Lago Agrio: The Ecuadorans’ PR People Step In It

A few weeks ago Paul Barrett reported on a tacky but seemingly insignificant misstep by the public relations people advising the Ecuadoran plaintiffs in the Chevron case:

Several dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in Midland to condemn Chevron, which held its annual meeting on Wednesday at the historic site in the west Texas oil patch. Humberto Piaguaje, one of the indigenous Ecuadorian leaders involved in a massive lawsuit against the oil company, helped lead the sign-waving, slogan-chanting cohort. To fill out the ranks of the demonstration, a Los Angeles-based production company offered local residents $85 apiece to serve as what the firm described in a recruiting e-mail as “extras/background people.”

Julieta Gilbert, executive producer of DFLA Films, said in the e-mail that the company “need to get a group of people to help us document this event. … We will pay each one of them $85. They will be there for a couple of hours (8am to 12 pm). We need ethically [sic] diverse people.”

Did you catch that? Ethically diverse instead of ethnically diverse? Chortles from Barrett, a long-time critic of Steven Donziger. Overwrought reactions from Chevron’s PR team on Twitter and elsewhere. Surely just a passing embarrassment for the plaintiffs. Karen Hinton, one of the Donziger’s PR people, told Barrett that the PR firm MCSquared handled the “protest,” and that MCSquared worked for the Republic of Ecuador. In PR Week, MCSquared denied that it was behind the “protest” but admitted that the Republic of Ecuador was one of its clients.

Oops! The story has now taken a legal turn, as the Free Beacon, a right-wing rag dedicated to “uncovering the stories that the professional left hopes will never see the light of day,” has noted MCSquared was not registered as the agent of Ecuador under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, as would be required if it “acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal.” I can’t believe I’m citing the Free Beacon!

We’ll see where this goes, but certainly if MCSquared was accurately quoted in the PR Week story, and if (as my quick search of the FARA database suggests) it was not registered as Ecuador’s agent, then something seems amiss. Amiss for MCSquared, I mean, not necessarily for Ecuador. The FARA registration obligation belongs to the agent, not to the foreign state. Sloppy.

I have asked the Ecuadorans for comment on their relationship with MCSquared and will let you know what I hear.

Update: The Ecuadoran embassy has told me that Ecuador had no participation in the “alleged faked demonstration” and that MCSquared “had explained its participation and did not represent the republic when doing so.” I am trying to get clarification on whether MCSquared ever represented the Republic, which seems to be the key question for FARA purposes.

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2d ed. 2016), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

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