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U'wa commentary: Is a vote for Gore a vote for murder?

by Jeff Genauer Monday, Oct. 09, 2000 at 11:00 PM

This is a commentary that will appear soon in my school's daily newspaper, The Daily Targum. I encourage you to republish all or parts of it, with or without accrediting me.

This is a commentary that will appear soon in my school's daily newspaper, The Daily Targum. I encourage you to republish all or parts of it, with or without accrediting me. An article like this, placed strategically in campus and other left-of-center publications, could be very effective at blackmailing Gore into taking action on behalf of the U'wa. After you publish it, show it to your state's Democratic headquarters and threaten to do worse if Gore doesn't take the high road immediately. Then, if nothing happens, organize demonstrations at and occupations of Gore's offices in order to get mainstream coverage. Let's not let the U'wa down!

Is a vote for Gore is a vote for murder?

Commentary by Jeff Genauer

In their first debate last week, Al Gore and George W. Bush spoke at length about oil and America's energy problems. Gore stated that "we have to free ourselves from the domination of the big oil companies." Both Gore and Bush are well-practiced masters of deceit and doubletalk, but it would not be easy to find a more hypocritical statement. How can Al Gore pledge to fight big oil when his campaign has received huge contributions from oil corporations and he has personal investments of up to 0,000 in Occidental Petroleum?

Gore's hypocrisy must not be seen as mere harmless politics; it is, rather, a matter of life or death. For over six years, in the remote Colombian Andes, a peaceful indigenous tribe of 5,000 people - the U'wa - have waged a non-violent struggle to prevent Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) from drilling for oil on their traditional land. The proposed drill, called the Samore Block project, will provide no more than three months of oil, but it will reduce U'wa territory to a quagmire of violence and environmental devastation.

In a country that has been engulfed by civil war for four decades, oil pipelines are frequent targets of both left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups. Oxy's Cano Limon pipeline, located just north of U'wa territory, has been bombed over 600 times since its construction, spilling over 2.1 million barrels of oil into soil, lakes and rivers. According to Rainforest Action Network (RAN), this is eight times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. If the Samore Block drilling proceeds, this same chaos will spread to U'wa land, only with the added dimension of a human tragedy of immense proportions.

Regarding the oil beneath their land as "the blood of Mother Earth," the U'wa are adamantly opposed to the drilling. In 1996 they vowed to commit collective suicide if the Samore Block project is not halted. They said at the time: "We would rather die, protecting everything that we hold sacred, than lose everything that makes us U'wa." In 1999 they reiterated: "We U'wa people are willing to give our lives to defend Mother Earth from this project which will annihilate our culture, destroy nature, and upset the world's equilibrium." Believing that their purpose on Earth is to "continue and protect life," they have taken this courageous stand in defiance of Oxy's brutal quest for profits.

Currently, things are coming to a head in U'wa territory. In the last two weeks, the Colombian government moved 70 convoys, all of the drilling equipment, and thousands of military troops on to U'wa land. According to RAN, the U'wa are now flanked on one side by a fully stocked drill site that should be ready to break ground in two weeks, and on the other by landmines, barbed wire, and thousands of troops. This is happening despite the recent discovery by the U'wa of a document, signed by the Spanish almost 400 years ago, that constitutionally grants them both soil and sub-soil rights to their land.

In 1999 the U'wa said: "We ask people around the world who value the Earth and indigenous peoples to speak out against the multinational oil company Oxy through protests, letters and other actions of solidarity." Responding to this, RAN and other groups have organized numerous events and actions, including occupations of Gore's campaign offices in Olympia and Portland. The rush of pro-U'wa activity has had an effect. Occidental's original partner in the Samore Block, Royal Dutch/Shell, pulled out of the project, citing human rights and public relations concerns. And at Occidental's Annual General Meeting last year, shareholders representing over eight hundred million dollars worth of stock voted in favor of a resolution asking Occidental to reevaluate the project. But this has not been enough to stop the drilling, and now it looks as if Al Gore represents the last hope of the U'wa.

If Oxy finds the 1.5 billion barrels of oil that it estimates is under U'wa land, it will mean large financial rewards for Al Gore, the politician whose biggest secret is his big connection to big oil. I hesitate to turn this crucial matter of the life or death of the U'wa people into an issue of partisan politics, but I think it is telling that Ralph Nader is the only major candidate for President who has spoken out on behalf of the U'wa. Until now, Al Gore has been silent, and this makes him guilty. He claims to take the high road on issues of the environment and human rights, but this silence speaks for itself, particularly in light of his support of .3 billion in military aid to Colombia's oppressive regime. If Al Gore does not use his unique power as Vice President and as a significant holder of Oxy stock to publicly speak out and act to prevent the drilling, then the drilling will go through and the U'wa may commit collective suicide. If that happens, their blood will be on Al Gore's hands.

This is why, when Gore apologists tell me that "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," I respond by describing to them Gore's association with the grave injustice that has been perpetrated on the U'wa. Then I conclude: "A vote for Nader is a vote for truth and justice. Unless Gore acts immediately to defend the U'wa, a vote for Gore is a vote for hypocrisy and murder."

Jeff Genauer is a Rutgers College senior majoring in history and political science. To find out more about how you can help the U'wa, write to je_genauer@hotmail.com.

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