nose, the sharpened tip penetrating one nostril, passing through the cartilage, and exiting the other nostril.
Emergildo Criollo, the leader of the Cofan community, initially had mixed feelings about Donziger. He appreciated that the American lawyer had trekked to the remote enclave but found the outsider overwhelming. Donziger spoke too loudly and waved his arms in a manner that made the Indians uneasy. The intricacies of the court proceedings he described eluded the Cofan. But Criollo came to trust him. “He spent time with us,” the tribal leader said. “We saw this gringo lawyer had great passion.”
The chain of events that had brought Donziger to Criollo’s village began more than four decades before the lawyer’s first visit. One day, when Criollo was a boy of six, a helicopter appeared above the treetops. “We were all amazed at the noise it made,” he told me, remembering the remarkable 1964 encounter. “Which type of animal is this that comes flying from so high in the sky?”
Criollo saw the bulbous metal bird disgorge a number of white men in trousers and wide-brimmed hats. At the time, his father was teaching him to use a blow pipe and poison-tipped darts to hunt howler monkeys. The Cofan spoke a local language called A’ingae. A few knew Spanish because of earlier interaction with missionaries and rubber traders, but none of them knew the language spoken by the men from the sky. “We were scared,” Criollo said, “so we hid.”1
The helicopters continued to arrive, delivering other strange machines. “Day and night, they cut the trees. There were explosions and fires. The white men were digging holes.” Criollo and other members of the tribe wondered what they were looking for. He and his father crept to the edge of a clearing the outsiders had carved. “They were eating lunch. They gave us rice. It was the first time we tasted rice, and it was delicious.” The yellow cheese the Indians were given smelled terrible to them, so they threw it into the jungle.
The Cofan lived a relatively isolated existence. They hunted, fished, and grew vegetables, mostly without interference from Hispanic Ecuador. In the late nineteenth century, rubber harvesters and traders had invaded the area and subjected several generations of Indians to brutal debt servitude. The intruders receded and then disappeared during the global depression of the 1930s, giving the Cofan and other tribes several decades of respite before the arrival of the new outsiders seeking oil and sowing fresh disruption. During all this time, the Indians also encountered American Protestant missionaries and Spanish Catholics. The foreign Christians provided machetes, mirrors, and clothing, in addition to Bible lessons. Some Indians went to live at missionary settlements, abandoning villages and straining clan ties.
1 Criollo told me the oilmen were the first Americans he ever encountered. In fact, an American missionary family named Borman had had extensive contact with the Cofan as early as 1955, nine years before Texaco arrived. Given Criollo’s young age at the time of these events, it is not surprising that his chronology is slightly inaccurate.
1. Based on the early chapters of the book, what were your initial impressions of Steven Donziger as a lawyer, an activist, and an individual? In what ways did those impressions change as the story unfolds?
2. What relevance to the larger story, if any, did you see in recounting the episodes earlier in Donziger’s life: when he sets out as a young journalist to cover the civil war in Nicaragua, represents Cuban-immigrant prisoners, stirs controversy while still a student at Harvard Law School, and organizes a mission to postwar Iraq?
3. How would you describe Donziger’s motivations for joining the oil pollution lawsuit against Texaco (later acquired by Chevron)? Do you think his motives and sense of purpose evolved over time?
4. What do you make of the relationship between Cristóbal Bonifaz, the original lead lawyer of the Aguinda suit, and Donziger, the junior attorney who rose to displace Bonifaz?
5. Did the conduct of Texaco in Ecuador from the late 1960s through the early 1990s surprise you? Why or why not?
6. How much culpability do you think Texaco bears for the ecological harm and effect on the health of indigenous tribespeople that accompanied development of oil reserves in the Amazon? What about the Ecuadorian government and their oil company Petroecuador?
7. Did it make sense for Bonifaz and Donziger to sue Texaco (later Chevron) in U.S. courts? Did it seem reasonable or unfair that the U.S. courts ultimately refused to hear the suit and sent it to Ecuador?
8. By his own admission, Donziger adopted a fight-fire-with-fire (or ends-justify-the-means) strategy in battling Chevron in Ecuador. Was he justified in taking this approach? Did his ends, in fact, justify his means? Do you think he could have won the case without crossing ethical lines?
