"They put their guns to my head and demanded that I sign the agreement or lose

my life. I said, kill me, kill me now. I cannot sign anything away for my tribe."

- Roberto Cobaría, President of the Traditional U'wa Authority (July, 1997)

 

The California based Occidental Petroleum is planning to drill for oil in the traditional territory of the U'wa, an indigenous community of 5,000 people living in the cloud forests of the Colombian Andes Orinoco basin. The Traditional U'wa Authority are unanimously opposed to mining on land they consider sacred. If Occidental proceeds with development, the U'wa are threatening to collectively leap from a 1,400 foot cliff in the Andes mountains.

Occidental's oil development plans threaten the physical and spiritual worlds of the U'wa, bringing roads, more colonists, and violent conflict into U'wa territory. Colombia's largest left-wing guerrilla groups have declared Occidental a military target. The Colombian army, notorious for its human rights atrocities, publicly declared that it will occupy the U'wa territory to protect oil reserves; which at most would supply the United States for three months.

The violence and environmental devastation surrounding the Occidental/Shell pumpstation in Arauca, just east of the U'wa territory, is a clear illustration of why oil development should not occur in Samore:

* Occidental's Cano Limon pumpstation and pipeline in Arauca­which controls almost one third of Colombia's oil export­has been attacked by guerrillas 473 times in its 11 years of existence, releasing 1.5 million barrels of oil into fragile wetlands surrounding the pipeline. The Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska was 36,000 barrels.

* Last year in the Arauca region there were 38 assassinations, 18 massacres, 31 incidents of torture and 44 kidnappings. In July of 1997 U'wa Leader Roberto Cobaría was pulled from his bed in the middle of the night by a group of hooded men with assault rifles. The assailants held the U'wa leader to the ground, demanding that he sign an "authorization agreement" or lose his life.

* The recent death threat to Mr. Cobaría provides a chilling parallel between the U'wa struggle and the continued repression of the Ogoni in Nigeria, where some 2,000 indigenous people, including Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, were killed for organizing against Shell. In the U'wa case, the chance exists to prevent the annihilation of indigenous peoples and destruction of the rainforest before it starts. With scant resources, the U'wa are courageously fighting against the combined global powers of the Colombian Government, Occidental Petroleum, and Royal/Dutch Shell.

Formed four months ago, the U'wa Defense Project is working to publicize the U'wa struggle by mobilizing legal, social, environmental, and academic institutions in defense of the U'wa pueblo. The project is under the direct supervision of the Traditional U'wa Authority.

The U'wa Defense Project is a collaborative effort between Amazon Coalition, Amazon Watch, Cabildo Mayor U'wa, Center for Justice and International Law, Colombian Human Rights Commission, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (Formerly Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund), Earth Trust Foundation's S.E.E. (Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs)., FIAN Germany, National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, Project underGround, Rainforest Action Network, and SOL Communications.

For more information please contact:

The U'wa Defense Project Int'l, (818) 505-8353 tel, (818) 753-9675 fax uwaproject@aol.com http://www.solcommunications.com/uwa.html

uwaproject@aol.com

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