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Threat to U'wa in Colombia
U'wa Defense Working Group Action Alert!
Colombian government approves oil drilling on U'wa land! U'wa threaten mass suicide rather than see Mother Earth desecrated. October 12- celebrate Indigenous People's Day with emergency action for the U'wa.
We are seeking an explanation for this progress that goes against life.
We are demanding that this kind of progress stop, that oil exploitation in the heart of the Earth is halted, that the deliberate bleeding of the Earth stop...we ask that our brothers and sisters from other races and cultures unite in the struggle that we are undertaking...we believe that this struggle has to become a global crusade to defend life. - Statement of the U'wa people, August, 1998
1. Action Alert - Drilling on U'wa Land Imminent 2. Background information on the U'wa struggle 3. Sample Letters to Oxy and Colombian Government
#1. On September 21st Colombia's Environment Minister Juan Mayr announced he was granting a permit for Los Angeles based Occidental Petroleum to begin exploratory drilling on the U'wa ancestral homelands. The U'wa have denounced the government's decision as cultural and environmental genocide.
This permit removes the final legal obstacle to Occidental's plans to drill and pushes the U'wa one step closer to their last resort pledge of committing mass suicide.
For several years now the U'wa have been an inspiring symbol of ecological sanity and indigenous resistance to the oil industry's relentless invasion of the final remote corners of the planet. The U'wa have maintained their stand despite harassment, intimidation, a brutal assault on their spokesperson and the murder of three of their supporters. A worldwide solidarity movement forced Royal Dutch Shell to withdraw from the project and has stalled the efforts of LA-based Occidental Petroleum to begin drilling. Until now. With approval from the Colombian government drilling on U'wa land is imminent. A global solidarity movement is needed to pressure the Colombian government and Occidental to cancel the project.
In Colombia where a 30 year civil war has claimed the lives of 25,000 people this decade alone, oil and violence spread hand in hand. Oil installations are popular targets for the guerillas and as such bring de facto military occupations along with the inevitable ecological devastation from ongoing bombing. For the U'wa oil is the blood of Mother Earth and therefore to drill is the ultimate desecration of their ancient traditions of living in peaceful balance with the Earth.
The U'wa remain strong in their determination to protect their culture and sacred homelands but they need your help. October 12 is the anniversary of the European invasion of the Americas. Indigenous people and their supporters across the Western hemisphere will be celebrating 500 years of indigenous resistance. It is our hope that activists around the world will answer this emergency call to resist the new colonialism of multinational corporations by taking action on behalf of the U'wa.
HERE ARE WAYS THAT YOU CAN GET INVOLVED :
1)CONTACT OCCIDENTAL AND THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT (See sample letters below)
Dr. Ray R. Irani, President and CEO
We are asking that people do something on Oct 12 as a show of emergency support and then organize more substantial events over the next month. Obviously Oct 12 is very soon but the situation is urgent. Even if the demonstration is small do something to show the Colombian government that the U'wa have allies all around the world. Let us know what you are planning.
If you are not near a city with a Colombian government office
: * Organize fax blasts, phone zaps, letter writing tables
* Organize a teach-in on the threat the U'wa face from fossil fuel consumption, militarism and economic globalization.
* Reproduce U'wa communiqués (available upon request) the background article below or publish your own article. Write letters to the editor. Announce the issue at your local activist gathering. Do whatever you can to spread the story of the U'wa's inspiring resistance.
* Research Occidental (often called Oxy)Petroleum's presence in your community. Subsidiaries include Oxy International, Oxy Chemical and Midcon (a natural gas company). Find their local presence and take action!
* Lobby your own government to take a stand to protect the U'wa
* Keep the pressure on the Colombian government!
Fact sheets and other campaign materials are available on the RAN website WWW.RAN.ORG
please call or email for hard copies, additional information and to coordinate your local actions with other supporters. Contact Patrick Reinsborough at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us in San Francisco, USA at 415-398-4404.
