Peruvian Indigenous take on U.S. giant Occidental Petroleum

In a battle that pits the 'little guy' against the 'big guy,' the Achuar, an Indigenous people from Peru have taken on Occidental Petroleum with the help of U.S. based group, Amazon Watch.

Los Angeles, CA - Launched in 2007 in the United States, an American judge had decided the case should be heard in Peru. The Achuar and Amazon Watch appealed that decision. Wednesday, the appeal was heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

The Achuar launched it's case against Occidental with Amazon Watch over the alleged pollution of the Amazonian rain forest in north-east Peru where the Achuar traditionally live. The Achuar charge that Occidental had consistently polluted the Corrientes River Basin for the past 30 years by releasing billions of barrels of untreated waste water into the ecosystem. Occidental is also accused of having abandoned unremediated toxic waste sites in the jungle, with the subsequent poisoning of the people living in the region with cadmium, and lead poisoning and numerous other health problems.

During the hearing, Occidental said defending itself against the case would be inconvenient.

Oxy, as the company calls itself, takes pride in its social responsibility. "Oxy's social responsibility practices are fundamental to our reputation as a partner of choice, employer of choice and neighbor of choice."
The company was named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the "... 2008 Natural Gas STAR Production Partner of the Year."

Occidental wrapped up its petroleum business in Peru in 1999, although it had planned new developments in Peru. Widespread protest and criticism of Occidental caused the company to pull out in 2006.

Occidental has refused to accept the claim that it created environmental and health risks during its 30 years of operation in Peru. In 2008, Richard Kline spoke on behalf of Oxy.

"Oxy's former operations in Peru were conducted consistent with applicable Peruvian government requirements and approval, and with internationally recognized operating standards for oil and gas operations in similar environments. We are aware of no credible data of negative community health impacts resulting from Oxy's operations in Peru." Very little research has been conducted on the environmental impacts of Oxy's operations in Peru.

Occidental's CEO, Ray Irani, scooped up $31.4 million in earnings and compensation in 2009. The Achuar have faced legal action against them by the Peruvian government for blocking Occidental's return to Peru in 2006.

The appeal court's decision is not expected to be handed down until late 2010 or even early 2011.

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