back to Columbia | ratville times | rat haus | Index | Search | tree

( ASCII text )

The following is mirrored from the
The U'wa Defense Working Group -- -- works to publicize the U'wa struggle and mobilize international support by organizing institutions and people in defense of the U'wa.

U'wa Defense Working Group
Response To Occidental's Public Relations Campaign

March 2000

In Congressional testimony before the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, and in various lobbying documents and conversations, Occidental's spokesmen have made several disingenuous and misleading points. They are presented and rebutted below:

  • Oxy implies that the U'wa are but pawns of guerrillas and international NGOs

    This implication is both patronizing and dangerous to the U'wa. In September of 1997 a joint mission of the Organization of American States and Harvard University's Center for Non-Violent Solutions issued their report on solutions to the ongoing conflict between the U'wa and Colombia and Oxy. One of the top recommendations of that report was for a "moderation of public rhetoric", which in Oxy's case, referred to ongoing unsubstantiated statements dangerously linking the U'wa to guerrilla groups. Continued statements in this vein not only disregard this important recommendation designed to deescalate tension in the region, but also substantially place the U'wa at risk by publicly accusing them of being linked to guerrilla forces.

    Most recently, Occidental Vice President Lawrence Meriage testified before the US Congress that "the [U'wa] community has been under intense pressure by the guerrillas to oppose oil development anywhere in the region. These uncontested facts are well known in Colombia. Rather than acknowledge the truth, namely that the U'wa are in no position to speak openly about what is really happening, the NGOs continue to attack Occidental." The facts, are indeed, very contested.

    In fact, both the U'wa and NGOs have issued multiple condemnations of the guerrillas. Most recently, in January of this year, the U'wa stated "we don 't agree with the actions by the National Liberation Army (ELN) to destroy the machinery and equipment of the transnational oil company OXY, since actions like these only make the conflict worse." See below for a discussion of NGO condemnation of the guerrillas.

    Occidental signed their contract for exploration in April of 1992. Public U'wa opposition to oil development dates to March of 1993, which the U'wa point out is also when Occidental stopped talking to isolated members of their community about health and education projects, and started talking about oil drilling. Colombian media first reported that the U'wa were threatening mass suicide in April of 1995. International NGOs were not even aware of the situation prior to 1996.

  • Oxy attempts to link US NGOs to Colombian guerrillas

    In testimony before the US Congress, Occidental spokesman Meriage accuses US NGO's of being "de facto allies of the subversive forces" -- a dangerous and inflammatory statement given the context of Colombia today. Meriage further implies that US NGOs have not addressed the complexity of violence in Colombia -- a claim that is demonstrably false.

    As Occidental knows well, three American NGO representatives were killed by the FARC last year on a mission to U'wa territory. US NGOs were vocal in their condemnation of violence by guerrillas both before and after that event.

    Prior to the murders, Project Underground, with the support of the full U'wa Defense Working Group, undertook a case study of the U'wa situation, which it published under the title Blood Of Our Mother. The report explicitly documents the complexity of the cycle of violence in Colombia, and the role of the guerrillas in particular of attacking oil installations. Over 5,000 copies have been printed and distributed, and it is available online.

    While NGOs, like the U'wa, abhor the use of violence by the guerrillas, our analysis is that oil exploration in Colombia today, in the middle of a country embroiled in civil war, is an inherently violent proposition. Oil installations, as Oxy well knows, attract violence throughout Colombia -- they are strategic targets in the war. We do not argue that stopping oil development in the U'wa region will ensure peace. We do maintain that moving forward with oil development can only harm its prospects.

    Finally, we note with some irony that fact that Mr. Meriage's oral testimony to Congress included the admission of direct payments from Occidental to the guerrillas, and call on Occidental to reveal the full extent of the payments and their relationship over time.

  • Oxy contends that their well is situated outside of U'wa territory

    While it is true that Occidental's Gibraltar 1 well lies approximately 500 meters outside the border of the newly legalized Unified U'wa Reservation, Occidental neglects to mention that the two farms on which the drillsite is actually situated on land that is owned by the U'wa.