9. Were you convinced that the health problems suffered by the residents of the Oriente region were linked to oil pollution? Is that question even important? Or is it enough that there was extensive pollution accompanied by human suffering to justify legal liability? How would you apportion responsibility for that suffering?
10. Was Chevron justified in turning the tables on Donziger and seeking to make him and his tactics the central issue?
11. Once Chevron lost in the Ecuadorian courts, was the company justified in refusing to pay up? Did the Ecuadorian legal process, as described in Law of the Jungle, strike you as fair? Do you think the U.S. legal system is more fair?
12. Judge Kaplan, the American federal judge, seemed hostile toward Donziger from the outset of Chevron’s attempt to prove Donziger a fraud. Do you think that hostility ought to have disqualified Kaplan from hearing the RICO case against Donziger?
13. What do you think will happen next in this twenty-one-year-old legal war? What do you think ought to happen next?
14. After reading Law of the Jungle, do you feel more or less admiration for lawyers and our legal system? How about big oil companies? And how about human beings in general?
15. How did reading this book make you feel about the ability of governments and the legal system to address wrongs and solve serious problems?
Q & A
In Law of the Jungle, author Paul M. Barrett tells the gripping story of one attorney’s obsession with holding a major oil company accountable for pollution in the Amazon rain forest—and how his ends-justify-the-means strategy came back to haunt him and his impoverished clients.
Q) You’ve been covering the Steven Donziger–Chevron case for years. What drew you to the story initially?
A) The scale of Donziger’s initial $19 billion victory made this twenty-year court battle the most important environmental case in recent memory. It demanded scrutiny.
Q) In your previous book Glock, which told the story of how an obscure Austrian curtain rodmaker stormed the U.S. gun market and became, in the space of a few years, an American icon, you interviewed former Glock executives, cops, gun owners and more. Did you employ that same level of investigative journalism to Law of the Jungle?
A) Absolutely. I piece together complicated tales by interviewing as many of the participants as
possible, diving into the legal documents, and even reviewing personal diaries, notes, e-mails, and the like. I want to learn what characters in the drama said and did as the story unfolded in real time. In this case, I had access to a twenty-year court record and hundreds of hours of raw documentary field tape that became part of that public record.
Q) Who were some of the most interesting people that you met in your reporting?
A) This story had an abundance of novelistic characters: the human-rights crusader who does a
deal with the devil to accomplish his goals, the poor farmers and tribe members fighting for clean water and medical care, the executives and lawyers for a powerful multinational oil company—not to mention Hollywood celebrities, federal judges, and bombastic Latin American politicians. I met and interviewed them all.
Q) How did the Donziger-Chevron case escalate into an international story widely covered by the mass media in the United States and other countries?
A) The legal combat began with a lawsuit filed in New York in 1993. It attracted the attention of
environmental activists, movie stars, and rock musicians concerned about the fate of the rain forest. A lot of the media furor traces to the remarkable promotional skill of Steven Donziger, who succeeded in framing a David versus Goliath narrative that appealed to many journalists in print, television, and even documentary film. That narrative, of course, turned out to be far more complicated than the one that was commonly portrayed in the media.
Q) How did Steven Donziger, a Harvard-educated lawyer who set out to vindicate the
oppressed residents of the Ecuadorian rain forest, end up crossing ethical lines in his fight for justice?
A) Years before his involvement in the Chevron controversy, Donziger had demonstrated a tendency to bend facts to suit the causes he embraced. He saw this as a tolerable form of compromise to accomplish what he considered to be righteous goals. In battling Chevron, he believed that the oil company fought dirty, so he had to answer in kind. Then he went too far.
Q) Donziger managed to gain the support of celebrities including Sting, his wife, Trudie
Styler, Bianca Jagger, and others. Were they aware of his questionable tactics?
A) No, I don’t think the rich and famous concerned themselves with the details of the legal fight.
The question is whether they took the trouble to understand fully the complicated social, economic, and legal issues behind the sexy-sounding cause of protecting the rain forest. In most cases, the answer was no.
