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from Photographers' Blog:

Latitude Zero from underwater

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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

By Jorge Silva

Once your eyes go below the ocean waterline, you know that there is an immense parallel universe brimming with images.

Ever since I began taking pictures I haven’t discovered anything that grabs me like diving does. Luckily, I don’t have to neglect photography while diving; they are perfectly complementary.

GALLERY: GALAPAGOS POSTCARDS

Photographing underwater is a challenge due to the inherent demands of diving, and the technical difficulties that underwater photography presents.

Diving requires calm and concentration, with control over every variable – floatability, depth, air, and time, while shooting underwater can break that calmness.  Going after an image can require me to swim a little more than expected, and consume more air than calculated. The human body requires more oxygen to move more muscles.

from Felix Salmon:

Could Cyprus go the way of Ecuador?

A small country which has adopted a major global currency finds itself with massive debts and insolvent banks. Its only real hope is that it controls areas rich in hydrocarbons; the problem is that it has neither the wealth nor the expertise to exploit those hydrocarbons on its own. The result: it ends up essentially selling itself to an omnivorous global superpower which is interested only in access to resources rather than in domestic economic growth and prosperity.

This is the narrative which might well end up playing out in Cyprus. The local population is so unhappy with the euro that they're seriously looking to bitcoins as an alternative, despite the fact that there is no real bitcoin economy, and insofar as there is one, it's inherently deflationary. Much of the country's political, economic, and religious elite is seriously talking about leaving the euro. If they decided to do that, Cyprus would probably become even more controlled by Russia than it is already -- especially given that Gazprom is by far the most obvious candidate when it comes to finding a partner which can exploit Cyprus's natural gas reserves.

from Alison Frankel:

Truth and justice are elusive in Chevron Ecuador case

On Monday, Chevron filed a new motion for summary judgment in its fraud and racketeering case against the lawyers and expert witnesses who helped 47 Ecuadoreans from the Lago Agrio region of the rainforest obtain an $18 billion judgment against the oil company from an Ecuadorean court in 2011. The motion discloses what seems to be incredibly powerful evidence that the Ecuadorean judgment was illegitimate: A onetime presiding judge on the Ecuadorean case, Alberto Guerra, submitted a declaration asserting that he acted as the middleman in setting up a $500,000 bribe from plaintiffs' lawyers to the Ecuadorean judge who entered the judgment against Chevron. Guerra claimed that the plaintiffs actually drafted the 2011 judgment and that he, as a behind-the-scenes ghostwriter, worked with plaintiffs' lawyers to make it seem more like a court ruling. According to his declaration, filed before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of Manhattan, Guerra had previously received regular payments from the plaintiffs in the Chevron case to ghostwrite other rulings subsequently issued by the presiding judge. And, to boot, Guerra asserted that Chevron -- unlike the plaintiffs -- didn't respond to his solicitation of bribes.

Chevron filed additional new evidence to back Guerra's declaration, including draft versions of the 2011 judgment found on the former judge's computer, mail and bank records showing his contacts with the plaintiffs and sworn statements by other witnesses supposedly involved in the bribery scheme. "Guerra's testimony and corroborating evidence confirm what the extensive overlap between the (plaintiffs') internal files and the judgment already prove: that the (plaintiffs) corrupted the Ecuadorean court and wrote the $18 billion judgment against Chevron," wrote the oil company's lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

from The Human Impact:

Indigenous women lead land rights struggle in Ecuadorean Amazon

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When Argentinian oil company CGC began seismic testing on their ancestral land - in one of the most remote and pristine areas of the Ecuadorean Amazon - it was the women of the Sarayaku community who decided to take a stand against Big Oil.

"As mothers, we were concerned about our children and our land," Noemi Gualinga told me.

from Alison Frankel:

Chevron tries, tries again to attach Ecuadoreans’ $18 bln award

It's been all of three weeks since U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of Manhattan federal court lifted a stay on Chevron's fraud and racketeering suit, which was filed in 2010 against the Ecuadoreans who accuse the oil company of contaminating the Lago Agrio region of the rainforest as well as the Ecuadoreans' lawyers and advisers. But the two sides in this corollary to the endless litigation that produced an $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron in the Ecuadorean courts have picked up as though they never left off. This week Chevron filed a motion for partial summary judgment and renewed its motion for an attachment order that would effectively block the Ecuadoreans from enforcing their award. Lawyers for the RICO defendants, predictably, have responded with accusations of dirty tricks against Chevron and its counsel at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Chevron's summary judgment motion, which asks Kaplan to reject collateral estoppel defenses based on findings in the Ecuadorean courts, is mostly a reformulation of arguments that have become all too familiar to anyone who follows the litigation. So I'll focus on the new attachment motion, which includes some information we haven't seen before. In January, you may recall, Kaplan denied Chevron's request for a highly unusual pretrial order that would essentially have frozen the assets of the RICO defendants in anticipation of a Chevron victory and damages award in the New York case. The judge said that Chevron hadn't sufficiently specified its alleged damages, aside from citing the $18.2 billion Ecuadorean judgment. "In these circumstances, Chevron has not demonstrated a likelihood of recovering any specific amount of damages," Kaplan wrote. But he invited Chevron to come back when it had firmer evidence of its potential damages.

from Global Investing:

What chances true democracy in oil-rich Iran?

