UWA resistance against oil and megaprojects

 ( Translated by Silvaine Zimmermann, a CSN volunteer translator)


Actualidad Etnica – 09 Oct/2009 

The U’wa Indigenous community (which has opposed the exploitation of natural resources within their sacred and ancestral territorry since 1995) has announced that simultaneously with the large "Minga National" (a traditional type of civil rights march which harkens back to ancient times) this 12th and 13th of October, it is planning an event to demonstrate their resistance in Cubará, Boyaca. This is to express their opposition against current Ecopetrol activities in the area and other mega projects that the National Government intends to implement there. 
Photo: Daniel Leon / Censat 
"We reject any intervention in the U’wa ancestral territory that goes against our culture … We will not negotiate and we want to make it clear that anything that happens to the U’wa  people is the responsibility of these companies and the national government". Based on the decision of these same authorities and communities,  the U’wa are publicly relaunching their fight to defend their territory and their collective rights. 

The Uwa are denouncing megaprojects in its territory that the Government proposes to implement  in the short, medium and long term. One is the Ecopetrol Gibraltar 3 gas exploitation well located in a place that is sacred according to the Uwa worldview, the other is the building of a bi-national highway connecting Colombia with Venezuela, which is projected to traverse through the heartlean the Indigenous Reservation. The other large megaproject, which the community feels will severely affect their land rights, is the proposal to boost ecotourism in Cocuy National Park, because this initiative will bring forth an invasion and is disrespectful of the sanctity of their ceremonial sites. 

"We are also worried because of the militarization has come along with these mega projects. We now see members of the military constantly walking around with their weapons ‘for our protection’,  polluting our holy places with thoughts of war. We now have a minibatallón in the neighborhood, one that provides security for the oil company" expounds Beru, ASOU’WA secretary, the association of U’wa Traditional Authorities and Councils. 

U’wa resistance march: October 12th and 13th 

U’wa announced the mobilization for the road connecting Santander with  Arauca and specifically 2 points North of Santander: The China and the Laguna, which meet approximately one hour from Cubará. Approximately 2000 U’was from all communities are expected to participate. 

The China and Laguna, where Ecopetrol has planned further exploration activities, are part of the U’wa ancestral territory and  therefore the position of the U’was remains to not permit the exploitation of any resource in its territory and they demand that the national government clean the reservation up. 

In their statement about the march  the Association of U’wa Traditional Authorities and Councils, Asouwa, stated  that through this mobilization they would like to show three fundamental things: "1) reaffirm our position on the non-exploitation of any natural resources and non violation of our ancestral U’wa territories; 2) fight for the intrinsic right as indigenous peoples to celebrate our culture and 3) to commemorate the cultural changes that have occurred since the arrival of the conquistadors.     

They defend their territory 

Photo: Ethnic News 
The U’wa have opposed the U.S. multinational Occidental Petroleum Company, Oxy since mid 1992. OXY, while developing a partnership contract signed with Ecopetrol for the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the country, was granted an environmental license for a four hectare, privately owned piece of  AsoU’wa property that, with the support of police had been violently appropriated by this company.

After completing their work, Oxy, given that the company did not find the expected oil reserves, ceded the environmental license rights to Ecopetrol. Since then, the state-owned company has taken on the responsability for managing Gibraltar 1 and 2 and recently opened Gibraltar 3, which is a well from which they will draw gas condensate, an easier to refine hydrocarbon than oil. This implies a change in the type of natural resource exploitation: gas instead of oil; and the intervention of another new company, Trasoriente, which will be responsible for the installation of the pipeline. 

Since the arrival of oil companies, the U’wa have been trying to prevent the exploration and exploitation of natural resources through legal means. However, they have not been as successful as thay had hoped  because the exploitation is not performed within the realm of legally constituted protections, but in the arena of what the U’wa consider sacred territory for the use, transit and practice of ancestral customs, and this makes for difficulties in   arguments before the court and in gaining visibility for the problem. 

