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blood proves thicker than oil - uwa spurn corporate giant in colombia

occidental petroleum, us

“Their stabbing was felt some feet below the Earth’s surface and she cried. She asked us to defend her and to tell the world what she was feeling. We did that and we will continue to do that.” The Traditional U’wa Authority.


“There will be a day that man replaces the mountains of the condor with mountains of money.” U’wa people.


"Oil is the blood of Mother Earth. It belongs to the ground, where it sustains the world below. Up here it only causes violence and death." Luis Cabellero, vice president of the Traditional U'wa Authority.


The 7,500 U’wa people, aided by Colombian social movements, environmental organizations including Friends of the Earth Colombia, and campaign groups around the world, recently won an important victory in their decade-long campaign to stop the exploitation of their lands by US-based transnational Occidental Petroleum.


In 1991, Occidental was given rights to explore and extract oil in U’wa territory, an area that includes sacred lands and national parks. In 1995, after witnessing other oil-affected indigenous groups undergo eviction and spiral into alcoholism, prostitution, illness and hunger, the U’wa sued the company for not consulting them before obtaining the required government permission to conduct preliminary tests in the area.


A communal society of agriculturalists, fishers, and gatherers, the U’wa retain legal title to their land and a vibrant culture, despite colonization. Their traditions hold that petroleum is the blood of the earth, and that “the U’wa territory is the heart of the world, for in it runs the veins that feed the universe. If it is destroyed, the world bleeds.” They believe its magnificent biodiversity provides sustainable riches for Columbia that are far more valuable than oil.


Despite their purely peaceful opposition, the U’wa increasingly became the targets of threats and violent attacks perpetrated by the State as well as by paramilitary and other armed groups. In February 2000, during a peaceful blockade of a main road near Occidental’s drill site, three U’wa children drowned after jumping into a river to flee the Colombian soldiers who had attacked them with tear gas and heavy machinery.


The campaign to support the U’wa snowballed globally, and in October 2000 the US financial firm Fidelity Investments dumped its 18 million shares in Occidental after U’wa supporters occupied the company’s investor centres. Finally, in May 2002, Occidental Petroleum announced its departure from the region. The threat remains however that other companies will flock to exploit the blood under U’wa soil.


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oil is thicker?
Blood is thicker
Than water
To you who sucks my hopes
Tell me,
Is oil thicker
Than blood...?
Nnimmo Bassey, FoE Nigeria


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