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Synthesis/Regeneration 27   (Winter 2002)

The Struggle of the Indigenous U’wa People
against Oil Exploitation and for Life

Green Action in Colombia

by Larry Mosqueda, Ph.D., Evergreen State College

The Struggle of the Indigenous U’wa People against Oil Exploitation and for Life Green Action in Colombia by Giuseppe De Marzo, Italian Greens

The U’wa are a community of 7000 indigenous people living in the forests of the Colombian Andes. Their culture is based on the belief that the earth that has nurtured them for centuries is sacred and is the Mother and that they exist to protect Her. Now the U’wa and their sacred land have to face the menace of an American oil multinational, Occidental, which began drilling in November 2000.

The U’wa are so determined in their opposition to the exploitative plans that they have threatened to commit mass suicide if the project is not stopped. They are convinced that it’s better to die than to assist the destruction of their Mother Earth. They have a strong spiritual opposition to the drilling, as they believe that oil is the blood of Mother Earth. Part of the U’wa community committed mass suicide 500 years ago as an extreme action of love towards life.

The Colombian government and the Occidental Petroleum company of Los Angeles are carrying on the exploitation in the traditional territory of the U’wa. They seem to be careless of the suffering of the U’wa, killing children, women and destroying everything they find in their path.

As Italian ecologists we decided to join the struggle of our U’wa brothers after the death of the three American companions who were supporting the U’wa in their fight. We have visited Colombia 5 times so far, with 5 commissions. From this privileged point of view we were able to verify the effects produced by neoliberal economic policies on those countries which have been deprived of democracy, human rights and their own dignity for more than 50 years. Impunity, violence, overwhelming blind power, the arrogance of the system: this is what happens in every country of the “third world” starved by the hyenas of the fat, rich “first world.”

Colombia is the country, which more than any other symbolizes how life on this planet is becoming more and more inhuman. The list is endless: 100 Colombians die every day; 350,000 “desplazados” (people literally thrown off their lands) per year; indigenous people eliminated by the activities of multinationals. More than that, there is a total lack of democracy; interference in their internal affairs by a third country (USA); civil war; destruction of the beauty of nature and of biodiversity; unemployment and more. To cap it all, there is the military project of astonishing destruction and exploitation known as “Plan Colombia,” the last way to claim the ownership of what cannot be possessed.

“We will in no way sell our Mother Earth.”

But while the picture may be bleak, at the same time Colombia is the country with 10% of the world’s biodiversity. It is a country rich in colors, perfumes and sounds with strong traditions and passions. From the forsaken suburbs of the “center” of the world the U’wa are fighting a battle for the future of everybody’s children against huge and powerful forces. The U’wa are prepared to die if they cannot defend the role assigned to them four thousand years ago by Sira (God) to be guardians of the “Heart of the World” (as their territory is known).

“We will in no way sell our Mother Earth. To do so would be to give up our work of collaborating with the spirits to protect the heart of the world, which sustains and gives life to the rest of the universe. It would be to go against our own origins, and those of all existence.”

Declaration of the U’wa, 10 August 1998:

The U’wa are convinced that oil, Ruiria, is the blood that flows through the veins of Mother Earth. Extracting oil means to them draining life out of the Earth. To the U’wa, “Oil is the blood of Mother Earth...to take the oil is, for us, worse than killing your own mother. If you kill the Earth, then no one will live.”

How much should we learn from this people and their culture? How much should we learn from their teachings and their purity? We don’t go to Colombia to help the U’wa but to help ourselves, because if the U’wa people disappear, a wonderful part of us will fade away with them. This “human core” of the project is more important than every political, biological or any other reason.

We will be creating an Indigenous Tribunal of Judgment in a forest in Colombia with indigenous people and campesinos and will walk together in the whole process. For the first time it will be for the indigenous to judge the government of the United States and the multinational Occidental.

We will be creating an Indigenous Tribunal of Judgement in a forest in Colombia…

This Tribunal will give the chance to native peoples all over the world to use it. Being able to open a trial on the use and exploitation of the earth and its resources would mean striking to the core of the system that needs the control of all of the resources in order to extinguish them all. The institution of the Tribunal must become for us the moment in which the concept of Crime Against Humanity extends to a new one: the Crime Against the Life of the Planet (including all its living beings). This would mean accepting the truth of all indigenous beliefs and theories which since the dawn of time have stated the same things: that the planet and its living beings are a unique living organism and that in the very moment that we attack our Mother, we precipitate our own extinction.

The march will start in a forest and will end with the delivery of the sentence of the Tribunal right at Occidental’s drilling platform, situated inside the “Territorio Sagrado” of the U’wa. This “multicultural promenade” as it was defined by the U’wa could have a lot of new elements; first of all the presence of the campesinos and social sectors that after calling for a national strike for that date will march side by side with the indigenous people (this fact is everything but usual in the history of Latin America). Another element will be the presence of international observers from several countries. The day of the promenade should turn out to be a “Levantamiento Spiritual”—a Spiritual Uprising.

Giuseppe De Marzo is Speaker of the Promoting Committee, Italian Greens, Ya-Basta! Social Centres, Associations and Ecologist Movements

The text is from the August, 2001 UPDATE, Newsletter of the European Federation of Green Parties.

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