General Strike in Effect in U’wa Region in Colombia Dead Children Named, One Body Found In Washington, OXY Admits Payments to Guerrillas

Responding to the recent use of force by the Colombian National Police against the peaceful U’wa, rural workers throughout the region began a general strike on February 15. Scheduled to last three days, the strike is being observed in the districts of Araucanos de Fortul, Saravena y Arauquita, as well as Cubará where businesses remained closed and public transportation was suspended.

The Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo reported that the body of one of the victims of Friday's incident, four-month old Nury Bócota, daughter of Pastor and Gloria Bócota, was found. The names of two other children believed dead were also reported as 10 year-old Jorge Anicuta and 9 year-old Maricio Diaz. The two were from the Guahibo indigenous community of Geareros (Tame) who had joined protests in solidarity with the U'wa. Search for the other bodies is made difficult due to the terrain and the fast current of the Cubojón River. The U'wa also claim a fourth infant may have died in the clash.

Families and friends of the four-month old victim conducted a burial service yesterday. The children allegedly drowned after the soldiers and anti-riot police used tear gas, bulldozers and riot sticks to charge the blockade, forcing the U'wa to jump into the fast flowing Cubujón River. The National Police had previously denied reports of deaths as a result of the confrontation.

The U'wa also released the names of four U'wa who were injured and 11 additional people reported missing following the incident. The injured are reported as: Maria Antoineta Ihuanito, Chela Ihuanito, Patricia Ihuanito, and Luis Caballero. The missing are reported as: Eleanora Herrera, Luz Elena Herrera, Gustavo Delgado, Wilson Diaz, Antonio Delgado, Nelson Diaz, Edgar Diaz, Tonio Delgado, Freddy Diaz, Alfredo Diaz, Wilson Herrera.

Meanwhile in Washington this week, Larry Meriage, Occidental Petroleum's Vice President of Public Affairs admitted that Oxy regularly pays off the Colombian Guerrillas. Testifying before the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Meriage stated that: "[our employees] are regularly shaken down by both the FARC and the ELN. They are required to pay a "war tax" to both of the guerrilla groups or they are not able to work."

"Meriage’s admission that Oxy pays the guerrillas underscores the absurdity of looking for oil in the middle of a war zone." said Steve Kretzmann of Amazon Watch. "It also reinforces what the U’wa have always said about this project – that it will only bring more violence to their region. The only responsible course of action for Oxy and the Colombian Government is an immediate suspension of the Samoré project pending a negotiated settlement that all sides are party to."

Video footage taken by the U'wa of the February 11 incident has aired on Colombian Television stations. Copies of any of the aforementioned documents are available upon request.

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