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2 New U'wa stories

In this post:

#1 Reuters July 8 Colombian U'wa Indians brace for new battle
#2 Earth First! Journal cover story June-July 2002 Victory for the U'wa!


Here's 2 new U'wa stories, one warning of future dangers and one
celebrating the victory.   The Reuters article contain some particular
ridicolous OXY propaganda.

Check out the Earth First! Journal to see a beautiful cover photo of
U'wa territory (taken by murdered U'wa activist Terence Freitas) and a
back cover collage of U'wa resistance and support actions.  You can
order a copy at or find a copy at your nearest
Borders, Whole Foods, Wild Oats or radical bookshop.

Remember that even though OXY may have been driven off U'wa land that
Bush's oil war in Colombia is still escalating and we've got to keep
working to stop U.S. military aid to Colombia!

Start organizing in your community now for the next National
Mobilization on Colombia - a day of action across the continent on
September 27th!  Full organizing and media packets are available at :

also check out the re-vamped version of the U'wa Traditional Authorities
website :

To keep updated on the U'wa struggle check out


Monday July 8, 10:35 am Eastern Time
Reuters Company News
FEATURE-Colombian U'wa Indians brace for new battle
By Ibon Villelabeitia

CUBARA, Colombia, July 8 (Reuters) - Roberto Perez chews a cluster of
drycoca leaves as he stands near a precipice overlooking a valley of
rainforest and swift rivers.

Legend has it that Perez's U'wa Indian ancestors jumped to their deaths
froma similar ridge 500 years ago to avoid enslavement by Spanish

Perez, a shy and mild-mannered U'wa leader, says his people will not
commit mass suicide this time, but warns they will do whatever it takes
to defendtheir land from the latest "intrusion" — a planned U.S. aid
package totrain an army battalion.

The $98 million in aid is aimed at preparing Colombian forces to protect
an oil pipeline that runs near U'wa territory from attacks by Marxist
rebels, but tribal leaders fear it will spread Colombia's 38-year-old
war acrosstheir land.

The U'wa, an impoverished semi-nomadic indigenous group in northeastern
Colombia, gained international attention two years ago when they fought
a protracted battle against Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum
(NYSE:OXY - News) that sought to drill next to their reservation.
Occidental withdrew from the project this year after failing to find
commercially viable oil deposits.

The controversy had been a public relations nightmare for the U.S.
company as vociferous international environmental organizations cast the
dispute as a David versus Goliath struggle between indigenous groups and
corporate power.

Now U'wa leaders fear Washington's plan, which is being discussed in the
U.S. Congress, could drag them into a military conflict that kills
thousands of people every year.

"We have our own law. The army and the rebels should respect us. We
don't want them on our land," said Roberto Cobaria, an U'wa leader with
a wispy mustache.

International green groups are bracing for a new battle. "Our campaign
is not over. We campaign for the indigenous groups' right to
self-determination, be that against oil or U.S. military aid," said
Kevin Koenig, a spokesman for Amazon Watch, a group based in Oakland,
California, that has taken up the U'wa cause.

The U'wa, which means "the thinking people" in their language, are one
of Colombia's 80 indigenous ethnic groups.

For centuries they have suffered oppression and discrimination at the
hands of Spanish colonizers and Colombian government.

Their numbers have dwindled dramatically — to 5,000 from 20,000 in
1940.  They live in remote mist-shrouded mountains, having lost large
parts of their ancestral land to government expropriations and
incursions by displaced peasants fleeing the violence of the country's
largely rural war.

Near Cubara, the main town on the tribe's reservation, children with
stomachs swollen from malnutrition sat in the dirt in one settlement of
mud huts inside the reservation. There is no electricity or running

One girl, barely 15, breast-fed two babies as scrawny chickens pecked
around pools of rain water. Inside a smoky hut, elders gathered around a
wood fire and drank "chicha," a traditional beer made of fermented
maize. Most didn't speak Spanish and seemed suspicious of foreigners.

The lifestyle of most U'wa has changed little in 500 years although
tribe leaders have set up a campaign office in Cubara equipped with
telephones and fax machines. The leaders live in the town, and dress in
the same shirts and trousers as other country Colombians.

