U'wa Defenders Challenge Gore, Two Arrests

Urge Vice President to Stop Occidental Petroleum from Drilling on U'wa Land
in Colombia

Contact: Adam Weissman (212) 966-4831

New York, NY - In an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, two environmental and indigenous rights activists, holding a banner that read, "Want My Vote? Save the U'wa" entered and disrupted a Lincoln Center event narrated by Vice-President Al Gore. The activists challenged Gore to intervene to stop impending drilling on the homelands of the Colombian rainforest-dwelling U'wa people by the oil giant Occidental Petroleum, in which Gore is a major shareholder. The activists, Cindy Rosin,23, and Tim Keating, 40, distributed hundreds of leaflets to attendees of the performance before they were removed by police. The activists were taken to the 20th precinct and released with desk appearance tickets. The disruption was supported by roughly two dozen demonstrators, who leafletted and held placards outside of Avery Fisher Hall.

The disruption follows the blockade of U'wa villages by the Occidental-aligned Columbia military over the weekend, restricting the movement of individuals and food shipments inside the U'wa reserve 

The controversy stems from Occidentals intention to drill on land traditionally used by the indigenous U'wa people, a forest-dwelling group of about 5,000 that have vowed to commit collective suicide should drilling proceed on their land. It is no idle threat, as a group of U'wa reportedly committed mass suicide 500 years ago rather than be assimilated by Spanish Conquistadors.

"Cash from Occidental investors will be used to drill on U'wa land against the tribe's will and to pollute tropical rainforests," said Colombia citizen Maria Gallon of Wetlands Preserve Activism Center. "As a major owner of Occidental Petroleum, Al Gore can influence the company to cease drilling on U'wa land,"

According to activists with Amazon Watch, based in Santa Barbara, Al Gore is a major shareholder of Occidental Petroleum as well as being a major recipient of campaign contributions from the company. Gore's father was a former board member and vice president of Occidental and much of the family's money has come from involvement with the company, according to the protestors.

In recent weeks the U'wa occupied a drilling site adjacent to an U'wa village. On January 25, the Columbian military raided the occupied site and forcibly evicted the U'wa. Three people remain missing after the eviction action. 

The U'wa consider the area in which Oxy is set to drill to be sacred. The area includes intact, endangered Andean cloud forests. The U'wa have been fighting Occidental for eight years because they fear the project will bring the same environmental destruction and violence that oil drilling has brought to other oil regions in Colombia. To support this claim, the U'wa cite a nearby oil pipeline has been sabotaged by rebels over 600 times, spilling thousands of gallons.

The U'wa, who have lived in the cloud forests of Columbia for generations, have made it clear that they do not want oil drilling on what they consider to be their traditional lands. "Why is it that Occidental and the government of Columbia refuse to respect the U'wa's rights to their lands and their knowledge of their rainforests?" asked Tim Keating, director of Rainforest Relief.

"With oil operations comes destruction," said Roberto Afanador Cobaria, National and International Coordinator of the U'wa people. "Each area of the forest that has been developed for oil has paved the way for civil war battles, causing great violence against people and our Mother Earth."

Occidental expects to extract 1.5 billion barrels of oil -- accounting for only a little over three months of US oil consumption by the US -- drilling in the contested area. The drill area is adjacent to and crosses over into a U'wa reserve legalized by the Colombian government last year.

According to the tribe, the entire Samore block to which Occidental holds a contract falls  ithin their larger ancestral territory. The U'wa were evicted from the site, known as Gibraltar 1, by army helicopters. Occidental has since brought in large trucks and roadbuilding equipment.

  Source: Press Release, Tue, 08 Feb 2000 09:21:54 -0800 Contact: Adam Weissman <jun1022@CYBERNEX.NET>