On Wednesday, Paul Paz y Miño was standing at the back of the ballroom of the Marriott Convention Center during the Economic Development Summit for Energy and Sustainability in Oakland, Calif., when he was approached by a woman.
The woman asked Paz y Miño, the online and operations director for the environmental watchdog organization Amazon Watch, about a stack of papers he had.
When it was revealed that he was holding about 40 flyers regarding Chevron’s controversial environmental actions and its Richmond, Calif., community news website, Richmond Standard, three security guards arrived to physically remove Paz y Miño from the summit.
Getting kicked out of the event may have surprised Paz y Miño if oil and energy giant Chevron had not been the event’s presenting sponsor.
Since 2002, Amazon Watch has campaigned against Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, against the drilling of oil in the Amazon region of Ecuador and the environmental damages it has caused to the natural ecosystems and indigenous people there.
Based in Oakland, Calif., Amazon Watch also leads national and statewide efforts to confront Chevron’s lack of regard and safety for its other hazardous incidents, including a gas well explosion in Bobtown, Penn., in February and a 2012 fire at its refinery in Richmond that sent 15,000 people to hospitals due to respiratory distress.
“Chevron cannot respond on the facts of what they did in Ecuador,” Paz y Miño told MintPress News. “And so their tactic, admittedly, is to vilify and attack anyone who is critical, and Amazon Watch is at the top of that list.”
“Amazon Watch is not welcome”
Launched in January, the Richmond Standard says it aims to “provide Richmond residents with important information about what’s going on in the community, and to provide a voice for Chevron Richmond on civic issues.”
However, the Standard has met with skepticism over its true intentions from Richmond residents and the media, who see the newspaper as little more than promotional material for the company.
The flyers Paz y Miño had at the summit featured the Standard’s masthead above an article featuring the San Francisco Chronicle saying, “The idea of the nation’s second-largest oil company funding a local news site harkens back to an era of journalism when business magnates often owned newspapers to promote their personal financial or political agendas.”
Per the woman’s request — a request, she later clarified to Paz y Miño, she made out of curiosity — Paz y Miño gave her a flyer. It was shortly after this interaction that he was approached by a security guard.
According to Paz y Miño, upon noticing his papers, the guard said, “Sir, if you have information, you need to talk to the conference organizers about setting up a table on the side to pass information out.”
Paz y Miño said he explained to the guard he was not voluntarily passing out the papers.
“I’m well aware of the restrictions of presenting and giving information, and I knew they weren’t going to want me to be doing that at the conference,” Paz y Miño said.
Paz y Miño was planning to pass the information out to interested individuals and businesses after the conference.
“My plan was to be there, listen to what they have to say, interact with the people at the conference,” he said. “Supposedly, these are businesses in Oakland that are concerned with green and sustainable energy. I thought they would be interested in the information, certainly about Chevron and the environmental issues that [Amazon Watch raises].”
Paz y Miño said the guard left, but then returned to tell Paz y Miño that the conference organizers wanted to speak to him. After telling the organizers the name of the environmental group he was representing, they told him, “Amazon Watch is not welcome, you will have to leave.”
The activist refused to leave, as he had paid to attend the public conference, prompting security to “physically and forcefully” remove him.
The mayor’s office received no response when it called the summit’s host, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce (OMCC), seeking permission for Paz y Miño to return.
The following day, a statement and apology released by Dan Quigley, the interim president of the OMCC, said Paz y Miño was asked to leave out of concerns that he would have been disruptive.
“We’re sorry to have asked a paying attendee to leave, and have reimbursed the cost of his ticket. Previous actions by Amazon Watch in other venues and their social-media messaging in advance of our conference raised our concern that this attendee (an employee of Amazon Watch) intended to be disruptive. We regret any misunderstanding on our part,“ the statement said.
A few days before the conference, Amazon Watch’s Twitter account featured tweets addressing Chevron’s role as a sponsor of the summit as well as issues related to its actions in Ecuador and its attacks on free speech.
According to Paz y Miño, the OMCC has no relationship with Amazon Watch and there is no reason to believe that they would have an opinion about the group’s participation in the event.
The mayor’s office and the OMCC could not be reached for additional comment at press time.