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Case #490

Colombian Tribe Topples Mighty Oil Giant


There's not much good news coming out of Colombia lately, with the following exception.

When the U'wa tribe realized, in the early 90s, that Occidental Petroleum intended drilling for oil in their ancestral territory they filed lawsuits, lobbied at corporate headquarters, and mobilized peaceful blockades at well sites to block Occidental. They also threatened mass suicide if drilling went ahead. The likelihood of civilians being caught in the cross-fire of Colombia's civil war was another big concern. At great odds and at great risk to their survival, the U'wa, who say they have never known war or conflict, have taken a non-violent tack toward self-determination. They also prayed for the oil to "move."

After six months of drilling, and spending more than $100 million on research and seismic studies, which pointed to its concession being the country's most promising ever field, Oxy decided it was not fiscally worthwhile to continue to explore this wildcat well where the likelihood of striking oil was 1 in 12. Both Oxy, and the U'wa are convinced the oil is there in giant quantities with the U'wa believing their elected spiritual leaders, the "werjayas" physically drove it away from the company's test well site after praying and fasting for many months. They also believe oil is the blood of the earth.

The U'wa triumph may prove short-lived as the state oil company, Ecopetrol, which has assumed control of Oxy's exploration block says it intends to continue looking for oil.

Meanwhile Occidental finds itself center stage in the growing controversy around the Bush Administration's military aid proposal to hand over $98 million of taxpayers money to defend Occidental's Cano Limon oil pipeline in Colombia which runs through traditional U'wa land.


What seems to have helped most here, at least with regards to the U'wa protecting their land from drilling by Oxy, is the fact that after the oil giant spending a fortune the oil did perhaps "move," as prayed for by the U'wa. If congress passes the proposal to defend the Cano Limon oil pipeline it will set a dangerous precedent of taxpayers covering private corporations' security expenses overseas.
Location: Colombia
Action: Letter-Writing, Demonstration/Protest
Setting: Third World, Village, Wilderness
Extent of Action: Regional (within a country)
Issues: Indigenous, Corporate/Economic Abuses, Resources
Year(s): 2002
Outcome successful for now
Source: The Guardian of London, May 13, 2002


Global Response:
Prepared By: jh 9/04
Rating: 1
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