The story of Oxy and Shell’s oppression against the U’wa began in April of 1992, when Los-Angeles based Occidental Petroleum was granted exploration rights to much of the traditional U'wa territory, known to the oil industry as the Samoré block. Occidental (the operator of the consortium) and Shell each held a 37.5% share, while Ecopetrol, the Colombian national oil company, held the remaining 25%. The U’wa were already familiar with the destructive potential of oil exploration. Over the previous decade the pipeline that runs north of their reservation has been bombed over 500 times by guerrilas, spilling over one and a half million barrels of crude oil onto lands that borders their territory.
The U’wa response to the Occidental Petroleum led consortium was to threaten mass suicide if oil development was allowed to go ahead on their land. According to U’wa oral history, 400 years ago a portion of the U’wa committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Conquistadores.
Faced with a potential public relations disaster, Occidental attempted to manipulate a “compromise”. In 1998 Occidental public relations officers spun a “solution” to the impasse, saying that Oxy was renegotiating its contract and giving up their drilling "rights" to three quarters of the Samoré block. Occidental announced that it would renounce its claim to all "land claimed by the U'wa", and that its new proposed drill site lay "outside the disputed area.". Typically, neither Oxy nor the Columbian government had consulted the U'wa, who consider all of the Samore block (and more) to be their sacred homeland.
In November 1999 more than 200 U'wa marched on the site of Occidental Petroleum's planned oil well Gibraltar 1, establishing a permanent settlement to block the drilling slated to begin in the following weeks. Tribal leaders declared that this permanent settlement is necessary to block the drilling after legal battles and direct appeals to the company and government had failed
On January 19, 2000 more than 5,000 agents of the Colombian Military, heavily armed, invaded U’wa traditional territory, exactly at Cedeno, where Oxy's oil drilling site Gibraltar 1 is situated. The Colombian Ministry of Mining and Energy was seeking to declare U'wa territory a special petroleum reserve zone saying that the national petroleum industry is covered by the law as a public utility or social interest, even though the major stakeholders in the project are US and Dutch multinationals.
Six days after the invasion by the Colombian military, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana met with US President Clinton in Washington to discuss increased US military funding to Columbia. That this meeting had potentially ominous implications for the U’wa was signaled by Occidental Petroleum Vice-President Lawrence Meriage’s appearance before the US subcommittee hearing on the Military aid package to Colombia. Meriage tried to link the U’wa struggle to the guerrillas who are the targets of US military funding in Columbia saying that "only two groups are intent on blocking the project; leftist guerrillas; and non-governmental organizations in the US." Meriage further implied that the U'wa were merely pawns of others.
Meriage’s statements and the potential intervention of the US military has to be taken seriously and seen in the context of a long history of US imperialism on behalf of its oil interests. US willingness to secure oil resources controlled outside its boarders has long been a doctrine of US foreign policy. The Carter/Regan Doctrine, as it has been known since the late 1970s, was publicly revealed in 1980 by U.S. Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown: "In a world of disputes and violence, we cannot afford to go abroad unarmed… The particular manner in which our economy has expanded means that we have come to depend to no small degree on imports, exports and the earnings from overseas investments for our material well-being." Specifically, Brown identified the "protection of the oil flow from the Middle East" as "clearly part of our vital interest," in defense of which "we'll take any action that's appropriate, including the use of military force." The Gulf War demonstrated the bloody lengths the US was willing to go to assert this doctrine.
And if Occidental is looking for friends in the US government they don’t have to go any further than vice-president and presidential candidate, Al Gore. Gore owns $500,000 in Occidental shares, inherited from his father, Al Gore Sr., who was Vice-President with Occidental. Occidental has also invested heavily in the Democratic Party, providing over $100,000 in campaign funds.
In the last 2 months the situation in the U’wa territory has become even more intense. Observers in the area report that a heavy military and police contingent in the area is monitoring the protestors, and has stopped some shipments of food and medical supplies bound for the U'wa. On February 11, the police reportedly used tear gas and forcibly removed 450 U'wa who were blockading the road, resulting in the reported drowning of three indigenous children. The body of a four month old U'wa girl was found a week later. Two other children, ages 9 and 10, from the Guahibo tribe are still missing and presumed dead.
U'wa Indians Win Injunction Against Occidental in Colombian Courts In Washington
U'wa Roberto Perez Offers Statement
U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP
For Immediate Release: March 31, 2000
Contacts: Lauren Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Atossa Soltani: email@example.com
Washington, DC (March 31) -- Handing the U'wa an important victory, a Colombian court has ordered Occidental Petroleum Corp to halt all construction work on the Gibraltar 1 well site on sacred ancestral land of the U'wa tribe. The court injunction came down Thursday and was announced this afternoon in Colombia by Alberto Calderon, president of the state oil company Ecopetrol.
According to Reuters, the judge ruled that the drilling on the site would violate "fundamental rights" of the U'wa people including their right to life.
