Colombia's U'wa People Call for Cancellation of Ecopetrol's Oil Project JP Morgan Chase Urged to Break Financial Ties with Ecopetrol

The U'wa People of Colombia

The U'wa are a peaceful Indigenous community of 6,000 who live traditionally in the remote Andes of northeastern Colombia on the border with Venezuela. However, the U'wa way of life is nowjeopardized by Ecopetrol's Sirirí and Catleya oil projects.

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The U'wa, known as the "thinking people," consider themselves guardians of the forest and the species therein. For centuries, they have protected large areas of their forest homeland by prohibiting all human access - including their own. These tracts now function as de facto biological reserves for such species as jaguars, spectacled bears, and toucans.

The U'wa preserve their culture and tradition through song. Their religion dictates that they maintain harmony among the layers of creation: earth, water, oil, mountains, and sky. The U'wa hold that

"Oil is the blood of Mother Earth ... to take the oil is, for us, worse than killing your own mother. If you kill the earth, then no one will live."

They have expressed on innumerable occasions their unwavering opposition to any oil operations within their sacred territory. The U'wa have stated that they are willing to die to keep oil drilling off their ancestral homelands. In 1997, the U'wa in alliance with Colombian and international organizations launched a successful international campaign targeting Occidental Petroleum (OXY) that eventually led to the company's withdrawal from the oil project in 2002.

New Threat by Ecopetrol

Following OXY's departure, the Colombian government transferred drilling rights to the Sirirí and Catleya oil concessions to Ecopetrol, the Colombian state-owned oil company. The U'wa are concerned about Ecopetrol's continued activities around the Gibraltar platform which is located within their traditional ancestral territory as well as the company's plans to expand within the U'wa legal reserve. Over the last year, the company has stepped up activities around the Gibraltar platforms. There has been an influx of heavy machinery, equipment, and oil workers. In September 2008, Twister Technology, from the Netherlands, was selected to construct and operate a new gas processing plant at Gibraltar.

Beyond the current operations around the Gibraltar platforms, Ecopetrol has plans to carry out exploration and drilling within the legally recognized U'wa Unified Reserve. Maps from Ecopetrol's community presentations illustrate the company's plans for seismic testing in the U'wa territory. This expansion is of great concern and violates prior government commitments to the U'wa people.

Ecopetrol argues that the Gibraltar wells are found outside of U'wa territory as legally recognized by the Colombian state. In fact, the U'wa consider the area to be their traditional territory. The land that is the Gibraltar drill site contains several sacred cultural sites. As part of their program to recuperate their ancestral territory, the U'wa Association purchased the area in 1999. It was later forcibly expropriated. Also, given the close proximity of the Gibraltar wells to the U'wa community, operations there have direct social, cultural and environmental impacts on the communities. These include health impacts from pollution, social conflict between outside workers and local Indigenous peoples, and most notably increase in violence and armed conflict.

Ecopetrol activities have also been accompanied by militarization. Already there has been increased presence of guerilla groups in the region. The U'wa have long warned that the oil project will contribute to further violence and bring Colombia's armed conflict to their territory. In the past year, incidents of human rights abuses have increased including several killings of innocent community members by armed groups.

JPMorgan Chase: Supporting Ecopetrol

Starting in 2007, Ecopetrol began a gradual process of partial privatization. In September of 2008 Ecopetrol began trading 10% of its shares – a process underwritten by JPMorgan Chase – on the New York Stock Exchange.

Amazon Watch believes Ecopetrol's inadequate commitment to corporate social responsibility and specifically its poor handling of controversial projects within Indigenous reserves and other sensitive areas will expose the company and its investors to significant financial and reputational risks.

In Its public environmental statements, the company states, "JPMorgan Chase prefers to only finance projects in Indigenous areas where free, prior informed consultation results in support for the project by the affected Indigenous peoples." In addition, the Equator Principles, to which the company adheres, state that "the government, borrower or third party expert has consulted with project affected communities in a structured and culturally appropriate manner," and define the affected communities as those that are "within the project's area of influence who are likely to be adversely affected by the project." Given the proximity of Ecopetrol's exploration activities to legally recognized U'wa territory, the U'wa communities are most definitely within the area of influence of the Gibraltar platform, and should provide consent prior to the project moving forward. By underwriting shares of Ecopetrol, JPMorgan Chase is violating these social and environmental standards, including the Equator Principles.

What The U'wa Want:
1. Permanent cancellation by the Colombian government of all oil projects on U'wa traditional territory.
2. De-militarization of U'wa territories by all armed actors, whether the official Colombian armed forces, paramilitary organizations or illegal guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN.

Take Action!
The U'wa are arriving on Wall Street to urge JPMorgan Chase to suspend support for
Ecopetrol, in addition they are calling on investors not to buy Ecopetrol shares.

Please send a letter to JPMorgan Chase bank, calling on them to end their support of Ecopetrol on the New York Stock Exchange until the company abandons the oil project on U'wa land. Write to:

William Daley, Head of Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
270 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017-2070
Click here for suggested letter text.

About the U'wa Defense Project:
Amazon Watch has been supporting the U'wa since the international campaign started in 1997. The U'wa Defense Project was founded in 1999, following the tragic killing of three U.S. Indigenous rights activists during a visit to U'wa territory. In 2006 the UDP became a project of Amazon Watch.

2008 U.S. Speaking Tour:
New York City - November 11-14
Washington, D.C. - November 14-22
For more information, contact or call 202-785-3962.

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