Thursday, May 29, 2008

"I Was Shot by Soldiers Bought and Paid for by Chevron"

"I Was Shot by Soldiers Bought and Paid for by Chevron"

By Larry Bowoto

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Editor's note: this is a statement given to Chevron's annual shareholders' meeting by Larry Bowoto, a lead plaintiff in Bowoto v. Chevron, which will come to trial in federal court in San Francisco in September. See here for background.

Ten years ago today, I was shot by soldiers bought and paid for by Chevron. On May 28, 1998, I was on a Chevron oil barge in the Niger Delta. One hundred other villagers were with me. We were unarmed. We were there to protest the loss of our fish, our clean drinking water and our food trees, all of which are taken from us when Chevron pollutes and destroys our homeland.

In response to our protests, Chevron hired and paid, transported and "closely supervised" Nigerian forces who opened fire on us. I was shot several times and my arm is permanently damaged. Two villagers were killed and others were wounded. Others were tortured by the Nigerian authorities. The family of one of the dead protestors and three of us who were injured or tortured brought a lawsuit in California to expose what Chevron did that day. Nine years into the lawsuit, which Chevron has dragged out by playing legal games and by refusing to admit the role the company played in the shootings, Chevron has not yet apologized. Chevron has also not compensated the victims.

My case is just one of many where Chevron has responded with violence when Nigerian villagers have protested, demanding that Chevron clean up its environmental and economic damage.

Those who live near Chevron's oil production facilities in the Niger Delta are desperately poor. Most of our riverine villages have no electricity; nearly all can only be reached by boat, and most villagers barely survive on fishing and agriculture, traditional ways of feeding themselves that Chevron is destroying by polluting the water and land.

Chevron must admit it has used and paid Nigerian police and military to act as company thugs to harm and scare the local population. Chevron must give up violence as a way of doing business.

At a time that gas prices are creating record profits, Chevron has the resources to do more. It must repair the environment, and provide support to local communities, such as hospitals, scholarships, and jobs to replace our traditional forms of livelihood which Chevron is destroying.

Most importantly, Chevron must commit itself to preventing future violence against villagers, so no one in the Niger Delta has to go through what I have.

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