ISSUE #437 JUNE 14, 1998
LAFAYETTE ST., NEW YORK, NY 10012 (212) 674-9499 


Occidental Petroleum Corp. announced on May 26 that it would 
renounce its contract to exploit the entire Samore oil block in 
northeastern Colombia in return for new rights to a smaller portion 
of the area under more favorable contract terms. With the deal, 
which must still be approved by Colombia's state-run oil company 
Ecopetrol, Occidental seeks to end a conflict with the 4,000-member 
U'wa indigenous community, which has threatened to commit mass 
suicide if Occidental goes ahead with the controversial exploration 
and production contract, signed six years ago. As a result of U'wa 
protests, Occidental had already limited its seismic surveying and 
suspended the drilling of test wells in the 499,000 acre (208,000 
hectare) block. 

"We have put forward the proposal and are just waiting for a 
pronouncement from Ecopetrol," an Occidental spokesman told 
Reuter. The decision is in accordance with a deal announced by 
Ecopetrol last October, under which private sector oil companies can 
turn in existing contracts signed under sliding-scale terms and 
receive up to 25% back under more favorable "R-Factor" terms. The 
Occidental spokesperson declined to say exactly what area the 
company would be seeking under sweeter contract terms, but in 
theory it could apply for just over 120,000 acres (50,000 hectares), 
anywhere within the bounds of the original Samore block. He 
conceded, however, that it "would make little sense" for Occidental to 
request a sector close to the lands claimed by the U'wa.

Earlier this year, Occidental's partner in the block, the Shell Group, 
announced it was selling its stake, although it made no direct 
mention of the conflict with the U'wa. Local media reports said 
British Petroleum Co. was also planning to renounce rights to the 85% 
of the giant Piedemonte block, in eastern Colombia, which it has not 
yet explored. It too would be eligible to receive back 25% of that area 
under more favorable contract terms. BP officials were not 
immediately available for comment. [Reuter 5/26/98]

In a May 28 joint press release, U'wa supporters Steve Kretzmann of 
the Berkeley environmental group Project Underground and Shannon 
Wright of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) emphasized that 
neither Occidental nor the Colombian government has consulted the 
U'wa nor provided them with information on what land will be 
included under the new plan. Kretzmann and Wright "underscored 
that U'wa ancestral land remains threatened by oil drilling" and 
called Occidental's announcement of the deal "yet another in a series 
of misleading reports from the Los Angeles- based oil corporation, 
which is eager to declare an end to international controversy 
surrounding the U'wa's opposition to Occidental's drilling plans." 
[RAN/Project Underground Press Release 5/28/98]

The U'wa and Occidental do not agree on the boundaries of the U'wa 
ancestral lands. Occidental has said its original drilling plans fall 
outside the U'wa reservation. But the U'wa, based on recent mapping, 
consider all of the Samore block to be within their broad ancestral 
lands. [LA Times 5/26/98] "All that land is sacred for us," said Benito 
Kywaru'wa, also known as Roberto Cobaria, top leader of the U'wa 
people. [Pulsar 6/2/98] 

The U'wa religion holds that oil is "the blood of Mother Earth," 
according to a message to Oxy shareholders published in a full- page 
advertisement in the New York Times in April. "To take its oil is, for 
us, worse than killing your own mother. If you kill the Earth, then no 
one will live." [LAT 5/26/98] 

About half of Colombia's oil is exported to the US. The Samore block, 
estimated to hold some 1.5 billion barrels of oil, is equivalent to US 
consumption for only three months. [RAN/Project Underground Press 
Release 5/28/98]


The Colombian National Indigenous Organization (ONIC) charged on 
June 8 that at least 20 people were murdered and 18 more 
disappeared by army-led paramilitary groups between May 27 and 
29 in the villages of La Isla, Guaguas, Canal and Bartolo, in the jungle 
area of Murindo in the northwestern Colombian region of Uraba. 
Another 500 people from Afro-Colombian and Embera-Katios 
indigenous communities have fled the area because of the violence. 
In a message made public in Bogota, ONIC called for investigations 
into the situation by a commission to be composed of delegates from 
the International Committee of the Red Cross (CICR), the Office of the 
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, the 
People's Defender office, the Catholic Church and the press. [ED-LP 
6/9/98 from EFE; Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia (ANNCOL) 

Instead, on June 7 the Colombian government sent five army troop 
transport helicopters filled with soldiers to the area to "investigate" 
reports of the massacre. The operation was led by Gen. Carlos Alberto 
Ospina Ovalle, commander of the Medellin- based Fourth Army 
Brigade; Ospina was shot in the leg when his troops came under fire 
from suspected rebels as he was getting out of the helicopter in 
Murindo. Three other soldiers were also wounded, none seriously; all 
were quickly evacuated. Armed Forces chief Gen. Manuel Jose Bonett 
said the fact-finding mission in Murindo would continue under 
another commander. [Reuter 6/7/98] 

Meanwhile, nearly 400 campesinos from the southern Colombian 
department of Putumayo have been occupying the Public Defender's 
offices in Bogota since May 28, demanding concrete solutions to the 
situation of paramilitary violence in their region. The campesinos say 
they won't return to their homes until the government commits to 
carrying out measures that will lead to an end of paramilitary 
activity in the region. [Partido Comunista Notipaco 6/3/98; Pulsar 

CORRECTION: Update #436, item #11, incorrectly referred to the 
"Medellin daily El Espectador." The newspaper is from Bogota. 

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