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Occidental Petroleum to Leave U'wa Land

by U'wa Defense Working Group Tuesday, May. 07, 2002 at 4:23 PM
kevin@amazonwatch.org

Los Angeles-At its annual shareholder meeting Friday, Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) announced its plans to return to the Colombian government its controversial Siriri oil block (formally Samore), located on the traditional territory of the U'wa people. This follows a nearly decade-long peaceful campaign by the U'wa to halt the oil project.

U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP:

AMAZON WATCH . ACTION RESOURCE CENTER

PROJECT UNDERGROUND . RAINFOREST ACTION NETWORK

For Immediate Release

Contacts: Kevin Koenig-310.420.8245

May 3, 2002 7:30pm EDT

Patrick Reinsborough-415.722-1846

Occidental Petroleum to Leave U'wa Land!

Company Announces Plans to Leave Controversial Colombia Oil Project

Los Angeles-At its annual shareholder meeting today, Occidental Petroleum

(NYSE:OXY) announced its plans to return to the Colombian government its

controversial Siriri oil block (formally Samore), located on the traditional

territory of the U'wa people. This follows a nearly decade-long peaceful

campaign by the U'wa to halt the oil project.

"This is the news we have been waiting for. Sira, the God of the U'wa has

accompanied the U'wa here in Colombia and our friends around the world who

have supported us in this struggle. Now Sira is responding to us. This is

the result of the work of the U'wa and our friends around the world," said

an U'wa spokesperson.

The U'wa's campaign to protect their people and land from the violence and

environmental destruction that comes with oil projects in Colombia has

garnered international attention and created an ongoing public relations

liability for Oxy. Peaceful U'wa resistance to the Oxy project has been met

with several episodes of violent repression over the years, in one case

resulting in the death of three indigenous children during a military break

up of peaceful U'wa blockades.

The U'wa have repeatedly denounced Occidental's oil operation, saying it

threatens their tribe and will raise the death toll of innocent civilians

caught in the crossfire of Colombia's civil war.

Activists noted that while Oxy's departure from the oil block is a welcomed

development, the threat remains that another company could take over the

area. In addition, Repsol-YPF is currently looking to develop the Capachos

oil block, also located on traditional U'wa land.

"Oxy's departure from the oil block will be a great victory for the U'wa,"

said Atossa Soltani, Director of Amazon Watch. "Oxy now needs to commit to

staying out of all U'wa ancestral lands permanently."

Last July, Oxy announced that its first exploratory well on U'wa land turned

up dry. Today the company cited economic reasons for relinquishing the

block, while observers noted that the company's continuing public relations

conflicts around U'wa issue weighed heavily on the decision.

Meanwhile, Occidental also finds itself center stage in the growing

controversy around the Bush Administration's military aid proposal to hand

over million of U.S. taxpayers' money to defend Occidental's Caño Limon

oil pipeline in Colombia, which runs through traditional U'wa land.

If Congress passes the proposal, this targeted military assistance for the

pipeline will set a dangerous precedent of taxpayers covering private

corporations' security expenses overseas. Critics say this is a clear case

of corporate welfare. Based on last year's level of U.S. oil imports from

Caño Limon, taxpayers will be covering Occidental's security expenses at the

cost of per barrel of oil.

Occidental also finds itself in the spotlight this week with Attorney

General Ashcroft's indictment of six FARC guerrillas for the 1999 murders of

three Americans working in Colombia with the U'wa people. Among the

activists murdered was Terence Freitas who founded the U'wa Defense Project.

Freitas' family issued a statement in opposition to more military aid to

Colombia (available upon request).

The U'wa are expected to release a full statement next week.

-END-

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