Blood For Oil

Colombian military personnel have invaded the traditional homeland of the U'wa people to make way for the drilling plants of oil giant Occidental.

From Black Flag magazine #219, 2000.

Submitted by Fozzie on January 18, 2021

Colombia has, like many poor countries, the misfortune to possess oil. The oil is to be found in forest regions which also become vulnerable to exploitation as the roads to exploit the oil reserves are built. And the money from the oil (that the politicians claim will make everyone better off ) goes into the pockets of the elite, while the poor get poorer. Oil companies have had people killed in Latin America, just like they have in Nigeria and elsewhere. For years BP were the stalwarts of the oil murderers in Colombia, funding and training death squads in a way that Shell surely learnt well from in the Niger delta.

In neighbouring Ecuador, Texaco devastated parts of the Oriente, and locals opposing the drilling were killed. The Cofan tribe of that region are now suing them in the US for $1billion. But the latest saga in oil capitals' rape of the continent is being enacted in Colombia, where the Los Angeles based company Occidental has been granted a permit for drilling on U'wa land. This is the culmination of a long campaign, and the U'wa, who number 5000, have threatened mass suicide if Mother Earth's blood (i.e. the oil) is spilt. Their view of the land might be a bit different to ours, but their words resonate even here.

"We are seeking an explanation for this 'progress' that goes against life. We are demanding that this kind of progress stop, that oil exploitation in the heart of the Earth is halted, that the deliberate bleeding of the Earth stop...we ask that our brothers and sisters from other races and cultures unite in the struggle that we are undertaking...we believe that this struggle has to become a global crusade to defend life." - Statement of the U'wa people, August, 1998

The U'wa explain they prefer death by their own hand than the slow death of their environment and culture that oil production will bring. A core tenet of U'wa culture is the belief that the land that has sustained them for centuries is sacred. In March 1999, three indigenous rights activists, Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahe'ane'e Gay, were murdered by leftist guerrillas while working with the U'wa. These murders and the intimidation the U'wa have already experienced are a taste of the wider physical violence the oil project will bring.

Throughout Colombia, oil and violence are inextricably linked. Occidental's pipeline, just north of U'wa territory, has been attacked by leftist guerrillas more than 600 times in its 13 years of existence, spilling some 1.7 million barrels of crude oil. The Colombian government has militarised oil production and pipeline zones, often persecuting local populations they assume are helping the guerrillas. Oil projects have already taken their toll on many other indigenous peoples of Colombia, including the Yarique, Cofan and Secoya.

The drilling plans threaten the survival of both the U'wa and their environment. The U'wa's cloud forest homeland in the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy mountains near the Venezuelan border is one of the most delicate, endangered forest ecosystems on the planet. It is rich in plant and animal life unique to the region, and the U'wa depend on the balance and bounty of the forest for their survival. Where oil companies have operated in other regions of the Amazon basin, cultural decay, toxic pollution, land invasions and massive deforestation have followed. Occidental first received an exploration license in 1992. Since then, the U'wa have voiced their consistent opposition to the oil project. They have taken a variety of actions including the filing of lawsuits against the government in Colombia, petitioning the Organisation of American States to intervene, appealing directly to Occidental's top executives, and lobbying company shareholders.

Last April U'wa representatives came to Los Angeles to directly confront Occidental. Along with several hundred supporters the U'wa marched on Oxy's HQ and demanded a meeting with CEO Ray Irani. When they were refused, activists occupied the street in front of the building and held a rally on Oxy's front steps. Two days later on April 30th while the U'wa spoke at Occidental's shareholder meeting there were demonstrations at Colombian consulates and embassies around the world.

The US has very strong ties with Colombia. Not only does Colombia sell most of its oil to the US market but under the auspices of the "War on Drugs" US military aid to the repressive regime in Colombia continues to grow. This year Colombia received $289 million in aid making them the third largest recipient of US military aid in the world. The US already has hundreds of military advisors in Colombia and the Clinton administration is proposing to give Colombia an additional $1.5 billion dollars. In August the Colombian government expanded the U'wa legal reserve. However, the expansion is only a portion of their traditional territory and most significantly the new borders were drawn so as to place Occidental's first drill site just outside of the reserve.

The U'wa link their struggle explicitly to the fight against the World Trade Organisation and other forms of corporate dominance. On 12th October 1999, solidarity events were held in 20 cities in 10 countries around the world to demand that the Colombian government and Occidental Petroleum cancel their plans.

On 19 January 2000, more than 5,000 heavily-armed Colombian military personnel invaded U'wa territory, where Oxy's drilling site is situated. Faced with opposition by the U'wa, the military declared that "the oil will be extracted even over and above the U'wa". Police were sent to protect Occidental's engineers.

The U'wa are making an urgent call to the national and international community, and to all groups who have supported them, to mobilise against this last attempt to trample upon their existence and culture.

"We U'wa will not cede our cultural, historic and ancient rights. We prefer genocide sponsored by the Colombian government rather than handing over our mother earth..."

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