The rainforest is a bit player in this story of legal machinations, corporate greed, and the exploitation of the poor. The case at the heart of Law of the Jungle—Aguinda v. Texaco Inc.—pitted poor Ecuadorian farmers against petroleum giant Texaco. It alleged that between 1964 and 1992, the oil giant’s South American operations resulted in pollution, environmental degradation, and an increase in illness among people who live in the region. Counting appeals and subsequent lawsuits, the legal battle has raged for two decades and counting.
It’s not surprising that the oil company’s efforts to clean up drilling sites in Ecuador were negligible, but, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Ecuador shares liability for the degradation of its own rainforests. Adding to the complexity of the case, attorney Steven Donziger, who fought the good fight on behalf of the poor Ecuadorians also, at times, apparently fought dirty. In detailing the legal maneuverings, author Paul M. Barrett’s narrative pays scant attention to the true victims, the rainforest and the people and wildlife affected by the oil operations.