Open letter from U'wa people, re: 'consultation'



- posted to sovernet-L on April 24, 1997, by Chris Vance

The U'wa have learned through the media of the verdict of the Constitutional Court regarding the Tutela action brought by the Public Defender, on our behalf, against the Ministry of the Environment, over the license granted to the multinational oil company Occidental of Colombia, (OXY) to explore for oil in our territory, within the Samore Project block.

It is said that this verdict is favourable to us, that it recognises that the government did not consult us about the project, and that they will now have to do this within a month. We are pleased that the judges have recognised the violation of our right to be consulted, and that the government should talk, and listen, to us when our life is at stake.

But, we are also aware that the verdict authorises the government to take the final decision, even if it is not in agreement with our way of thinking, or of life. If this is true, we are sorry that those gentlemen judges have not been able to defend our fundamental rights: to the integrity of our territory, to our culture, and, in general, our life. Rights which, besides being recognised by the constitution and both national and international norms presently in force, are ancestral rights. Rights acquired by us by the very nature of having been being born within this territory, by the very fact of being natives of these lands, as our forebears have always lived here, and as when the whites arrived, our grandparents had already been here for thousands of years.

For us, it is therefore not sufficient to say that they should talk and listen to us. It is necessary that the Colombian state recognise that when the life of our people is at risk, it must respect our decisions.

They say that in this consultation the government will sit down with us in order to see how, in our territory, we can live with OXY and their oil exploration, without our culture, our world, being destroyed. For us, this is impossible. It is as if they had not heard us at all, as if they understood nothing of what we said.

For the U'wa, making decisions implies a long process. We must talk with all our people, and with all our councils. Our shamans, who work to maintain the equilibrium of the world, must in turn communicate with the gods, in order to know the correct road and thus guide the people. With their guidance, the U'wa make decisions amongst the whole people. Our spokespeople or representatives are then charged with communicating or carrying them out.

But the whites work in a different way, they speak much, but they talk for the sake of talking, since only a few decide, without taking into account what the others think. Now they say that the government wants to know our thoughts about the oil project, but if they don't like what we think, they will simply proceed with their own decisions.

If this is to be the result of the Constitutional Court's verdict, then we have gone nowhere. We have already made known our thoughts about this project to bleed mother earth, above all in the U'wa Audiencia por La Vida and in the legal proceedings of the Constitutional Court. We have also made them public through the communications media. To the courts, to the Ministries of the Interior, Energy and Mines and Environment, we have sent many papers and films which document what we think. And our thinking has not changed. For us Mother Earth is sacred, is not for violation, exploitation, nor negotiation; it is to be cared for, to be conserved. For these reasons we can not permit oil exploration on our traditional territory.

We do not understand why they will call us to a consultation if they already know that what we have to say, which is what we have been saying since the beginning, will not be taken into account. The only thing that will respected in that meeting is the interest of the foreign companies.

We will continue to fight to defend our right to live in peace within our own territory, with our own ways of thinking and our own customs, and we will not permit ourselves to be manipulated or fooled by trinkets or fine words. We therefore declare that, from now on, only the Grand Council can speak in the name of the U'wa people, and that whatever attempt to distort our thinking through the utilization of isolated groups of other U'wa, is rejected and stripped of any authority by our traditional authorities, our councils, and by the whole of our people.

To the Riowa (whites) who have accompanied us, and to all those who are conscious that in order to live in peace it is necessary to both respect the rights of all and to act in harmony with Mother Earth, we ask your help so that we, the U'wa, can continue to maintain the equilibrium of the world.


Grand Council of the U'wa:

Roberto Afanador Cobaria, Presidente
Luis Eduardo Caballero, Vice President
Gloria Maria Tegria, Secretary


Write to Occidental Petroleum's CEO:
Dr. Ray R. Irani
Occidental Petroleum Corporation
10889 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
90024 USA
Fax: (310) 443-6922
Tell him to immediately cancel his corporations plans to drill in U'wa territory. The "consultation" process ends on March 5th.

Reprinted from: Drillbits & Tailings, Volume 2 , Number 4, February 21, 1997.

Drillbits & Tailings is the mining, oil and gas update published twice-monthly online by project underground. Back-issues are archived on our web site Feel free to cross-post anything in D&T.

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