Gore, Occidental, and the U’wa People of Colombia

The Gore family owns a big part of Occidental Petroleum, a more than $1 million investment. Al Gore’s father, the senator from Tennessee, sat on the Occidental board of directors.

Occidental is violating the land rights of the U’wa people in Colombia by beginning to drill for oil against their opposition. Oil extraction by Occidental on U’wa land, in violation of legal rulings and treaty commitments, is forcibly backed by the Colombian military machine, which just received a $1.3 billion gift from the Clinton-Gore administration, with Republican support, as part of Clinton’s so-called “Plan Colombia” which falsely claims to address the military, political, social, and economic crisis in that country

The U’wa people have threatened mass suicide over the violation of their rights. The intrusion of oil extraction and the oil industry onto their ancestral lands will destroy their way of life. Their religious beliefs oblige them to defend their sacred lands, to preserve their lands as the Great Spirit (Sira) gave them, or else to die.

The oil workers union in Colombia, in solidarity with the U’wa people, opposes Occidental’s oil drilling.

Protesters in Los Angeles — environmentalists, human rights activists, trade unionists, and others — held a separate march during the Democrats’ convention to focus on this travesty. They marched, together with representatives of the U’wa people, to the offices of Occidental Petroleum in that city, demanding that Gore stop Occidental’s destruction of the U’wa. Gore has said nothing. The Occidental machine moves ahead.

(Below we reprint a statement from the elected tribal leaders of the U’wa people. Regular updates on this struggle in Colombia can be found at www.igc.org)

From: Kera Chikara — Ancestral and Sacred Territory of the U’wa People

Date: September 11, 2000

The U’wa People want to make known to the National and International Public the repressive nature of the public forces, military, and anti-riot police who are, on a daily basis, physically and morally assaulting members of the U’wa community who are living on the Santa Rita and Bellavista Farms in Cedeno, Toledo, North Santander [province in Colombia]. Our community is the rightful owner of these lands.

This past July 8, the U’wa community returned to occupy the Santa Rita and Bellavista farms thanks to a judge’s injunction decision which ordered the revision of the formalities which granted the land to Occidental of Colombia, Inc. In this process of revising these formalities, the U’wa, the representative of the municipality of Cubara, Boyaca, the agrarian judicial attorney of Arauca, the People’s Ombudsman of Arauca, and the commander of the military forces of the region, agreed to mutually respect each other, thus guaranteeing the respect for our constitutional and legal rights. It was also stated that universal human rights and international humanitarian rights would be respected, including: freedom of movement, freedom from physical or moral aggression, the right to work, the right to a home, the right to privacy, etc.

But today we would like to tell Colombia and the world that the public forces haven’t respected our rights, and they continue to restrict entry to our land, they prohibit us from using the interior road that connects with the central road to our property, they sound gunshots in the night. U’wa women have been the victims of violent sexual acts carried out by military soldiers, and on September 8 and 9, due to the restricted movement, we had to traverse a mountain to enter our property.

Today the public forces informed us that in eight days they will remove the U’wa community members that are living happily on the Santa Rita and Bella Vista farms. According to statements from the head of the military, this is an order handed down from the President of Colombia, Andrés Pastrana Arango. Due to this decision, we would like to say to our Colombian brothers and sisters that this is the result of the “Plan Colombia,” the negation of all of our rights.

The U’wa people reject the despotic nature of the Andrés Pastrana government, the lies and the deceit that he attempts to legalize by means of informing national and international citizens of a process of alleged respect for our rights, which in reality doesn’t exist. While the government dialogues in Bogotá, the machinery is arriving to the drilling site and the process of violence is growing stronger. For these reasons, we want to make clear that if in the future an U’wa leader or any U’wa person is attacked physically or morally, we will hold the Colombian government and Occidental of Colombia, Inc. directly responsible.

The U’wa are not going to abandon our farms because this is our home and our land. We will continue to gather there and to make known to the Colombian community and the world each inhumane act that is committed by the military forces. We will communicate these events not to provoke pity, but to garner support for our people who fight to maintain our culture, our beliefs, our ancient laws. We are an example of a community that seeks to live in peace and harmony with others and with nature. The Plan Colombia only benefits the multinationals who, in their efforts to seize and take control of our riches and of our wealth devastate all that is around them. We the U’wa people stand as a clear example of a community defending our right to live in peace, unity and harmony; to live within the territory that was created by Sira (God), and to care for and and coexist peacefully on this, our land.

Roberto Pérez Guitiérrez, President, U’wa Council, U’wa Association