Eye on the Amazon

Bad Faith: Colombian Government Disrespects U'wa People

Photo credit: Tatiana Vila, Kinorama Producciones

On one side of the table a group embodying integrity, legitimacy, humility. Across from them on the other? The personification of cynicism, obfuscation and arrogance. That was the scene in Bogotá yesterday where the U'wa people took their fight into a meeting with the Colombian government, calling on it to live up to previously negotiated agreements. Ultimately the U'wa walked out, seeing the complete lack of intention on the government's part to have meaningful dialogue.

The latest episode of the decades-old struggle to defend their rights and environment dates back to early 2014. The U'wa woke up one day to realize that a major gas exploration project was being constructed in their backyard without their prior knowledge or consultation. While the U'wa mobilized in protest, Colombian insurgents bombed an oil pipeline passing through U'wa territory. The U'wa occupied the bombing site, delaying repair of the pipeline and costing state-run Ecopetrol millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Desperate to see oil flow again, governmental ministers personally traveled to U'wa territory to negotiate a settlement. An agreement was reached on May 1, 2014, which the U'wa referred to as "minimal" and a product of a threat of repression if they didn't acquiesce. The U'wa immediately upheld their side of the agreement, standing down and allowing work crews to repair the pipeline.

Over the course of 2014 and into 2015, the Magallanes gas exploration platform was dismantled. As we have previously written, this was an important step attributable to steadfast U'wa resistance and the support they receive from allies like Amazon Watch. But the license for the project has never been cancelled, and the U'wa live with the daily threat of its potential reactivation.

Likewise, the Colombian government has not lived up to its end of the agreement in other areas related to titling of U'wa territory, buying out land-invaders who live within the U'wa reservation, and burying the oil pipeline as a measure to reduce armed attacks near U'wa villages. Some of these are simply reiterations of prior governmental commitments, unfulfilled to date.

Photo credit: Tatiana Vila, Kinorama Producciones

In efforts to send a signal that they were serious about compliance with the agreement, the U'wa recently requested a follow-up meeting with the government. When authorities claimed they couldn't travel to U'wa territory for lack of financial resources, the U'wa proposed a date in Bogotá. Contacts in the Ministry of the Interior asked that the dates be postponed in order to allow for solid participation of other official entities. The U'wa assumed that meant government representatives who have decisionmaking power.

Yesterday some 30+ U'wa leaders representing each of the 17 communities under the U'wa association umbrella were in Bogotá. The group was turned away from the Interior Ministry in the morning and met with low-level officials in a hotel conference room in the afternoon. According to their most recent communiqué (translation featured below), the U'wa leaders were frustrated and ultimately walked out of the so-called "dialogue" space.

As of this morning, the U'wa are back in their ancestral territory. The delegation participants will travel to their respective communities and engage in deep spiritual cleansing and contemplation, a ritual the U'wa call ayuno. With a sense of the government's ongoing bad faith, they will strategize their next steps. While we don't know what those steps will be, we do know we will continue accompanying their struggle and recruiting the international community to join us.

Photo credit: Tatiana Vila, Kinorama Producciones

Communiqué for National and International Public Opinion

Bogotá, Colombia – June 23rd, 2015

The U'wa Nation is walking away from the dialogue table with the National Government for the following reasons:

  1. Complete absence of high functionaries and representatives of the Minister of Interior, Minister of Energy and Mines, President of Ecopetrol, General Director of INCODER, Minister of Environment, Director of the National Agency for Environmental Licenses, and the National Director for the National Agency for Hydrocarbons, with the capacity and power to make decisions around attending to compliance with the agreements signed on 1 May 2014 and 6 June 2014.
  2. Lack of compliance with the agreements arrived at between the U'wa Nation and the National Government in 2014.
  3. Delegitimization of the dialogue and interlocution process between the U'wa Nation and the National Government, by not allowing the meeting to be carried out within the Interior Ministry's building or that of any other governmental entity.
  4. Lack of acknowledgement of and disrespect for the ancestral authorities of the U'wa Nation, whereas we had present the leaders of ASOU'WA, our traditional authorities, community councils, and technical advisors, all of whom have the capacity to make decisions of great transcendence for the survival of our people.

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