To provide security to the country’s energy infrastructure, the presence of Ecopetrol has led to the militarization of the area, to the point that they have built two mini battalions for operations of the Special Battalion Energetic Road No. 5, which operates within the U’wa sanctuary. "The military bases have closed  the area  and affected the movements along the paths of the U’wa, impinging upon their freedom to come and go between their orchards and farms," explained Tegria. 
Cultural considerations in the territory affected 

Tor the U’wa the Cedeño path, where the Gibraltar wells are, signifies the very heart, the central place to acquire and communicate knowledge about the antivenom serum of the U’wa. It is where one studies and learns to cure diseases, it is the specific place to cure snakebite. 
"The area where the Gibraltar 3 hole is is like the heart of the earth, if they exploit this the world will become sick. By not paying attention to nature, little by little humanity will disappear", remarked the Asouwa President, Sirakubo Tegria, in a statement sent to national and international media. 

Cocuy National Park 

The park has overlapping functions, ie part of the park is within the U’wa reservation/sanctuary. The Government proposes that through a co-administration body it can formalize the presence of the two (the government and indigenous communities) and to enhance ecotourism programs. The park project is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Since 2007 the National Parks Unit, under the coordination of the Ministry of the Interior and of Justice, has been promoting the Decree 622/77 pre-amendment consultation process, with indigenous peoples, black and native islander communities who inhabit,  regularly or permanently use the  Parks areas under consideration.  The legally established Uwa reservations so far  that overlap with the Park are the U’wa, Angosturas, Sibarita, Valles del Sol, and Laguna Tranquila Sanctuaries. 

The Uwa decided not to meet with the government because they will not negotiate their position because they disagree with promoting tourism in their holy sites, and they see mass tourism as a threat to the survival of their culture and especially the conservation of the environment. For example they have given assurances (witnessed)  that last Easter 1,000 tourists entered the park. 

"When a nature park overlaps with indigenous territories is difficult maintain the authority of the indiginous government; indigenous autonomy and the implementation of special jurisdiction can not be exercised," said the Embera indigenous leader Alberto Achito, in his article: Analysis Conflicts and Concepts of Nature in Indiginous Territories in Colombia. 
Achito, who is also member of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, believes that in the case of indigenous territories overlapping with a natural park, there is an incompatibility for the control, management and administration of the territo there arise problems of competition between authorities , one elected by the community council and the other imposed by the Ministry of Environment who is director of the park. 

"What happenes is that the final decision on the uses and management of natural resources, is the park administration in the person of the Director. Thus, indigenous authorities are relegated to second place and there is no territorial autonomy, and the governance of the council is weakened because its decisions will always be pratronized/superceded by the park," proclaimed Achito . 

The overlapping of nature reserves with indigenous territories is totally harmful for indigenous peoples in terms of territorial autonomy. In addition, coadministration instated by the government is seen by indigenous authorities as an act of westernization of indigenous thought, which means that communities have to comply with direction defined by the Natural Parks authorities. 

Binational Road 

The project wants to link Colombia with Venezuela, including the construction of an international bridge over the  Arauca River. "The highway will pass through the center, the heart of the Reservation and apparently corresponds with one of the strategies for implementing the South American Regional Infrastructure Integration  Initiative (IIRSA)," said Sirakubo Tegria. 

IIRSA is an initiative of 12 South American countries and aims to promote the development of transportation, energy and communications infrastructure in the region. Admittedly, no further information on this project has been received to date. 

"We are the expression of the historic, hereditary and millennial right, the living law, which is clear proof of our legitimacy in reclaiming the administrative, judicial, legislative and political right to decide what we do with our lands and territories," announced the Uwa people as one of the principles of his campaign. 

Recommended articles 

The U’wa against oil <http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/america_latina/2009/06/090624_especial_indigenas_colombia.shtml> (BBC News, Colombia. Hernando Salazar) 

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.