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U’wa Defense Working Group

Abstract The U’wa, an indigenous community of approximately 5,000 people, have lived in the cloudforests of northeast Colombia for thousands of years. The U’wa territory is one of the most delicate and endangered ecosystems on earth. Over the past decade, the U’wa have been fighting to protect their land and traditional culture from the Colombian government and Occidental Petroleum, a United States based corporation that acquired a license in 1992 to drill for oil on U’wa sacred territory. In the U’wa worldview, oil is the blood of Mother Earth; to extract it is matricide. Because they believe that they are responsible for maintaining the delicate balance between the physical and material worlds, the U’wa see the oil drilling project as a matter of life or death. An U’wa statement delivered in 1998 states: “We will in no way sell our Mother Earth, to do so would be to give up our work of collaborating with the spirits to protect the heart of the world, which sustains and gives life to the rest of the universe, it would be to go against our own origins and those of all existence.” Having seen the effects of oil drilling in outlying territories (oil spills, pollution, deforestation, colonization, and military violence), the U’wa consider the drilling project tantamount to cultural and environmental genocide. Since 1999, the U’wa have protested the project through civil disobedience and other forms of peaceful protest such as spiritual fasting and permanent assembly of Traditional Leaders. Over the years, U’wa protests have been met with violent police repression, resulting in several deaths and dozens of injuries. Through their defense campaign, the U’wa seek to awaken others to the dangers of fossil fuel addiction, natural resource depletion, and environmental destruction and have garnered support in at least twenty countries worldwide.
Religion Indigenous Tradition
Geographic Location Colombia
Duration of Project None Listed
History In the spring of 1992, Los Angeles based Occidental Petroleum signed a contract with the government of Colombia to begin oil exploration on U’wa territory. The contract violated a 1991 ruling that required community consent for oil exploration projects in indigenous territories. Led by Berito Kuwaru’wa, the U’wa launched an international campaign in opposition to the drilling project. In 1996, Kuwaru’wa appealed to corporate executives in Los Angeles by presenting U’wa cosmology in song, explaining that the U’wa territory is sacred and not for sale. Bowing under pressure from the U’wa, Occidental’s original partner, Royal Dutch/Shell, pulled out in 1995. After petitioning the Colombian Constitutional Court, the U’wa won a nullification of the license in 1997, but this decision was later overturned by the Colombian Council of State. A joint study between Harvard University and the Organization of the American States recommended the immediate and indefinite suspension of the project. In 1999, thirteen percent of Occidental’s shareholders supported a resolution asking Occidental to perform a risk assessment of the project. In March of 1999, a Colombian court issued an injunction to temporarily halt work at the site but the ruling was later overturned by the Superior Court of Colombia. Even though the company determined that drilling would obtain only three months worth of oil for the United States, the Colombian Ministry of the Environment approved a license for the project and drilling began in November 2000. In February and June of 2001, peaceful U’wa protests at the drilling site were violently disrupted by Colombian police, who killed several children and injured dozens of adults. Since its opposition to the drilling project began, U’wa resistance to corporate greed and global fossil fuel consumption has inspired a solidarity movement in more than twenty countries worldwide.
Mission Statement None Listed
Partner Organizations Amazon Watch
Action Resource Center
Amazon Alliance for Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of the Amazon Basin
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
Indigenous Environmental Network
Project Underground
Rainforest Action Network
Long-Term Goals None Listed

None Listed

Additional Research Resources None Listed
Contact Information Association of Traditional Authorities of Ú’wa
Office Mayor-U'wa Town Hall Center of Communitarian Development
Street 4 no. 3-35 Cubará
Boyacá, Colombia
Ph:       9.78.892326
Fax:      9.78.892326
Email:   .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)