3) CONNECT THE U'WA WITH YOUR WORK AGAINST THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION OR OTHER FORMS OF CORPORATE DOMINATION
The next three months will be the critical time for the U'wa. As many activists around the world are organize around the next World Trade Organization meeting (Nov 29-Dec 3)the U'wa will be fighting for their lives against the same system of uncheck corporate expansion. Even if you can't organize something for Oct 12th plan something for later. Use the U'wa resistance as an example of the emerging global resistance to corporate domination. Connect the U'wa struggle with your ongoing campaigns - whether its environmental justice, anti-militarism, indigenous rights or fighting globalization. Use the U'wa struggle as an example on the November 30th day of action against globalization. See http://go.to/n30 or email N30contacts@angelfire.com for details.
Contact email@example.com to receive updates about the U'wa over the coming months.
please take action now. It is nothing less than a matter of life or death for the U'wa.
#2. BACKGROUND ON THE U'WA PEOPLE AND THEIR CAMPAIGN
"We will in no way sell our Mother Earth, to do so would be to give up our work of collaborating with the spirits to protect the heart of the world, which sustains and gives life to the rest of the universe, it would be to go against our own origins, and those of all existence." - Statement of the U'wa People, August 1998
The U'wa of the Colombian cloud forest are in a life-and-death struggle to protect their traditional culture and sacred homeland from an oil project slated to begin on their land at anytime. The U'wa are adamantly opposed to the drilling and warn that the project will lead to an increase in violence as seen in other oil regions of Colombia. Despite this, Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum and the Colombian government continue to move forward with plans to drill. The U'wa have made a call for international support; now is the time for us to answer.
The U'wa's opposition to the oil project is so strong that they have vowed to commit collective suicide if Occidental Petroleum and the Colombian government proceed with the project on their ancestral lands. The U'wa, a traditional people some 5,000 members strong, explain they prefer a death by their own hand than the slow death to their environment and culture that oil production will bring. A core tenet of U'wa culture and spirituality is the belief that the land that has sustained them for centuries is sacred.
They strongly believe that to permit oil exploration on these sacred lands would upset the balance of the world. In the words of the U'wa, 'Oil is the blood of Mother Earth...to take the oil is, for us, worse than killing your own mother. If you kill the Earth, then no one will live.'
The U'wa people's struggle exploded into the public arena last March with the tragic murders in Colombia of three indigenous rights activists: Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahe'e Gay. Terence was one of the founders of the U'wa Defense Working Group and had devoted the last two years of his life to supporting the U'wa in their campaign to stop Occidental's oil project, reclaim their ancestral homeland and protect their traditional culture. Ingrid and 'Laheanee were coo'rdinating with the U'wa to launch an educational project designed to maintain and promote the U'wa's traditional way-of-life.
These murders and the intimidation the U'wa have already persevered are but a harbinger of the wider physical violence the oil project will bring to their people. Throughout Colombia, oil and violence are linked inextricably.
Occidental's Caño Limón pipeline, just north of U'wa territory, has been attacked by leftist guerillas more than 600 times in its 13 years of existence, spilling some 1.7 million barrels of crude oil into the soil and rivers. The Colombian government has militarized oil production and pipeline zones, often persecuting local populations the government assumes are helping the guerrillas. Oil projects have already taken their toll on many other indigenous peoples of Colombia, including the Yarique, Kofan and Secoya.
The current drilling plans threaten the survival of both the U'wa and their environment. The U'wa's cloud forest homeland in the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy mountains near the Venezuelan border is one of the most delicate, endangered forest ecosystems on the planet. It is an area rich in plant and animal life unique to the region, and the U'wa depend on the balance and bounty of the forest for their survival. Where oil companies have operated in other regions of the Amazon basin, cultural decay, toxic pollution, land invasions and massive deforestation have followed.
Occidental first received an exploration license for the 2 billion barrels oil field- the equivalent of three months of U.S. consumption -in 1992.
Since then, the U'wa have voiced their consistent opposition to the oil project. They have taken a variety of actions to halt the project including the filing of lawsuits against the government in Colombia, petitioning the Organization of American States to intervene, appealing directly with Occidental's top executives, and reaching out to company shareholders.
Last April U'wa representatives came to Los Angeles to directly confront Occidental. Along with several hundred supporters the U'wa marched on Oxy's HQ and demanded a meeting with CEO Ray Irani. When they were refused entry activists occupied the street in front of the building and held an inspirational rally on Oxy's front steps. Two days later on April 30th while the U'wa spoke at Occidental's shareholder meeting there were demonstrations at Colombian consulates and embassies around the world.
