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Chavarro Saldana v. Occidental Petroleum Corporation

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Summary:

Family members of three union leaders murdered by the Colombian military in Arauca sued Occidental based on Occidental’s support for the military unit involved in the murders.

Factual Background:

Occidental Petroleum Corporation (“Occidental”), through a subsidiary, owns significant oil operations in the Colombian department of Arauca.  Ostensibly to prevent attacks by guerrilla groups, Occidental has relied on the Colombian military for security.  For many years, Occidental and its Colombian partner (Ecopetrol) have provided cash and other assistance to the 18th Brigade of the Colombian military, which has a documented record of serious human rights abuses in the region.

On August 5, 2004, soldiers from the 18th Brigade executed three well-known union leaders (Hector Alirio Martinez, Leonel Goyeneche Goyeneche, and Jorge Eduardo Prieto Chamucero) near the town of Saravena in Arauca.  After the executions, the soldiers altered the crime scene, and government officials later falsely accused the union leaders of being part of the ELN guerrilla group.  All of this was done to make it appear that the union leaders were killed in combat, as part of a legitimate military operation against guerrillas, making their deaths a classic case of “false positives.”

Legal Proceedings:

In 2011, eighteen family members and one farmers’ organization sued Occidental for damages stemming from the murders. On February 13, 2012, the district court dismissed the action based on the political question doctrine.  Plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit and the action was stayed pending the outcome of the Kiobel matter. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in that case, the parties will begin the revived appeal process. 

Cooperating Attorneys:

  • Conrad & Scherer, LLP
  • David Grunwald