December 10, 2013
Oil under the carpet
The new Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Figueiredo (in town on Thursday, the same day as Ecuador President Rafael Correa) downplayed the recent recurrence of friction between the two South American giants by saying: “The important thing is to try to resolve the problems and not hide them” — this was not exactly the spirit of the meeting between Correa and his local colleague Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose contents remain a complete mystery to the press.
This meeting aroused considerable expectations because it involved something more than routine greetings to a South American colleague officially here for the inauguration of the 25th Inter-American Boy Scout Conference, given a prime bone of contention which can be summarized under the single name of Chevron. The two ideological soulmates (even if Kirchnerism has not been showing its most Bolivarian face in this election campaign) could hardly be on more of a collision course over the oil multinational — while Correa launched his “black hand” campaign against Chevron only two days prior to his visit, this environmental mega-villain (according to Ecuador) has become CFK’s new best friend in a generally hostile outside world by signing just over two months ago an investment agreement to tap the shale wealth of Vaca Muerta. Correa sought an elegant exit from the clashing stances by saying: “If Cristina had been president of Ecuador at the time when Texaco (now merged with Chevron) was destroying Ecuador’s jungle,” the problem would never have arisen but this argument as akin to saying that if Willy Brandt (or Mahatma Gandhi) had been chancellor of Germany in 1939, the Second World War would never have been fought — the Second World War did happen and Argentina and Ecuador do have contrasting stances over Chevron.
Nor is it simply a question of agreeing to disagree and going their separate ways over Chevron. The supreme courts of the two countries have moved in opposite directions — if in 2011 Quito’s Supreme Court crowned nearly two decades of litigation over Texaco’s alleged pollution dating back to 1972 by ordering 19 billion dollars to be paid in damages, the Supreme Court here last May (while the YPF-Chevron agreement was being hammered out) lifted the injunction originally lodged in line with Ecuador. Argentina is not the only or main battleground (thus an international arbitration court in The Hague ruled in Chevron’s favour last Tuesday) and perhaps no big issue at the end of the day but all this is a long way from the open government suggested by Figueiredo.