The Colombian Government Urged to Reject Occidental's License to Drill on U'wa Tribe's Land


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Los Angeles, CA - An international alliance of more than 100 organizations from 24 countries sent a joint letter to Juan Mayr, Colombia's award-winning Environment Minister, urging him to reject the Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum's (OXY) pending license to drill its first oil well on the U'wa's sacred ancestral lands. The U'wa are adamantly opposed to the drilling and have threatened mass suicide if the oil project proceeds on their land.

The letter which included prominent signatories such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oilwatch, Environmental Defense Fund, Cultural Survival, and over a dozen Colombian organizations cited serious environmental and social impacts as grounds for denying the oil license. Groups warned Mayr, the recipient of the "1993 Goldman Environmental Prize," that "drilling at this site can be expected to result in increased violence due to the ongoing armed conflict in the region....We can foresee a significant increase in violence against the peaceful U'wa and other local peoples....Granting that license now is certain to lead to more bloodshed [and] will escalate the conflict with the U'wa rather than solve it."

Last month, the Colombian government granted the U'wa legal title to a portion of their ancestral land. Despite this action, the U'wa tribal leaders insist that the conflict over Oxy's proposed drilling site remains unresolved. If approved, the pending license will give Oxy the green light to drill its first well, "Gibraltar 1" just outside the boundaries of the new U'wa reserve but within traditional tribal lands the U'wa hold sacred.

At a government ceremony intended to celebrate the creation of the new Unified U'wa Reserve or Resguardo Unido, Roberto Peréz, the President of the U'wa governing body, said, "As we recover part of our territory.... 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." All of Occidental Petroleum's Samoré oil concession falls within U'wa traditional territory.

The U'wa, a deeply spiritual people of 5,000 from the cloud forests of Northeast Colombia, believe that oil is the blood of the Earth. They have waged a six-year nonviolent campaign to stop Occidental Petroleum from drilling for oil on lands they hold sacred. Last year, Royal Dutch Shell pulled out of the project, citing concerns over human rights and public relations. Click here for copy of the letter to Juan Mayr.

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

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