Moving quickly in the wake of US Senate approval of a military aid package, Colombian armed forces attacked two hundred non-violent U'wa Indians in late June. The U'wa had been blockading the road to a site where Occidental Petroleum plans to begin drilling for oil for months. The nonviolent blockades were the latest phase in a nine-year campaign by the U'wa to stop drilling on traditional lands which they hold sacred.
On Saturday, June 24 some 300 anti-riot police and soldiers made a surprise, early morning attack against 200 peaceful U'wa people blockading a road near the town of Cubara in northeastern Colombia. The police and soldiers removed the U'wa through the use of tear gas and physical blows. U'wa spokespeople reported that twenty-eight people were injured, with some requiring medical attention. One U'wa man received bullet wounds, according to the attending medical physician Dr. Quinones (a facsimile of the doctor's statement available upon request from RAN: 415/398-4404).
On that Sunday afternoon, some 60 soldiers and police made another surprise sweep against a group of U'wa peacefully assembled in the town of Cubara. Several were physically attacked, accused of being "subversives" and 30 were detained. Now reports are emerging today that another 40 U'wa have been detained in this systematic effort to break the blockade and allow Occidental to drill on U'wa land. This use of force against peaceful civilians comes on the heels of last week's US senate approval of a $1.3 billion aid package for Colombia, much of which is directed at the police and military. The U.S. is the number one buyer of Colombia's oil."
The truth on the ground in Colombia is that a US-backed police and military force is using violent tactics to serve a US company-Occidental Petroleum-against a peaceful community, all in the name of oil," said Carwil James from Project Underground, which has been working in support of the U'wa since 1997.
This was the third violent strike in recent months against the non-violent U'wa people in their effort to block Occidental's oil project on their traditional territory. The U'wa are adamantly opposed to the project and have repeatedly stated that they are willing to die to stop the project, which they see as a threat to the spiritual equilibrium of the world, the environment and their physical safety from Colombia's civil war.
Meanwhile, as detailed in today's Washington Times, Vice President Al Gore's family profits are up due to positive returns on his stock investments in Oxy valued at between $500,000 to $1 million. Despite repeated requests from environmental and human rights organizations, Gore has refused to divest his family from Occidental or to support the rights of the U'wa before his family's profits.
"Mr. Gore cannot pretend to be any better than Bush when his hands have the blood of the U'wa on them, " said Shannon Wright, of the Rainforest Action Network. "So much for this environmental Vice-President - he would prefer to profit from an oil project in Colombia than to use his influence to protect the human rights and forest home of the U'wa."
The U'wa Defense Working Group is a coalition of human rights and environmental organization in the United States working with the U'wa.