Roberto Perez, the President of the U'wa Traditional Authority who has been in Washington since March 27 for meetings with the US Government and Oxy investors, issued the following statement in response to the verdict:
"The injunction speaks of the suspension of the project not cancellation. We have taken an important step and are happy because we have advanced in our struggle even though this has come at great sacrifice. We must defend the life of the U'wa and that is why we are here in Washington turning to international support because in Colombia our demands had been falling on deaf ears. Today we have been speaking with members of Congress explaining the violations of our rights. We have asked members of Congress to give us their solidarity and pressure the president of the Republic of Colombia for the cancellation of the project in Samoré on our ancestral territory."
Mr. Perez will be available for interviews in Washington until mid-afternoon on Saturday and in the United States through next week. Please contact the following telephone numbers to arrange interviews.
Thousands of Colombians Resume Blockades Near Planned Oil Well:
Standoff With Oxy Escalating
Solidarity March Today In Bogota
U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP
For Immediate Release: February 25, 2000
Contacts: Lauren Sullivan: 415/398-4404; Stephen Kretzmann: 510/551-7953
Rallying behind the struggle of the U'wa people of Colombia, at least 2,500 people have arrived during the past week in the small community of Gibraltar, in the department of North Santander. The town is approximately 6 kilometers from the site of the first well planned by Los-Angeles based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). The campesinos, students, and union members have reportedly joined thousands of U'wa and other indigenous peoples in resuming the blockade of the main road to Oxy's well site.
"They are maintaining the blockade of the road that leads to Pamplona and are taking shelter in the church, the schools and other sites," said César Hipólito Mora, the mayor of Cubará, a neighboring town according to Tuesday's edition of El Tiempo, a Colombian daily.
The secretary of the local Association of Campesinos (ADUC), Reina Rojas, said from Saravena that it is not a strike, but rather a mobilization which involves representatives from the different guilds and unions. "It's something indefinite that will only end with a commitment from the Government to halt the petroleum exploration in the Samore Block. We ask that the Ministers of the Environment, Juan Mayr, and of the Interior, Nestor Humberto Martinez come and endorse this agreement," said Rojas.
Observers in the area report that a heavy military and police contingent in the area is monitoring the protestors, and has stopped some shipments of food and medical supplies bound for the U'wa. On February 11, the police reportedly used tear gas and forcibly removed 450 U'wa who were blockading the road, resulting in the reported drowning of three indigenous children. The body of a four month old U'wa girl was found last week. Two other children, ages 9 and 10, from the Guahibo tribe are still missing and presumed dead.
Just one week ago, Occidental Petroleum Vice-President Lawrence Meriage testified before the U.S. Congress in a subcommittee hearing on the Military aid package to Colombia that "only two groups are intent on blocking the project; leftist guerrillas; and non-governmental organizations in the US." Meriage further implied that the U'wa were merely pawns of others.
The U'wa issued a statement responding to Meriage's testimony saying: "We demand that Occidental Petroleum and those in the media who have called us guerrilla sympathizers, rectify these accusations immediately, because they endanger the life of the U'wa community and of those that support us. We fight to defend our cultural principles which benefit society as a whole, and not those particular dark interests."
"Clearly, opposition to this project began with the U'wa and support among Colombians is broad-based and growing" said Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch. "Given the widespread protests in Colombia by unions, farmers, students and indigenous communities, the only responsible course of action is an immediate suspension of this project pending a negotiated settlement in which all sides participate." In Bogota, members of Colombian non-governmental and indigenous organizations will be holding a solidarity march at 2:00 p.m. today at the Plaza Simon Bolivar which will culminate in a rally at the Ministry of Environment. In the United States, supporters of the U'wa continue to target the two most prominent Oxy shareholders - Fidelity Investments and Vice-President Al Gore Jr. Over 40 nonviolent demonstrations have taken place in the last several weeks.
U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP
For Immediate Release: January 25, 2000
Contacts: Shannon Wright: 415/398-4404
Steve Kretzmann: 510/551-7953
Atossa Soltani: 310/456-1340
Today's meeting between President Clinton and Colombian President Andrés Pastrana in Washington to discuss increased US military funding drew criticisms from international human rights groups concerned about the recent militarization of the U'wa people's legal, traditional lands. Just days ago, the Colombian armed forces were sent to the U'wa land in order to secure the area for oil drilling by US oil giant Occidental Petroleum (OXY). The U'wa fear that the current stand-off on their land could lead to violence against their tribe by the US-supported Colombian military.
According to a communiqué issued by the U'wa people and information from the Colombian military, since January 19, at least 500 --and as many as several thousand-- Colombian soldiers have been occupying an area of the traditional territory to which the U'wa have recently gained legal title. The soldiers have encircled the 250-plus U'wa people who since mid-November have maintained a peaceful encampment at the site in order to block the planned oil drilling by Occidental. Known as Gibraltar 1, this site just borders the newly expanded Unified U'wa Reserve. The U'wa recently obtained title to the 2 farms directly where Occidental hopes to drill. Under the Colombian Constitution, indigenous lands cannot be expropriated.