The U.S has very strong ties with Colombia. Not only does Colombia sell most of its oil to the U.S. market but under the auspices of the "War on Drugs" U.S. military aid to the repressive regime in Colombia continues to grow. This year Colombia received $289 million in aid making them the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world after Israel and Egypt.
The U.S already has hundreds of military advisors in Colombia and the Clinton administration is proposing to give Colombia an additional $1.5 billion dollars.
In August the Colombian government expanded the U'wa legal reserve. However the expansion includes only a portion of the U'wa traditional territory and most significantly the new borders were drawn in such a way as to place the sight of Occidental's first drill site just outside of the reserve boundaries. The Colombian government is cynically using this bureaucratic slight-of-hand to maintain that drilling will not happen on U'wa land.
With drilling imminent and in the face of mounting violence in the region the urgency of the U'wa's struggle has never been so great. The U'wa need all of us to support them in their struggle. Spread the word. Tell their story. Educate. Organize. Contact Occidental and the Colombian government .
Demand they cancel the project now!
#3. SAMPLE LETTERS
Dr Ray Irani, President and CEO
Dear Dr. Irani,
I am writing to express my deep concern with Occidental Petroleum's continued plans to drill for oil in the ancestral territory of the U'wa people in Colombia. The U'wa have threatened to commit collective suicide if Occidental moves forward with drilling. For the sake of the lives and land of the U'wa people and of the peace process in Colombia, please immediately suspend all operations in the U'wa ancestral territory.
The U'wa people believe that oil is the blood of mother earth. They have repeatedly and adamantly explained to your company that they are utterly opposed to your plans to drill for oil on their sacred territory. It is time that Oxy accept the full extent of U'wa traditional territory, as defined by the U'wa themselves and withdraw from all efforts to drill in the Samore block. Oxy's continuing failure to suspend operations is in blatant violation of the recommendations of the 1997 OAS/Harvard report. There is ample opportunity to support Colombia in building energy self-sufficiency.
We encourage you to do so by canceling your plans to exploit the Samore region and investing instead in renewable energy options.
The fate of an entire indigenous civilization is in your hands. The U'wa deserve to live free from the inevitable violence and ecological devastation that oil drilling will bring. I urge you to look to your heart and cancel the project. The world is watching and waiting for you to do the right thing.
LETTER TO PRESIDENT PASTRANA.
I am deeply troubled to learn that your government has granted Occidental Petroleum an environmental license for oil exploration at the Gibraltar 1 drill site which is in the traditional territory of the U'wa people. As you are aware, the U'wa are adamantly opposed to any oil activities within their homelands as it poses a serious threat to their physical and cultural survival . I strongly urge you to reconsider your government's decision to grant this environmental license since allowing drilling will cause irreparable harm to the U'wa people, culture and territory.
Granting a license for drilling on the U'wa's traditional territory - particularly so close to their legally recognized reserve - constitutes a grave disregard for their deep spiritual and cultural ties to their land.
Oil drilling will also threaten the U'wa by escalating conflict in the region. Oil facilities are a magnet for militarization and attacks by guerrilla factions, which has catastrophic environmental and social impacts for local communities. Oxy's Caño Limón pipeline has been bombed more than 600 times over the last 13 years, with a new attack occurring on average once a week. You must cancel this project before it leads to a significant increase in violence against the peaceful U'wa and other local peoples.
As one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, Colombia has much to gain from reorienting current development plans towards strategies which foster ecological conservation rather than destruction.
By letting the U'wa continue to live undisturbed, you are making a priceless investment in cultural and biological diversity for Colombia's future. Now is your opportunity to take a regional leadership role in developing sustainable, renewable energy sources, rather than sacrificing ecologically and culturally sensitive areas to new petroleum exploitation.
International civil society is carefully monitoring the U'wa case. Your resolution of this delicate situation will either be a critical step towards promoting indigenous rights and environmental preservation or will be forever seen as enabling one of the worst in a long line of human and ecological tragedies. Your leadership in this important case is anxiously awaited.
Thank you for your concern and action on behalf of the U'wa people and their traditional territory. I look forward to your response.
U'wa Defense Working Group Members:
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
Link to further information on indigenous peoples.