U'WA of Colombia Uphold Opposition to All Oil Drilling as Tribe Granted Expansion of Legal Territory


For more information, contact:

Ada Recinos at +1.510.473.7542 or ada@amazonwatch.org

A Colombian Indian tribe has upheld its opposition to oil drilling on its traditional territory after winning legal title to a significant portion of that land. At a government ceremony intended to celebrate the creation of the Unified U'wa Reservation (Resguardo Unido) the U'wa restated that all of their traditional lands must remain free from oil projects, not just the sections that have been legally deeded to them. The Colombian government is currently considering a request from Los Angeles-based Occidental to drill on U'wa traditional lands. Previously, the U'wa have threatened mass suicide if oil exploration proceeds on their land.

In the statement, the President of the U'wa governing body, Roberto Pérez said, "As we recover part of our territory that you are formally handing over to us today, we request absolute respect for our position to not allow any oil exploration or production (on our traditional lands) either inside or outside the territory that has been legally recognized as ours." U'wa traditional territory includes all of Occidental Petroleum's Samoré oil concession.

The U'wa, a deeply spiritual people of some 5,000 in Northeast Colombia, believe that oil is the blood of the Earth. They have waged a nonviolent international campaign to halt Occidental Petroleum from drilling for oil anywhere on lands they hold sacred. Last year, Shell pulled out of the project, citing concerns over human rights and public relations.

Six years ago, U'wa living in the states of Boyaca, Santander and North Santander first requested a consolidation of their territories into one larger reservation. The boundaries of this expanded U'wa reservation are based on a socio-economic, environmental and tenancy Study for the Establishment of the Unified U'wa Reservation (SEUR). The SEUR was conducted by the University of Javeriana in collaboration with local and national Colombian governmental agencies, the U'wa, and others. The SEUR defines the borders of the Unified U'wa Reservation, and those of the full traditional U'wa territory, clearly indicating that all of Occidental's concession is within U'wa lands. Occidental continues to disingenuously claim that it has no intention of drilling on U'wa lands. The granting of the Unified U'wa Reservation (Resguardo Unido) is the first time that the U'wa have regained, rather than lost, land. They now hold legal title to 14% of their traditional territory.

In October of 1998 Occidental applied to the Colombian government for an environmental license to drill an exploratory well. If permitted, the well ("Gibraltar 1") would be located just outside the boundaries of the new reserve but within U'wa traditional lands. Local campesino organizations have joined the U'wa in their rejection of the proposed oil project.

Occidental's Samore concession is estimated to hold 1.5 billion barrels of oil, or about three weeks worth of global oil supply. Occidental's Cano Limon pipeline, which runs just north of the Unified U'wa Reservation, has been bombed over 600 times in the past 12 years. Earlier this year, three American activists were killed while working with the U'wa. In a statement reacting to those murders and expressing concern over the violence that oil projects bring, the U'wa Traditional Authority said "we demand from the national government and the multinational oil company, Occidental, an official declaration of cancellation of the oil exploration and exploitation projects on the U'wa traditional territory."

NOTE TO EDITORS: Copies of the U'wa statement and a print ready PDF electronic format map of Traditional U'wa Territory, showing the Unified U'wa Reservation, Occidental's concession, and the proposed well are available.

U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP is endorsed by the following organizations: Action Resource Center oo Amazon Watch oo Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund oo Earthways Foundation oo Indigenous Environmental Network oo International Law Project for Human Environmental and Economic Defense oo Project Underground oo Rainforest Action Network oo Sol Communications

Steve Kretzmann
Project Underground

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