Major Step to Ending Oil Drilling in Rainforest Results from Oxy Shareholder Vote 40-Million Shares Vote to Support the Rights of Colombia's U'wa People

AMAZON WATCH

For more information, contact:

Ada Recinos at +1.510.473.7542 or ada@amazonwatch.org


Santa Monica, CA - Environmental and human rights activists scored a significant victory today as thirteen percent of Occidental Petroleum shareholders, totaling over 40,000,000 shares, voted in favor of a resolution presented at the annual shareholder meeting to carry out an analysis of the risks associated with oil project planned for U'wa people's lands in the Colombian cloudforest. The resolution, introduced by the Sinisawa Dominican sisters, was endorsed by shareholders that own some $800,000,000 worth of Oxy stock.

Julie Freitas, mother of activist Terence Freitas who was murdered in Colombia on March 4, made a passionate plea in support of the U'wa people, "We have a lot to learn from peace-loving people like the U'wa, and must work to protect Indigenous cultures."

"In the world of shareholder activism," said Atossa Soltani, Director of Amazon Watch, "a thirteen percent vote is a huge victory." To give context to today's events, she commented: "Three percent of McDonalds shareholders voted in favor of eliminating styrofoam packaging, and the company took action. Also, some ten percent of Sun Oil shareholders voted to have the company adopt the strict environmental guidelines for its operations, and today Sun has put in place such standards. I don't believe Oxy can go ahead with this project without upsetting its major shareholders - a foolhardy thing for a company to do."

"This vote shows that concern over the project slated for U'wa lands has gone beyond Colombia and activist circles to top influential shareholders. The company can no longer afford to ignore the issue," explained Shannon Wright of Rainforest Action Network.

Leaders of the U'wa nation, who arrived in Los Angeles after an epic three-day journey from their homes high in Colombia's cloud forest, also addressed the Oxy meeting, imploring each individual shareholder to encourage the company to cancel the oil project planned for their ancestral territory. Then, tribal leader Berito Kuwaru'wa sang a traditional song in U'wa language describing petroleum as "the blood of the Earth." The U'wa's plea is particularly urgent as the Occidental has applied for an environmental license from the Colombian government to drill its first well on land the U'wa hold sacred.

The U'wa live adjacent to Oxy's existing Caño Limon oil project. The pipeline is a magnet for rebel, military and paramilitary activity that has been bombed, according to Occidental's own figures, 23 times in the past year, and over 500 times in its twelve-year existence, spilling some 1.7 million barrels of crude oil into the rainforest's soil and rivers. The U'wa are fearful similar violence and pollution would harm their people and scar their traditional territory if the proposed U'wa-land project goes forward. Earlier this month, the U'wa had a grim preview of things to come when three Americans who were helping the U'wa to set up educational programs were kidnapped and murdered by rebels.

On Wednesday this week, some two hundred U'wa supporters from points across the Western United States joined the U'wa leaders in a march and rally at Occidental Petroleum's Los Angeles headquarters. Twenty were arrested in non-violent demonstration of solidarity with the U'wa.

The U'wa Defense Working Group is endorsed by the following organizations, listed in alphabetical order: Action Resource Center, Amazon Watch, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Earth Ways Foundation, Indigenous Environmental Network, International Law Project for Human Environmental and Economic Defense, Project Underground, Rainforest Action Network, and Sol Communications. A statement from the U'wa is attached. -30-

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