Q) Does Law of the Jungle have villains and heroes in the conventional sense?
A) None of the influential or powerful actors in this tale rise to the heroic. The oil company should
have conducted itself in a more responsible manner in the first place. The government of Ecuador and the business elite in Quito should have been looking out for the interests of the poor residents of the rain forest. And the American lawyers who arrived, purportedly to rescue the victims of contamination, let their clients down in the end by committing fraud on the judicial system. What the story does have is a group of victims: the farmers and tribe members of the Oriente, people who lived next door to the oil operations and gained very little from the revenue that oil brought to Ecuador.
Q) You’ve written dozens of articles for Bloomberg Businessweek and Businessweek.com
about this case. Why a book?
A) This remarkable story has such complexity and deep meaning, I thought that only a full-length book could truly capture it all. To understand the clash over oil in the rain forest, one has to go back five hundred years in Ecuadorian history to grasp the nature of that country’s society and politics. One has to understand the development of the oil industry in Latin America, the role of Texaco (later Chevron), and the very active role of the Ecuadorian political and economic elites. And then one has to see all of that complexity filtered through American-style litigation, with its promise of justice but its tendency to cast shadows over the ever-elusive “truth.”
Q) As a result of a recent federal court ruling that the multibillion dollar pollution
judgment against Chevron in 2011 in Ecuador was obtained by means of coercion and fraud, Donziger has been held liable under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. What does that mean for him personally and professionally, and what does it mean for his clients?
A) First, Donziger will appeal. The fight will continue in the U.S. courts and could go on for
years. In the meantime, though, Chevron will take the federal court decision holding Donziger liable as a “racketeer” and try to use that to discredit the Ecuadorian judgment when the rain forest residents try to enforce their home-court victory in courts in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. For Chevron, the U.S. judgment offers a measure of vindication, as the oil company has contended for years that Donziger was little more than a shakedown artist. In the bigger scheme of things, Judge Kaplan’s ruling means that the legal battle continues while none of the waste oil in the Oriente gets cleaned up.
Q) What larger implications does the recent ruling have for future class-action lawsuits or for those looking to use the courts to hold corporations accountable?
A) Two immediate effects: The Chevron case will embolden other large corporations to go after plaintiffs’ lawyers who file mass lawsuits seeking to remedy contamination or other misconduct blamed on the corporations. It will also discredit idealistic-sounding legal campaigns to hold companies accountable. Sadly, from the activists’ point of view, Donziger has undercut the notion that litigation offers an alternative to politics as a way to vindicate the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Q) Who, if anyone, ended up benefitting from this drawn-out legal battle? Was there any positive effect for the Ecuadorian people—those whose plight inspired the case?
A) A lot of lawyers made a lot of money. Texaco and Chevron combined probably spent something approaching $1 billion dollars over that period trying to fend off liability for what happened in Ecuador—money that could have been put to better use if it were spent on pollution, cleanup, and medical care. Donziger and his allies made a living from the case as well, if not quite so lavish a living as the defenders of the oil company. Ecuador as a country has benefited economically from the presence of the oil industry, which helped create a middle class there beginning in the early 1970s. Beyond that, though, it’s difficult to identify anyone who has been helped by the legal combat. Certainly it hasn’t improved conditions on the ground in the rain forest.
Q) Did you interact personally with Steven Donziger during your research for this book? How does he feel about your publishing Law of the Jungle?
A) I spoke many times with Donziger, watched him in court, and observed his public and private conduct over many years by means of the documentary footage entered into the public court record and his own notes and diary. I also interviewed a number of people who worked closely with and against him. You’d have to ask him about his reaction to the book. I’m confident I have told this story in a very different way from his version.
Q) What are the most important things you hope readers take away from Law of the Jungle?
A) Industrial activity inevitably has costly side effects, often suffered by those benefiting the least from the economic proceeds. Governments must act boldly to protect their people from such side effects, even as politicians encourage economic development. Large corporations can conduct themselves responsibly even as they pursue profits—but they’re unlikely to do so in the absence of vigilant regulation. Attorneys who claim to act in the interests of “the people” may have other motives in mind. Lawsuits do not necessarily achieve justice—sometimes quite the opposite.