Indigenous Peruvian Tribe Takes On Big Oil and Wins Unprecedented Victory

It’s not every day that an indigenous tribe takes on Big Oil and wins, but while Peru’s indigenous Achuar people have reason to celebrate their legal victory, there are some losses for which they can never be compensated.

The Achuar Tribe’s Unprecedented Victory

Earlier this month, The Guardian reported how Peru’s Achuar tribe sued and won against the oil giant†Occidental Petroleum of†Los Angeles. The case was settled outside of court for an undisclosed amount.

It was a long legal battle that started in 2007. Interestingly, the Achuar took on Big Oil not in the courts of its own country but in the United States Court system. The legal director of EarthRights International, Marco Simons, described the case as unprecedented because, “It is the first time a company from the United States has been sued in a US court for pollution it caused in another country.” Big Oil doesn’t even want to be held responsible for the damage it’s done in the United States, let alone elsewhere; five years later, environmental activists in the United States are still trying to hold BP accountable for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill’s harmful impact on dolphins and other marine life. Simons explains that the Achuar victory, then, is a landmark that has already been referenced in similar and pending legal battles.

It’s been a difficult road for the indigenous tribe to hold big oil accountable on U.S. soil, though. The oil company fought hard for the case to go through the Peruvian legal system versus the American legal system,†and†initially won when in 2008 a federal court sided with the oil company that this was a matter for the Peruvian courts to decide. The Achuar appealed and got that ruling overturned, but the battle over the venue for this case†eventually reached†the United States Supreme Court. In 2013, the highest court in the land sided with the plaintiffs saying that the case could†be heard in the United States.

“My Son and Daughter Died Vomiting Blood”

The money from the out-of-court settlement will now be funneled through a trust to be administered by five Achuar communities. The funds will go towards health, nutrition and education initiatives in the region.

While there’s reason to celebrate this legal victory, there are some things that money can’t buy or replace. From 1971 to 2000, Occidental Petroleum drilled in the already fragile Amazon and “spewed out around 9bn gallons of untreated ‘produced waters’ containing heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic into the rivers and streams without regard for international standards.” Occidental Petroleum’s alleged recklessness had devastating consequences for the indigenous Achuar people. The tribe asserts that the oil company’s irresponsible practices resulted in serious air, water and land pollution that caused premature deaths, birth defects and destroyed Achuar ancestral habitat.

According to Amazon Watch,the negative impacts of unsustainable oil drilling don’t end there for the Achuar. They can no longer use traditional fishing and hunting practices because of contamination, and they can’t even grow crops in the traditional way because their soil is ruined.

The health of the Achuar’s†communities has also been compromised in unprecedented ways. Adults and local children have tested positive for dangerously high blood-lead levels, and local residents cite countless tales of unexplained diseases, tumors, skin ailments and miscarriages from oil exposure.

The†Guardian tells Adolfina Sandi’s sad story: Sandi served as a plaintiff in the case. According to Sandi, she lost both of her of her children–ages 11 and 8–from contaminated drinking water. Pollution might not be the biggest offense in Sandi’s eyes though–it was the lack of transparency. The grieving mother says, “We didnít know the impact of the pollution and the company never told us. My son and daughter died vomiting blood. They never confirmed to us why they had died.”

I wish I could say that the fight between the Achuar and Big Oil was over, but it isn’t. The indigenous communities could now have to fight the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol for similar reasons.

To learn more about the Achuar people and ways you can support their cause, visit Amazon Watch and Pachamama Alliance.

Photo Credit: Chany Crystal


Mark Donner
Mark Donner3 years ago

Occidental, BP, Shell are terrorist organizations along with others like Monsanto. Dow, etc. They can't be compared as equal to ISIS because they are far worse. They are guilty of both genocide and planetary ecocide.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Elaine. The EPA for the most part is being fought tooth-and-nail by the republicans. The repubs want the EPA disbanded to "clear the way for industry and prosperity" and don't give a rats patoot about the environment or the public's health. Every communication from Jeff Denham (rep, CA) is all for "small business" and "cutting restrictions". He wants business to have no accountability which is what the party wants. There are many environmental and "watch dog" groups that fight this stuff, but against the government they can't get anywhere.

Barbara V.
Barbara V3 years ago

Ha! Now, if WE would only follow suit. I look to the day when those oil barons have had their day, but I'll probably be long gone. Nobody seems to be fighting them except those wonder indigenous people in the article.

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore3 years ago

Elaine B.: Because setting up these "watchdog" agencies is a common sense idea and as a species we abhor common sense the way vampires are SUPPOSED to abhor garlic, sunlight, holy water, stakes, crosses/crucifixes and ROSES!

Elaine Bauer
Elaine Bauer3 years ago

Too bad that the victory came after devastation has already been wrought. Why are there no "watchdog" organizations with the ability to stop these atrocities before people and environments are destroyed? How can these powerful looters of our planet and lifeblood even be allowed to proceed? What the hell IS the EPA for, anyway?

Rita odessa
Rita Delfing3 years ago

In Canada Asbestos has been deemed harmful and is no longer allowed in building materials. However it is still mined and you know where it goes? To China. So we won't kill Canadians but it's okay to kill people in China with a substance know scientifically to cause cancer.
You see how these bastards work, they don't care and they thought they could get away with it, and they will continue to do so. Just like the movie Silk, Erin Brokovitch time and time again it just keeps happening nobody is really stopping them except for a second or two.

Roberto Meritoni
Roberto Meritoni3 years ago


Roberto Meritoni
Roberto Meritoni3 years ago


Julia Cabrera-Woscek

BRAVO! I like that they did not feel intimidated by ANYTHING to do what is right. To right a wrong and STOP the raping of nature for its assets.