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
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.