Colombia's U'wa People Facing Violent Eviction
May 1, 2014
For over two decades, the U'wa people of Colombia's cloud forests have fought to keep oil projects -- and the inevitable environmental destruction -- out of their ancestral territories. With the recent expansion of oil exploration next to their sacred Cubogón river (known as the Magallanes project) and bombing of the oil pipeline that runs through their lands, they are organizing an international advocacy delegation to the United Nations.
A Tragedy Foretold?
Colombia's U'wa People Facing Violent Eviction
URGENT -- We are sending this critical update and call for support given signs the Colombian government is preparing to violently eviction of the U'wa indigenous people from their own territory.
Amazon Watch is raising funds to bring two U'wa leaders (seen in the video) to the United States in mid-May so they can bring their situation to the world in their own voice. They will attend the UN's annual meeting of indigenous peoples in New York City and then carry out important advocacy meetings in Washington, DC. But we need your help to get them here!
Right now, the U'wa people of Colombia's cloud forests are once again requesting international support. For over two decades they have fought to keep oil projects -- and the inevitable environmental destruction -- out of their ancestral territories. With the recent expansion of oil exploration next to their sacred Cubogón river (known as the Magallanes project) and bombing of the oil pipeline that runs through their lands, they are organizing an international advocacy delegation to the United Nations. Using video images taken on Earth Day (April 22nd), they explain why their case urgently requires your attention and support.
The last time Colombian armed forces evicted an U'wa protest, it ended in tragedy. On February 11th, 2000, three indigenous children drowned in the Cubogón River as they fled helicopter-bound National Police.
The U'wa were peacefully blocking a road and stopping materials for an oil exploration project, not miles from where they are currently camped out in La China.
This situation is at risk of repeating itself once again.
Though the U'wa held high-level talks last Friday with the Colombian government, the Minister of Energy and Mines, Amylkar Acosta, stated this morning in a Caracol Radio interview that the government might declare a State of Emergency given that the shut-down of the Caño Limón pipeline is causing significant economic losses.
Some 2.5 million barrels of oil have not been exported since the pipeline was bombed on March 25th, resulting in an estimated $8 million in daily revenue losses for the government.
Minister Acosta is reported to have said that the government can exercise its authority at any moment because they can't allow the country to be indefinitely harmed "by an intransigent attitude held by part of the [U'wa] community."
These statement are extremely worrying in light of the weak proposals brought to last Friday's dialogues by the government (denounced by the U'wa) and the government's no-show to a follow-up meeting they called for yesterday.
If the government is using a carrot and a stick strategy, the carrot is extremely small and the stick is becoming more evident by the day.
A forcible eviction of the U'wa from their encampment at La China would certainly be a horrific event. The U'wa are pacifists by culture -- while they are not willing to kill anyone for their beliefs, they are willing to die for them. As such, we can assume a scenario in which many of the hundreds of protesters would be wounded and potentially killed.
Amazon Watch is coordinating with the U'wa and a number of close allies in a campaign to avoid this eventuality. International attention to the case is crucial to send a message to the Colombian government that repression is not an option.
Please help us bring U'wa spokespeople to international human rights fora where they can advocate for their land, their culture, and ultimately their survival.
The U'wa versus Ecopetrol
"The U'wa people are reaching out at a national and international level to ask for the unconditional assistance to our struggle that dates back many years. We refuse to be silent and we are going to mobilize ourselves, once again engage in protest actions against the extraction of oil which will damage our Mother Earth."
-- Berito Cobaría Berito, longtime U'wa spiritual leader and recipient of the 1998 Goldman Environmental Prize
In February of 2014, Colombia's national oil company, Ecopetrol intensified oil exploration activities within U'wa ancestral territory.
In late March, an illegal bombing of the Caño Limón oil pipeline -- which runs through part of the U'wa resguardo -- created toxic pollution and caused severe health issues for several U'wa individuals. The company and government are eager to patch the pipeline and resume 80,000 barrels of daily transport to the Caribbean coast. But the U'wa, exercising their rights within their own legal territory, have refused to permit any repair to be carried out.
The U'wa are demanding a direct dialogue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, a group of 50 U'wa are watching over the pipeline's ruptured section near La China. The U'wa are deeply concerned that the government might resort to use of military force to displace the U'wa against their will and repair the pipeline under national security justification.
To safeguard their rights and lives, the U'wa are working in conjunction with allies like Amazon Watch to raise awareness within Colombia and around the world. In addition to needing support to maintain their grassroots actions at a local and national level, next month they hope to send a delegation of leaders and legal advisors to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in New York.
International support is critical for the safety of the U'wa people. Please support their emergency campaign to defend their land and rights!