SAN RAMON — People need only to look at her skin for proof that Chevron's environmental abuses in the Ecuadorean Amazon are real, said Mercedes Jaramillo of Ecuador.
Jaramillo, one of dozens of human rights activists who converged on Chevron's corporate headquarters Wednesday, tearfully rolled up her sleeve for a small group of reporters. She pointed to several scarred-looking patches — a skin disease she said she believes resulted from her family's close proximity to a Chevron oil pit in the Amazon.
"Everybody in my family is sick with some type of skin disease. My mother has a problem with her bones now," said Jaramillo, speaking through an English translator. "I'm here to tell Chevron that what they've done to my community is a disaster. . . . I made this trip not just for me, but for everyone in Ecuador, so that they can have a healthy life."
Allegations of environmental and human rights abuses charged the annual protest, led by Amazon Watch, Justice for Nigeria Now and other groups. The rally went on at the same time business leaders gathered inside Chevron's corporate headquarters for the company's annual shareholders meeting.
Dressed in hazmat suits and chanting, "Chevron, get off it — it's all about your profit," protesters blasted the economic gap between Chevron's office complex in affluent San Ramon and the regions where the company handles oil.
They accused the oil giant of destroying indigenous communities in Ecuador, where Chevron faces a $16 billion lawsuit for allegedly failing to clean up billions of gallons of disease-causing toxic wastewater.
Protesters Rev. Steve Harms and the Rev. Margereta Dahlin Johansson of Peace Lutheran Church in Danville said they witnessed "immense environmental damage" firsthand on a church mission to Ecuador several years ago.
"We saw what were supposed to be remediated sites — oil pits covered with dirt. Nothing grows around them," said Harms, who added, "It's grotesque. Chevron has done some good work in this community, but it's also true that people have been hurt at great cost."
Other representatives hailed from Nigeria, where Chevron is charged with providing company helicopters for the Nigerian military to attack protesters, and Burma, where the company has been accused of helping to finance the country's brutal military. Also among the protesters were Richmond residents opposed to the proposed expansion of Chevron's Richmond refinery.
"We don't want it to cause more pollution in the community or increase greenhouse gases," said Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist who has been leading the Richmond opposition.
Security was tight — only those with documentation proving they owned Chevron shares were granted admittance to the shareholders meeting. Protesters waited anxiously for attendees to come outside and speak to the crowd. As they exited, several said the human rights and environmental issues "dominated" the meeting.
Reach Jeanine Benca at email@example.com or 925-847-2125.