Peruvian Natives win initial victory against big oil

Amazon Natives of the Achuar tribe together with Amazon Watch and EarthRights International have won a significant victory in their long battle to get oil companies to care for the Amazon rainforest and compensate Natives for pollution.

The Achuar Tribe has about 4,500 citizens that live on subsistence level in central-northern Peru and rely on fishing and hunting. Oil production in the 1960s began polluting their area and its manifested negative consequences. In May 2007, with the support of activists they sued Occidental Petroleum in Los Angeles accusing them of deadly pollution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided Dec. 6 that it would allow a federal court to determine the matter and reversed a federal district court decision from April 2008 that it was up to Peruvian courts.

“This is a major victory for the rights of indigenous peoples,” said Marco Simons, Legal Director of EarthRights International, who argued the appeal before the Ninth Circuit. “Oxy will now face justice in the U.S. federal courts, rather than in a Peruvian legal system that has never compensated indigenous groups for environmental contamination.”

Occidental, which operated in Peru for decades until it sold its rights over the areas in issue, said it never polluted the area and that by contract the new buyer has to answer for any pollution.

Occidental has been accused of dumping toxic wastewater in the rainforest as well as improper gas flaring and improper storage of waste all of which caused lead and cadmium poisoning, among other health impacts.

The area and rivers where Achuar tribes lived is crossed by pipelines and traffic which often caused spills. Just one month ago, a major protest started in the Amazon to demand clean up after a June spill in the Maranon river of 400 crude barrels that was related to a barge accident.

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