The U'wa, a firmly religious people, believe that exploiting their
sacred rivers and forests would unleash the wrath of "Sira" (God).  They
regard oil as the "blood of Mother Earth" and say drilling is like
"stabbing a knife into your stomach." They carry coca leaves — the raw
material for cocaine — in gourds around their necks and chew them to
"gain strength and wisdom."

The land dispute with Occidental entered the U.S. presidential election
in 2000 as environmental groups criticized Democratic candidate Al Gore
for owning company shares.

When Occidental won a court order to sink a test well after a seven-year
legal wrangle, Colombian soldiers were deployed near the reservation and
military helicopters hovered in the skies to prevent protesters from
blocking the drilling.

Word that the U'wa were considering walking off the 1,400-foot
(400-metre) "Cliff of Death" to fight the "invaders" as they did against
the Spanish caused a media frenzy even though the U'wa later ruled out
such drastic action.

"The collective suicide was something our ancestors did 500 years ago to
avoid becoming slaves. We are going to fight until the end to defend our
land but we are not thinking of jumping off the cliff," said Perez, 60,
who has 10 children.

History of Colombia shows that oil means trouble. Discoveries of oil --
the country's main export — have brought violence from all sides
fighting in Colombia's war and done little in the way of lifting the
people from poverty.

After the Cano Limon pipeline opened in the 1980s the two Marxist rebel
groups that operate in the area grew fat by extorting private companies
servicing the pipeline. Right-wing paramilitary outlaws have also moved
into  the area.

In 1999, the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia --
known as "FARC" — kidnapped and killed three U.S. Indian activists who
were visiting U'wa territory.

When the oil controversy faded away, the television cameras went home
and the U'wa were left to their poverty and mud huts. Tall grass is
overtaking the old drilling site and the sound of the rushing waters
fills the air. The U'wa said they want the government to invest in
hospitals and schools, not oil or war.

After the White House announced the new aid package earlier this year,
U.S.-based environmental groups began mobilizing a new campaign and U'wa
leaders were back in the spotlight.

U'wa leaders say they appreciate the solidarity received from
international groups. Occidental and government officials say the
Indians have been manipulated by outsiders. U'wa leaders have flown to
Los Angeles, Washington and many European capitals — paid by foreign
support groups — to promote the U'wa plight at anti-globalization

"These are groups that depend on fund-raising to survive and are always
looking for causes in developing countries to raise their profile," an
Occidental spokesman said. "They don't seem to have a problem when they
fly the U'wa leaders around the world burning the 'blood of Mother

U'wa support groups say such claims are ridiculous and accuse big oil
companies of trying to silence the voice of the indigenous community.
Amazon Watch spokesman Koenig, who has never been to Colombia, said his
group's job is "to shed the media spotlight so that the voices of the
U'wa can be heard."


(Reprint and spread this story!  Plagurize it for your own articles!
Celebrate the victory by getting the word out!)

Earth First! Journal cover story June-July 2002

Victory for the U'wa!
by Patrick Reinsborough

“seeking an explanation for this 'rogress'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

When the story of Colombia's indigenous U'wa people first hit the world
stage, it was an all too familiar tragic tale: A ruthless multinational
oil company invades the homeland of a traditional culture, threatening
their way of life and the fragile ecosystem. It was a new twist on the
same 500-year-old story of conquistadors, invasion and genocide that has
shaped the Americas–only this time, the gold which the invaders were
willing to kill for was black.

To the U'wa (a name which means “the thinking people”), oil is Ruiría
meaning “the blood of Mother Earth,” and to extract it violates their
most sacred beliefs. To the Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum
(OXY), oil is the lucrative drug of choice for industrial society and
the fast track to record profits. With both the Colombian and US
governments backing the project, it seemed inevitable despite the
uncompromising resistance of the U'wa, that eventually OXY would develop
oil operations on U'wa land.

