Eye on the Amazon

"We Own These Territories. Ecopetrol Has To Go."

The faces of U'wa leadership: ASOU'WA president Bladimir Moreno and legal advisor Aura Tegria, in front of the Gibraltar gas plant as they read the latest communiqué and express the position that the plant should be dismantled and the land returned to the U'wa as its ancestral owner. Photo credit: ASOU'WA

As of early this morning, the Indigenous Guard of Colombia's U'wa people have begun a nonviolent occupation of a gas extraction well within their territory. This move – which puts their people at risk of violent repression from the Colombian security forces – is an expression of their deep frustration over years of dialogue with the government. Government officials sign agreements as a means of pacifying the U'wa, and then little or no progress is made in the following months or even years.

This pattern of unfulfilled commitments sparked a nationwide mobilization last month under the banner of the National Minga. According to organizers, there are over 1,200 agreements made with indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and campesino communities that remain on paper but unimplemented. The U'wa protests around the Gibraltar gas plant were one of dozens of actions across the country. But when the Minga ended and most of the other protests demobilized, the U'wa held firm. Since then, they have held two meetings with government officials, including a high-level meeting with various ministers and the president of Ecopetrol.

The national Colombian newspaper El Espectador published an important article on Monday entitled, "The U'wa Don't Want Ecopetrol in Their Ancestral Territories." According to the subtitle, "The U'wa community has taken over territorial control in the zone of Norte de Santander for more than the last month. Facing the slow pace of fulfilment of agreements made with the government, they are demanding the departure of the oil company from lands which, they claim, belong to them."

ASOU'WA president Bladimir Moreno is quoted as saying, "Our demand were minimal and agreed upon, but the government doesn't want to fulfill them. We're not going to move because we are the owners of these territories. Ecopetrol is the one that needs to leave."

By entering and occupying the actual Gibraltar gas extraction site, the U'wa are taking their nonviolent direct action to a new level, even given the risks they run. Repression of indigenous protests by the ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios – a mobile crowd-control unit of the National Police) is notorious and often results in deaths of protesters. Earlier this week, the U'wa issued a statement of concern detailing increased military surveillance around their encampments, which they interpret as an attempt to intimidate them.

For several decades, the U'wa have inspired support from Colombia and around the globe. That support today manifests itself in a letter, signed by 51 Colombian and international non-governmental organizations, expressing their solidarity with the nonviolent protests and encouraging the Colombian government to finally live up to its word.

In the coming days we will be publicizing updates via social media and passing along any news articles that are published on the protest. Our hope is that dialogue prevails and the Colombian government finally acts in good faith toward the U'wa. As noted in the letter, fulfilling agreements with indigenous and grassroots communities is going to be crucial in order to build a lasting peace in Colombia.

NGO Letter in Solidarity with the U'wa

Download as PDF: English | Spanish

To:
Mr. Juan Manuel Santos Calderón
President of the Republic of Colombia

CC:
Ministry of Interior
Ministry of Mines and Energy
Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development
Peoples Defender (Ombudsman)
Solicitor General of the Nation
Ecopetrol

Mr. President,

We, the below-signed national and international civil society organizations, respectfully write to you in expression of our support and solidarity with the U'wa indigenous nation and their process of demanding their rights. Fundamentally we would manifest our concern with the Colombian state's lack of compliance with agreements signed between the national government and the U'wa Nation more than two years ago in May of 2014. Following the agreement in June 2014, many of our organizations sent a similar letter requesting that the Colombian state take all necessary measures to protect and respect the life, integrity and other rights of the U'wa Nation. On this occasion, given the lack of progress and compliance with the accords, we would reiterate that request.

For more than two decades, the U'wa Nation has been a point of reference for the just insistence of indigenous peoples' collective rights, as much in Colombia as elsewhere around the world. In recent months, we have monitored with keen interest the various peaceful collective actions that the U'wa, in conjunction with other indigenous peoples and campesino communities, has taken in defense of their sacred and ancestral territories. We greatly admire the vision, patience and discipline with which the U'wa Indigenous Guard has acted around Mt. Zizuma (El Cocuy), their sacred snow-capped mountain peak, and more recently near the gas extraction platform Gibraltar, which is found just outside the U'wa reserve but within their ancestral territory.

We are concerned about the state's lack of will to fulfill the agreements signed on May 1st and June 6th of 2014 – shown by stalling and a lack of effective responses – the many meetings between the U'wa Nation and government notwithstanding. We understand that the U'wa are not alone in their situation of waiting, given that the recent Agrarian, Campesino, Ethnic and Popular Mobilization (Minga) was launched because of over 1,200 similarly unfulfilled agreements and that this is now in a dialogue process.

As such, we believe the current negotiation with the U'wa is a great opportunity for the Colombian State to finally fulfill the signed accords in a real and effective manner, therefore showing your commitment to the respect and guarantee of the individual and collective rights of this ancestral Nation, that have been violated for decades. This is an opportunity for the state to turn its stated commitment to indigenous peoples into a reality, something that is certainly necessary for any durable peace process.

As organizations that have a history of accompanying the U'wa Nation, we will continue to be very attentive to the next steps. We hold out hope that the Colombian state will comply with the signed agreements, in addition to your national and international commitments to respect indigenous peoples rights. Please guarantee the life, integrity, development and culture of the U'wa Nation, as a fundamental base for the Social State of Rights.

Sincerely,

CEDINS (Colombia)
Censat Agua Viva - Amigos de la Tierra Colombia (Colombia)
Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (Colombia)
Congreso de los Pueblos (Colombia)
Corporación Visión Renacer (Colombia)
Endémica Studios (Colombia)
Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu (Colombia)
Fundación Hemera (Colombia)
Kinorama Producciones (Colombia)
Proceso Popular Asamblea SUR (Colombia)
Pueblo Muisca Mhuysqa (Colombia)
VITAL-IDEA/OCA (Colombia)
Intercontinental Cry (Canada)
MiningWatch Canada (Canada)
ACCIÓN ECOLÓGICA (Ecuador)
Almáciga (Spain)
Asociacion Entreiguales Valencia (Spain)
Asociación Perifèries (Spain)
Master cooperación internacional para el desarrollo, Universidad de Alicante (Spain)
Alternativa Intercambio con Pueblos Indígenas (Spain)
Colectivo Maloka Colombia (Spain)
Observatorio por la Autonomía y los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas (Spain)
HREV - Human Rights Everywhere (Luxembourg- Spain-Colombia-Panamá)
Instituto de Defensa Legal del Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible - IDLADS PERÚ (Peru)
Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA) (Regional)
PBI Suiza (Switzerland)
Wayunkerra Indigenous Women's Initiative (Switzerland)
This Changes Everything UK (United Kingdom)
Tribes Alive/Indigenous People's Cultural Support Trust (United Kingdom)
Amazon Conservation Team (USA)
Amazon Watch (USA)
AntFarm (USA)
Center for International Environmental Law (USA)
Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington , DC (USA)
Colombia Land Rights Monitor (USA)
Earthjustice (USA)
EarthRights International (USA)
EarthWays Foundation (USA)
Ingrid Washinawatok Flying Eagle Woman Fund (USA)
International Rivers (USA)
Latin America Working Group (USA)
Mujer U'wa (USA)
Rainforest Action Network (USA)
T.E.J.A.S (USA)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) (USA)
Indigenous Environmental Network (USA)
Peace Development Fund (USA)
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries (USA)
United Steel Workers (USA)
Women's Studies, Southern Connecticut State University, (USA)
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (USA and Switzerland)

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