"We prefer genocide at the hands of the Colombian government over relinquishing our Mother Earth to the oil companies," states the U'wa communiqué. According to additional U'wa field reports yesterday, Occidental is planning to use armed military personnel to construct the drill site. The U'wa also report that Occidental has directly instructed the military brigade to block members of the U'wa tribe from entering or leaving the occupation site, isolating community members from their tribal leaders. The company and the military have also reportedly prohibited the use cameras in the area. "The truth here in Colombia is that the military is being used to suppress peaceful Indians and protect US oil companies," stated a spokesperson by the U'wa tribe by phone.
The U'wa people's campaign to protect their land from oil exploration has once again reached international headlines this week in the Financial Times and Time magazine as Vice President Gore's $500,000 stocks in and extensive campaign contributions from Occidental have come under public scrutiny. "Gore can make the difference. He can save the U'wa and avert a public relations disaster for himself by intervening now," said Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch. Protests are planned at Gore campaign stops in New Hampshire later this week.
Association of U'wa Traditional Authorities
November 17, 1999
COMMUNIQUÉ TO THE INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC
Approximately 200 members of the U'wa indigenous tribe of northeastern Colombia assembled in a permanent settlement on part of our ancestral lands yesterday, November 16. This area, which has been colonized by farmers, is the site where the multinational company Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) wants to drill the oil well "Gibraltar 1," an action which threatens life and our ancient culture.
With this permanent presence and with the support of the local farmers of Sarare, we are claiming our ancestral and constitutional rights to life and to our traditional territory. We demand that the Colombian government and
Oxy leave us in peace and that once and for all they cancel the oil project in this area. We U'wa people are willing to give our lives to defend Mother Earth from this project which will annihilate our culture, destroy nature, and upset the world's equilibrium. Caring for the Earth and the welfare of our children and of future generations is not only the responsibility of the U'wa people but of the entire national and international society.
We reject the violence perpetrated by the armed actors in the region. We also urge indigenous peoples worldwide, national and international non-governmental organizations, and the general public to work in solidarity with us, rejecting this project planned by the Colombian government and Oxy. We urgently request that you support us with your physical presence in our territory. In addition, we ask people around the world who value the Earth and indigenous peoples to speak out against the multinational oil company Oxy through protests, letters and other actions of solidarity.
Roberto Perez, President of Tribal Council
U'wa Traditional Authorities
U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP PRESS RELEASE
November 17, 1999
For immediate release
Mark Westlund -- 415-398-4404
Atossa Soltani -- 310-456-1340
David Rothschild -- 202-785-3334
U'wa office in Colombia +5778-838-037
for addition contact numbers in Colombia call above listed numbers
200 U'WA ASSEMBLE AT OXY OIL WELL SITE TO BLOCK DRILLING
TRIBE CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT TO STOP THE OIL PROJECT
Bogota, Colombia -- 200 U'wa Indians, including women, children and tribal elders marched on the site of Occidental Petroleum's planned oil well Gibraltar 1, establishing a permanent settlement to block the drilling slated to begin in the coming weeks. Hundreds of additional U'wa are expected to continue arriving to the settlement in upcoming days. Tribal leaders declared that this permanent settlement is a necessary to block the
drilling after legal battles and direct appeals to the company and government have failed to date.
Oxy's entire oil block falls within the U'wa's ancestral territory. The U'wa, a traditional tribe of some 5,000 people living in the cloudforests of northeastern Colombia have repeatedly declared their absolute opposition to Oxy's oil project. The U'wa cannot allow drilling on their ancestral lands as they believe that oil is the blood of the Earth. The oil project is widely expected to escalate conflicts in the region among the armed factions, resulting in violence against the U'wa, as seen in other oil areas of Colombia. Despite this, in September the Colombian Minister of the Environment approve a drilling license for the first exploratory well.
"We are willing to have the government bomb us, but we will not abandon these ancestral lands because we must stop Oxy from drilling for oil, which is the blood of our Mother Earth," U'wa international spokesperon Berito Kuwaru'wa, declared from the U'wa settlement at Gibraltar.
Today, in the Colombian capital of Bogota, 25 U'wa representatives including Tribal Council president Roberto Perez marched on the Ministry of the Environment, calling for Colombian and international support at this critical moment in their campaign. In the communiqué that follows, the U'wa make an urgent appeal to their supporters to join them in solidarity at the settlement during this non-violent stand to defend their culture, land and lives.
For more information on the U'wa and their campaign please see: www.ran.org, www.amazonwatch.org, www.moles.org
The U'wa Defense Working Group includes:
Amazon Watch, Action Resource Center, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, EarthWays Foundation, International Law Project for Human Environmental & Economic Defense, Project Underground, Rainforest Action Network, Sol Communications, U'wa Defense Project