At its annual shareholder meeting, May 6, the Occidental Oil Company anounced its abandonment of controversial plans to drill for oil and its intent to withdraw from sacred U'wa lands. The contested Samore oil block will be returned to the Colombian government. This announcement follows over three years of peaceful nonviolent protest and direct action by the U'wa and thousands of others through solidarity actions around the world. However, this victory may not be the end of the U'wa struggle. Other oil companies including Ecopetrol, Colombia's state oil company, may continue the exploration begun by Occidental. |
The U'wa are an indigenous population of 5,000 living in the cloudforests of north-eastern Columbia. The land has ancestral ties that date back thousands of years. Throughout that time they have had to defend it from invaders on more than one occasion. In the past it's been Spanish Conquistadors; today it is the Los Angeles, CA, based Occidental Oil. The U'wa went so far as to announce a plan of collective mass suicide if the oil exploraton went forward.
Occidental claims they ended the exploration because the original test wells came up dry, thus making the project economically inviable. This is a common response by corporations under pressure from a grassroots campaign of this sort. This same explanation has been heard when corporations pull out of contested timber sales. Rarely has a corporation admitted defeat to a local community or activist organization and this case is no different.
Plan Columbia also plays a large role in this situation. The current U.S. proposal to give $98 million to aid in Columbia's civil war is earmarked to protect the Cano Limon oil pipeline, which has been repeatedly sabotaged in recent years. The pipeline services oil fields owned and operated by Occidental Oil. The U.S. aid to protect it is a clear case of corporate welfare.
[ U'wa Statement | | U.S. State Department on the pipeline ]