Albion Monitor /News

Amazon Tribe Battles Occidental Oil

by Roy S. Carson

Occidental began drilling its first exploratory well despite the tribe's rejection of oil development on their land

LIMA (AR) -- A San Francisco-based ecology organization has launched an Internet campaign to pressure the Occidental oil company to negotiate an agreement with the Candoshi people of the Peruvian Amazon.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is calling on Occidental's Chairman and CEO, Dr. Ray R. Irani, to recognize the Candoshis' right to decide the future of their own territory, resources and culture, which have brought them into conflict with Occidental's Block 4 petroleum exploration project in the rain forest region.

In a message released worldwide on the Internet, the San Francisco activists say Occidental invaded the territory of the Candoshi people in northeastern Peru and began drilling its first exploratory oil well on June 25, in spite of the tribe's rejection of oil development activities on their land.

Occidental is moving forward with its exploration, even though the Candoshi have voiced formal objections to the project and are the established legal landowners most directly affected the oil company's activities, RAN says.

Candoshi leaders say Occidental has reneged on commitments

The Candoshi tribe number some 2,000 persons and live in the Morona and Tigre river basins of the Peruvian Amazon. They hold title to only part of the 4,000 square miles of their traditional territory and have lived in relative isolation from the outside world, maintaining a rich and traditional culture, depending on their rain forest home for economic livelihood, social identity and spiritual grounding.

RAN says this fragile and biologically rich region is also the habitat of many threatened and endangered species, such as the giant river otter, jaguar and giant anteater, and contains over 40 lakes, including the largest in the Peruvian Amazon, Lago Rimachi.

Occidental began seismic prospecting in late 1993 to determine the potential of a 2.2 million acre "Block 4" -- an oil concession area seven times the size of Los Angeles.

Because large tracts of Block 4 lie within Candoshi land, Occidental's management had come to an agreement with the Peruvian government on environmental measures to minimize negative impacts on local populations.

But Candoshi leaders say Occidental has reneged on commitments and notified the tribe leaders that it would resume exploration activities with or without their consent.

Affected communities have rejected Occidental's move as unilateral, saying that neither their communities nor the environment they depend on could afford Occidental's presence in the region.

They cited the U.S. company's poor credibility record on environmental issues, the region's ecological fragility, and the communities' dependence on river ecosystems which would inevitably be polluted with hydrocarbons and other toxic chemicals, a RAN press release said.

The Candoshi representative organization has also denounced Occidental's plans as a direct violation of International Labor Organization (Convention 169) Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. Peru is a signatory of the Convention, whose Article 15 declares that in cases where the State retains ownership of mineral or subsurface resources, governments shall consult with indigenous groups before undertaking or permitting exploration or exploitation of resources.

The Peruvian government did not consult the Candoshi people until just before Occidental's previous prospecting activities, and it has made no such moved towards consultation this time either, RAN charged.

Occidental is one of the world's largest oil companies, with corporate assets of nearly $18 billion

The activists in San Francisco say the Candoshi are demanding negotiation on social and environmental terms of operations in Block 4, and want the international community to take urgent action to help defend their rights and resources before they're wiped off the map.

Juan Chavez Munoz, president of the Peruvian national indigenous confederation, told The American Reporter news service, "Oil companies have already been conceded 17 million acres of indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon. We can not allow indigenous peoples' voices to be quieted on this subject yet again."

He notes that Occidental is one of the world's largest oil companies, producing oil and gas in 12 countries and exploring in 23 others. Corporate assets total nearly $18 billion, and 1994 revenues were over $9 billion. Peru is already Occidental's largest foreign oil operation, with another Occidental concession in northeastern Peru producing 60,500 barrels of crude oil a day.

"With the amount of money the U.S. company is pumping out of the Amazon rain forest, is it too much to expect that they pump some back in to preserve what was there before they started?" Munoz asked.

Roy S. Carson is a South American correspondent for The American Reporter.

Albion Monitor August 19, 1995 (

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