Protesters target Occidental

Times Staff Writer

Shareholders of Occidental Petroleum Corp. gathered Friday to hear details behind another great year in the oil business. But the celebratory mood didn’t last.

A group from Peru and a handful of celebrities took to the microphones during Occidental’s annual meeting to accuse the oil company of causing and then ignoring pervasive health and environmental problems in a remote region of the Amazon where Occidental drilled for 30 years.

The group, which has met with Occidental repeatedly over the years, set a Monday deadline for a response from the oil company. After that, the Peruvians will file a lawsuit against Occidental, said Marco Simons, legal director for EarthRights International.

Tomas Maynas Carijano, identified as a spiritual elder for the Achuar people of northeastern Peru, provided a sharp contrast to the well-heeled investors. Adorned with traditional seed necklaces and a headdress made from red and yellow toucan feathers, he spoke for several minutes in his native language, and actress Daryl Hannah read his translated comments.


“We are dying because of the contamination you caused in our lands,” Carijano said, gesturing toward Chief Executive Ray Irani. “We cannot eat the fish; we cannot drink the water. It’s all toxic. You, Oxy, need to clean up the mess you left.”

Occidental, which drew oil from the Corrientes River region in Peru starting in the 1970s, sold the operations to Argentine oil company Pluspetrol in 1999. The company still owns drilling rights to 6.3 million acres in the country -- blocks that it tried to sell late last year in a deal that later collapsed.

“We respect their right to take legal action,” said Richard Kline, spokesman for the Westwood-based company. “However, we’re confident that any impartial review of the facts will show that we operated in an environmentally sound and sensitive manner, in compliance with the law.”

Groups supporting the Achuar released a report this week that they said lends credibility to their claims. After hearing from several speakers, Irani said, “We want to meet and get the facts from you.”