Big Oil sued in South America

I suspect that some of you know a lot more about this case than I do. This link is all I know about it.

Starting from zero knowledge, I find the article a little confusing, but very interesting. Have a look:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-14/chevron-on-the-attack-the-19-billion-trial-of-the-year-starts-today

As they say, the rule of law is often very different in other cultures.

Janet and I had a sailing, cruising friend, who passed over to the other side some years ago. We first met him in San Carlos Mexico, in perhaps 1983. But, before we met him, we heard countless improbable rumors about him and thought that he was some sort of Walter Mitty.

The things we heard, through the coconut telegraph, seemed impossible for one man to have lived through in a single lifetime. We thought they were tall tales. However, as we got to know him, we learned that all of these things were true. He had just led a very interesting life, and was an accomplished storyteller, in the accurate documentary aspect of the phrase. Rather than having made things up.

He was also accomplished in the sense that you both could spend an afternoon together and see exactly the same things. But later he would be telling someone else who was not there, about several of the things that transpired. He would very accurately relate what happened, but from a very interesting perspective that you had not thought of it all at that time.

He was fun to follow around and learn from. Not quite a guru, but it was fascinating to see how his very powerful mind worked.

One of his major careers during his lifetime was to be an American attorney. I think he had risen as high as district attorney in a significant city and the American Southwest before we met him sailing in Mexico.

He and his wife sailed onto Panama and got jobs there and lived there for some years. One of his jobs was to teach Panamanian law students about some of the important ideas incorporated an American law.

Just so that you understand my biases, based on what I believe to be my personal experiences with the American legal system, my lawyer jokes tend to be sort of dark and gallows humor in nature. I have known, and still know, several lawyers that I believe are excellent people, fighting hard for all of the things that I want out of the legal system. They are “Fair, Honest, Intelligent.” All of the good things. Unfortunately, I have been the victim of several lawyers that were very evil. It could have been worse. As far as I know, they did not try to have me killed. But, they certainly raped and pillaged my bank account and consumed years of my life. And the most frustrating thing was, even spending years trying to rectify the problem, was a waste of my time. No other lawyers that I could find would help me. They said that loosing $50,000 was not worth them going after.

That was probably perfectly correct from their standpoint. But I have been living on less than peanuts for many years, in order to be able to continue cruising and not get a regular job. $50,000 was a gigantic fortune in my mind. And most importantly, it used to be my gigantic fortune. Until I was fleeced by these crooked lawyers.

But the relevant part of the story is that, one of the aspects of American law, that the Panamanians had great difficulty even understanding, never mind agreeing with, was the following example.

Suppose you buy a recreational property, a weekend retreat, out in the jungle of Panama. You take your family and friends there and it is just paradise. You’re happy right?

Then, your neighbor who has been living there for many years, or perhaps bought his property after you bought yours. That aspect is not really important as far as I was told. But, your neighbor decides to make some money by slaughtering hogs, and melting them down for the lard. He cooks them over fires that are partially fueled with the parts of the hog that he does not want, so the smell is indescribably bad. Maybe he burns an old truck tire once in a while.

Unfortunately he lives upwind of you, and now your property is virtually uninhabitable. Certainly your family wants no part of it.

Under US law, as far as I understood this story, you have recourse. You can get your neighbor to stop being a nuisance.

But, also as far as I understood, the Panamanians could not grasp what the problem was. Of course he can do whatever he wants. It’s his property. How can you tell your neighbor not to do what he wants to do on his own land?

I heard the story many years ago and obviously I may not of completely understood it. But I present it here as a possible example of different attitudes in different cultures.

Therefore, I personally think that, even though I may not agree with how other people do something, I feel that almost always, I should try hard to let them do it, if that is the norm for their culture.

Of course, their attitude is almost certainly, of course you let me do it! What business is it of yours? And I know plenty of Americans who would not just bristle, but would probably pop a blood vessel, if they thought someone in another country was going to tell them what to do.

Those who know me will be quite aware that, refusing to give women equal rights, or refusing to educate women, or killing all the girl children, the dangerous idiots not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the nuclear mess in Japan, and many other things, I would continue to hope to change.

But, it may not always be self-evident to other people, that in order for me to have freedom to do what I want, I need to respect a great deal of freedom, in others.

That’s how I see it. I welcome your freedom to see it anyway you want. But, of course I know that I’m seeing it the right way. <grin>

Dave

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