Peruvian indigenous protest at Oxy Petroleum

From Amazon Watch, May 2:

LOS ANGELES — Leaders of the indigenous Achuar people of Peru accompanied by 40 demonstrators wearing hazmat suits today brought Occidental Petroleum’s Amazon disaster to the company’s doorstep as they marched inside the hotel hosting the Oxy annual shareholder meeting. The demonstrators took company security by surprise and entered the building chanting: “Oxy, Oxy, clean up now!”

Inside the meeting, Achuar leaders, human rights and environmental group Amazon Watch and actress Daryl Hannah called on Occidental Petroleum’s CEO, Ray Irani, and Board of Directors to come to the Peruvian Amazon and witness firsthand the human and environmental toll of 30 years of the company’s toxic dumping in a vast swathe of pristine tropical rainforest inhabited by thousands of Achuar.

The delegation challenged senior executives about the company’s deliberate dumping of nine billions barrels of toxic wastewater onto Achuar land while Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) operated in northeastern Peru from 1971 to 2000. The Achuar now live in a poisoned landscape and suffer lead and cadmium poisoning and other severe public health problems. They are currently taking legal action against Oxy, to make the company remediate the disaster. In a similar class-action suit in Ecuador, a court-appointed expert last month set damages against Chevron at between $7 billion and $16 billion, should the San Ramon-based company be found liable.

Three Achuar leaders had traveled for several days on foot, by canoe, bus and plane to attend Oxy’s shareholder meeting, in Santa Monica, today. Before the meeting, they gathered with supporters, about 40 of who donned hazmat suits and staged a “clean-up operation” outside the Fairmont. The demonstrators also observed a Native American prayer circle. Inside the meeting, the Achuar spoke directly to company management and shareholders about their plight and demanding that Oxy fund a full environmental remediation, and provide healthcare to the Achuar.

One Achuar leader, Henderson Rengifo, told the meeting: “The 6,000 Achuar of the Corrientes River and 8,000 of the Morona and Pastaza region, have come here with one voice, demanding that Occidental clean up our region of the Peruvian Amazon which your company, over the course of 30 years of oil exploitation in our territory, left devastated with contamination. We also demand compensation for the irreparable damages your company has caused.

“We ask that you recognize what your company has done—that you have contaminated our source of life: our water and our flora and fauna. At this time, we warn you that we will never remain quiet while your company continues to evade your shameful responsibility. The day that you publicly recognize your responsibility to clean up our territory, we will publicly recognize in a ceremony that you have lived up to our demands and fulfilled your responsibility.”

Actress Daryl Hannah asked the Oxy Board and shareholders: “Consider your children: What would you do if they were dying of cadmium and lead poisoning? What if their only water and food supplies were contaminated with petroleum and toxic wastewater? Would you not do the very thing the Achuar are here to do—fight for their lives? Please insist that Oxy reflect your values and clean up the mess they left behind.”

Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, also asked the Oxy CEO and Board of Directors a series of searching questions: “What is your moral threshold? How many Achuar would have to die before your company decides to do the right thing in Peru?”

She then challenged them: “Dr. Irani and Members of the Board, will you come to Peru and visit your former operations and see first-hand the clean-up liability and the impact of your legacy on Achuar communities?”

Dr. Irani and the other Oxy executives did not respond directly. The company has insisted its successor company, Pluspetrol, which bought Oxy’s operations in block 1AB in 2001, is now responsible for the problem. The Achuar and Amazon Watch assert that Oxy cannot simply transfer liability for damages it caused to peoples’ lives, health and safety to another company. In addition, when Pluspetrol assumed the oil operation, there had never been an independent assessment or quantification of the damages.

Actor Esai Morales also issued a statement in support of the Achuar: “This is about the rights of people in the developing world to address the wrongs committed by US companies. If these actions were committed here, the American people would not stand for it. Americans need to know what US corporations are doing around the world and help the Achuar seek justice. This is a story about human decency.”

See our last post on Peru.