    On November 18, 1999, on behalf of the entire U'wa people, the Association of U'wa Traditional Authorities entered into and officially registered contracts to purchase two farms near the border of their Unified Reserve. These farms -- named Bella Vista and Santa Rita -- encompass the land designated for the Gibraltar 1 well. The registration of these contracts constituted a transfer of the property free of any encumbrances.

    In addition to the U'wa's ownership of the land on which Occidental intends to drill the well, the well is approximately 500 meters from the U'wa's legally recognized Unified Reservation. The "area of direct influence" identified by Occidental Petroleum essentially follows the boundary of the Reservation. Neither the Government of Colombia nor Occidental Petroleum has made available the environmental impact study that defines the area of impact -- making it impossible to evaluate the suspicious conclusion that any direct impact stops at the border of the Reservation or to ascertain how serious may be any indirect impact on that land.

    The U'wa have therefore had no opportunity to evaluate the assertion implicit in the Gibraltar 1 license that the well's impact will be drastically less than that of other wells in Colombia. Such secrecy runs counter to fundamental principles of democracy which, in the area of environmental assessment, are codified in the United States in our requirement that the public be permitted to review and comment on environmental impact statements.

    Finally, all of the Samore block lies clearly within traditional U'wa territory as defined by the University of Javeriana in conjunction with the departmental governments of Boyaca, Santander, and North Santander, the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform, and the Cabildo Mayor U'wa.

  • Oxy contends that the U'wa were consulted prior to the beginning of construction on Gibraltar 1

    The U'wa were never consulted regarding the construction of Gibraltar 1. All of the meetings referenced by both the Colombian government and Occidental were exclusively focused on the expansion of the U'wa reserve -- not the construction of an oil well.

    The Colombian Constitution establishes particular protections for indigenous cultures and territories threatened by natural resource exploitation. Article 330 provides: "Exploitation of natural resources in indigenous territories shall take place without harm to the cultural, social or economic integrity of the indigenous communities. In adopting decisions regarding such exploitation, the Government shall ensure the participation of representatives of the respective communities." Law 99 of 1993 implements this constitutional protection by requiring that there be "prior consultation with the representatives of the [indigenous] communities" before making decisions concerning natural resource exploitation that could harm those communities. Even the Colombian Environment Ministry's own regulations require consultation with affected indigenous communities before granting environmental licenses.

    The approval of Occidental's license to drill the Gibraltar 1 well violates these requirements of prior consultation.

    In the words of the U'wa:

    "This action once again reveals how the rule of law inscribed in our Constitution, which is supposed to procure social well being, is subsumed by a higher order of decrees and norms which serve local and transnational special interests. These interests threaten not only threaten our ways of thinking and living, which are an inspiration for future generations of the world, but they also restrict our capacity to protect our people.

    . . . we would like to make it known that, through a shady process which was conducted without full consultation, we were called to negotiate the terms of our territory, which historical circumstances wrested from our community. With good faith, we attempted to secure our legitimate right to this land, but on a parallel path, the Minister of the Environment and his closest aids, deciding that economic interests have the right to pilfer and destroy Mother Earth, have taken unprecedented measures that threaten our struggle for identity, sovereignty and self-determination."

  • Oxy implies that opposition to the Samore Project is restricted to the guerrillas and NGOs

    Nothing could be further from the truth. In September of 1999, over 100 organizations from 24 countries signed a letter to President Pastrana urging him not to grant the license to drill to Occidental. In Colombia, the breadth and depth of support for the U'wa is evidenced by the presence of over 2,500 local people currently surrounding Oxy's well, and the hundreds of organizations that have supported the campaign in the last nine years.

Occidental's license to drill was granted under false pretenses, and should be immediately suspended. Despite legal requirements for consultation, Colombian authorities never held a single meeting with the U'wa concerning the decision to grant this license.

Proceeding with this project now virtually ensures a violent confrontation. The responsible course of action at this stage is to enter into a "cooling off" period, which will allow for the de-escalation of the significant tensions in the region.

The only short-term solution to this crisis is to suspend oil operations on Gibraltar 1, pending a mediated settlement in which all stakeholders are full participants.

back to Columbia | ratville times | rat haus | Index | Search | tree