MANHATTAN (CN) - Long before Chevron's two-decade litigation over oil pits in the Amazon, its predecessor Texaco fretted with U.S. diplomats over frequent pipeline ruptures, bad press and tumultuous politics in Ecuador, WikiLeaks cables show.
Texaco started oil exploration in the Amazonian rainforest in 1964 and learned three years later that there were large deposits to be tapped from the jungle.
It gained permission to build the Trans-Andean pipeline needed to export the petroleum in 1972, the same year Gen. Guillermo Rodriguez Lara unseated Ecuador's five-time president in a military coup.
A year into the general's tenure, Ecuador joined the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It remained one of two Latin American OPEC nations until 1992, when a center-left president took steps toward nationalization that drove Texaco out of the country.
Ecuadoreans filed a court case in New York a year later, claiming the oil giant left behind a petroleum trail that ravaged rainforest lands, polluted the groundwater and sparked cancer clusters in a region home to 30,000 people.
Chevron inherited that lawsuit a decade later when it acquired Texaco, and the company convinced the U.S. court to bring the case back to Lago Agrio, Ecuador, the center of the drilling.
That maneuver failed Chevron in 2011, when an Ecuadorean court ordered the company to pay an $8 billion judgment, subsequently raised to $19 billion.
Chevron has tried to discredit the verdict in several courts by calling it the product of an extortionate "shakedown" based on cooked evidence, judicial bribery and political maneuvering by lawyers for the Ecuadoreans.
As these claims play out, a new batch of old cables published by WikiLeaks depicts the first years oil started flowing from Lago Agrio across to Ecuador's Pacific port city of Esmeralda.
The latest WikiLeaks trove consists of 1.7 million cables from 1973 though 1976, dubbed the "Kissinger Cables" in an apparent nod to the harsh realpolitik of the then-U.S. secretary of state.
Coincidentally or not, Texaco and U.S. diplomats stepped up their pursuit of U.S. oil interests during this same time, flooding Ecuador with money and, allegedly, toxic sludge.
U.S. Ambassador Robert Brewster, appointed by Richard Nixon, sent a pair of cables on July 9, 1974, reporting torrential rains that unleashed more than a dozen landslides, slicing 800 feet from the Trans-Andean pipeline about 164 km west of Lago Agrio.
The line, he said, had been pushed 75 feet from the road and into the river.
Texaco's then-general manager Mike Martinez said the situation was "fairly bad," according to Brewster's cable.
"Five bridges are out, three small (15 to 20 meter) bridges, one bridge across the Coco River at Canon de Los Monos and the Main Bridge South of the Producing Area in Lago Agria [sic] which carried the 26' lateral pipeline bringing in crude from the Southern Fields.
"Although there is no accurate information on human losses, [Martinez] understood that nine people have lost their lives," the ambassador continued. "Others are stranded, but the Ecuadorean Army has been assisting in evacuating some of them by helicopter. Repair operations are already underway. Other oil companies in the area have been aiding in setting up ferries across the rivers to supply operations, pipeline experts are coming from the states, and a bridge expert has already arrived from Columbia to assist with reconstructing the bridges."