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Truly, oil can be a curse. Having it may enrich a country (more likely its rulers) but it does not seem condusive to democracy. And the more oil a country produces, the less likely it is to make the transition to democracy, according to research from investment bank Renaisssance Capital.

So as Iran goes to the polls today, what are the chances it will become a democracy? (Iran itself could argue, reasonably enough, that it is the most democratic country in the region -- everyone over the age of 18, including women, are allowed to vote, though the choice of candidates is restricted)

from Alison Frankel:

Ecuadoreans call for U.S. help in Chevron arbitration

In last week's rejection of Chevron's attempt to use U.S. courts to block enforcement of the Lago Agrio plaintiffs' $18 billion Ecuadorean judgment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was clearly uneasy at the idea of American judges interfering with foreign jurisprudence. So far, the arbitration panel overseeing Chevron's case against the Republic of Ecuador has had no such qualms. But with Chevron now relying heavily on the arbitration process to protect it from plaintiffs' attempts to claim oil company assets, the panel's power over foreign courts is going to become a key issue -- and the Ecuadorean plaintiffs are now calling for the U.S. government to support Ecuador's sovereignty. Chevron, meanwhile, argues that if anyone has caused harm to Ecuador's constitution, it's the Republic and the Lago Agrio plaintiffs, not Chevron and the arbitration panel.

The three-person arbitration panel, appointed under the terms of a bilateral investment treaty between the United States and Ecuador, is presiding over Chevron's claim that the Republic of Ecuador is liable for any judgment in the Lago Agrio litigation. (The argument is two-fold: Chevron asserts that it has been denied due process, in violation of the investment treaty, and that the Republic signed an indemnification agreement years ago with its predecessor, Texaco.) The arbitrators don't have jurisdiction over the individual Ecuadoreans suing Chevron, but they do have power over the Republic. Last spring, following U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan's imposition of a worldwide injunction barring enforcement of the Ecuadorean trial court's judgment against Chevron, the arbitration panel issued an interim order instructing the Republic to "take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition within and without Ecuador of any judgment against in the Lago Agrio case."

from Alison Frankel:

Chevron opinion doesn’t go its way

If Chevron was still hoping for a ruling from New York's federal courts that would make it impossible for Ecuadorean plaintiffs to collect their $18 billion judgment against the oil company, Thursday's long-awaited opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit puts an end to that strategy. The appellate panel's 30-page opinion -- which explains the court's Sept. 2011 order lifting the worldwide injunction barring enforcement of the Ecuadorean judgment -- gives Chevron the chance to argue once again that the Ecuadoreans can't collect in New York, under the state's Uniform Foreign Country Money-Judgments Recognition Act. But in no uncertain terms, the Second Circuit advised that even if Chevron eventually persuades a New York judge that the Ecuadoreans procured their judgment through fraud, that judge cannot bar enforcement of the judgment outside of the United States.

"Nothing in the New York statute, or in any precedent interpreting it, authorizes a court to enjoin parties holding a judgment issued in one foreign country from attempting to enforce that judgment in yet another foreign country," wrote Second Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch, for a panel that included Judges Rosemary Pooler and Richard Wesley. "The court presuming to issue such an injunction sets itself up as the definitive international arbiter of the fairness and integrity of the world's legal systems."

from Alison Frankel:

Chevron’s options to evade $18 billion judgment narrowing

On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied Chevron's bid to re-impose a worldwide injunction barring Ecuadorean plaintiffs from acting to enforce the $18 billion environmental contamination judgment that an Ecuadorean appellate panel upheld earlier this month. That's Chevron's second big rebuff in its U.S. campaign to knock out the Ecuadorean judgment, which the oil company contends was fraudulently obtained. Two weeks ago U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan -- theretofore a reliable backstop for Chevron -- refused the oil company's motion for an attachment order in its racketeering suit against the Ecuadorean plaintiffs and some of their lawyers and experts.

Chevron counsel Randy Mastro of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher painted Kaplan's ruling as a temporary setback, since Kaplan said the oil company could try again for a pre-trial attachment. But it's impossible to spin the Second Circuit's order Thursday as anything but bad news for Chevron. The appellate judges, you'll recall, lifted Kaplan's injunction on enforcement of the Ecuadorean judgment last September. They also stayed Chevron's declaratory judgment case before Kaplan, in which the oil company sought to prove its fraud allegations against the Ecuadoreans and their lawyers. At the time of those rulings by the Second Circuit, the $18 billion judgment was still under consideration by the Ecuadorean appeals court, and the Ecuadoreans asserted that there was no need for an injunction because the judgment couldn't be enforced while the Ecuadorean appellate process was underway. When Chevron went back to the Second Circuit this month, Gibson Dunn argued that since the Ecuadoreans are poised to enforce their judgment, the oil company now needs the injunction.

from Felix Salmon:

Why Ecuador isn’t drilling in Yasuni

Back in June 2007, I looked at an intriguing idea coming out of Ecuador, whose massive Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha oil fields lie underneath the most important area of biodiversity on planet Earth: Yasuni National Park. (Time's Bryan Walsh has been there. It's worth reading his report to get a feel for just what's at stake here; suffice to say that it's a place which makes even grammar sticklers want to use the term "most unique".)

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, had a bright idea: instead of drilling for oil in the park, he would ask the global community to pay him billions of dollars not to drill in the park. $3.5 billion, to be precise, to be paid at the rate of $350 million a year for ten years.

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