But on May 3, at the Occidental shareholder's meeting, the story of U'wa
resistance turned a triumphant page. OXY made the historic announcement
that it is returning its oil concessions on U'wa land to the Colombian
government and abandoning its plans to drill in the region. OXY has
suddenly decided there is no oil under U'wa land despite eight years of
assuring investors of a major oil strike and only pursuing one drill
site in the vast area. In other words, when you strip away the corporate
face-saving, the resistance of the U'wa and the pressure of the
international solidarity campaign helped to force OXY to abandon its
efforts to drill on U'wa land! The slogans that so many of us have
written on banners and chanted in the streets–OXY Off of U'wa Land!–are
coming true.

The significance of this victory cannot be overstated. It is a victory
not only for the U'wa and their thousands of allies, but for all
impacted communities fighting the devastation of resource extraction
around the world. Although it is not the final victory for the U'wa, it
is a major milestone in their decade-long struggle to defend their way
of life and to teach the world the simple message that, “If we kill the
Earth, then no one will live.”

The announcement comes nearly a year after OXY retreated from the
Gibraltar 1 drill-site, which thousands of U'wa, local campesinos, trade
unionists and students had occupied to prevent oil drilling. After using
the Colombian military to brutally evict the protesters and militarize
the region, OXY was unable to find oil at the site. This came as no
surprise to the U'wa whose Werjayas (“wise elders”) had spent months
doing spiritual work to “move” the oil away from OXY's drills.

But as with all victories, this one has come with its share of losses.
As we celebrate this victory, remember the spirits of those who have
given their lives as part of the struggle to defend the U'wa land and
culture. Remember Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahe'ena'e
Gay, three indigenous rights activists who were kidnapped from U'wa
territory and murdered by Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia
guerillas in March, 1999. Remember the three indigenous children who
were killed in February, 2000, when the military attacked U'wa
blockades. Remember the 20 non-combatants who are murdered in Colombia's
war every day as well as the numerous cultures, species and ecosystems
that have already been lost across the region.

Celebration also gives us pause for introspection as we analyze our
victories and draw some lessons from this amazing campaign. The U'wa
struggle for survival has become a symbol of resistance to oil
exploration, corporate-led globalization and American militarism. During
the last five years, the U'wa resistance inspired a massive
international solidarity movement that captured headlines around the
world with hundreds of peaceful demonstrations and actions. U'wa
supporters confronted OXY's most important shareholders–former Vice
President Al Gore and mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments –and forced
them to dump more than 60 percent of their holdings. Activists raised
tens of thousands of dollars to support U'wa organizing on the ground
and made links with numerous local campaigns.

The U'wa struggle is the embodiment of the clash of worldviews that
defines the globalization era. Across the planet, traditional cultures
with ancient spiritual traditions of living in balance with the Earth
are under attack by multinational corporations capable of seeing the
Earth only as a commodity to exploit and extract. It is up to all of us
to show the public that they must choose sides–either with those who
fight to defend the Earth or those who would destroy it for personal

The U'wa campaign has shown that times are changing. Increasingly,
activists from the global North are aligning themselves with the voices
of frontline resistance and weaving our struggles for peace, justice and
ecology into a broader vision of people's globalization. As we work to
globalize solidarity, dignity and ecological sanity, we must look to
indigenous resistance to help us relearn and articulate Earth-centered
values. Let us learn from the examples of people like the U'wa and place
being in solidarity with all the planet's besieged indigenous cultures
at the center of our strategies for transformative change.

The U'wa will continue to need our support. Despite this major victory,
the U'wa and all the people of Colombia are in danger of becoming the
next target in George Bush's global military offensive against
“terrorism.” The Bush administration is proposing to spend $98 million
to defend OXY's Caño Limon pipeline. This money will inevitably deepen
the cycle of violence in Colombia's brutal civil war. It is up to us to
continue our organizing to stop Bush's latest oil war in Colombia.
Likewise, the Colombian government or another oil company could invade
U'wa land and continue where OXY left off. Ultimately, no culture or
ecosystem will be truly safe until we drive the oil barons from power,
kick our global fossil fuel addiction and begin to restabilize carbon
dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Celebrate the U'wa victory and let it fuel your passion to defend the
Earth. Our work is far from done–but with each milestone, each victory,
each action and each celebration, we are getting closer. Another world
is possible!


Patrick Reinsborough is a long-term U'wa supporter and freelance global
justice organizer.

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