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U'wa in Crisis: Chronology 1988-2000

Consolidated timelines from Project Underground on the U'wa in Colombia.

Published onJul 07, 2000
U'wa in Crisis: Chronology 1988-2000

Chronology 1988 - 1998

(Chronology Update as of June 2000)

"We do not understand how the judicial system of the white people is not capable of defining our rights — which have been recognized for millennia and are now recognized by the Constitution — as a priority in relation to economic interests." 

— Cabildo Mayor U'wa

We find it lamentable that the judges have not been able to defend our fundamental rights to maintain the integrity of our territory, our culture and our life in general. These rights, in addition to being recognized by the Constitution and by national and international norms, are ancestral rights we have acquired because we were born in this territory, because we are native to this land, because our forefathers and foremothers have always lived here, because when the white people came, our grandparents had been here for thousands of years." 

—Open letter from the U'wa people to the National Government and the people of Colombia

1988: Eyeing the potentially oil rich Samore block, Occidental representatives begin a community relations program by meeting with some U'wa in outlying territories and creating a scholarship program for 8-10 high school students per year.

1991: The new Colombian Constitution is adopted, which requires a formal consultation process with indigenous communities as part of all natural resource development projects.

April 7, 1992: Occidental (as operator of the consortium that includes Royal Dutch/Shell and Ecopetrol) purchases exploration rights in Samore block. The contract obliges them to"conduct a program to obtain seismic information before June 23, 1996."

May 14, 1992: Occidental applies for an environmental license from INDERENA (National Institute for Natural Resources), which in 1993 became the Ministry of the Environment.

June 1, annual: The U'wa enter into their annual ceremony of "Aj Reowa," a time of fasting and dietary restriction that lasts until August 15th. During this time the U'wa leadership retreat into the Sierra Nevada de Cucuy mountains and are effectivley out of contact until mid-August.

August 1992: Occidental's contractor Grant Geophysical suspends geological studies in Samore, citing "guerrilla interference".

September 1992: INDERENA states that Occidental's seismic testing coordinates do not match those in the initial proposal and that there is a danger of affecting the two national parks Sierra Nevada de Cucuy and Tama. Petroleum exploration or exploitation in national parks is illegal. The government recognized U'wa territory intersects the Cucuy national park area, while their ancestral territory covers almost the entirety of both parks.

February 1993: Occidental begins talks with individual U'wa about its proposed seismic exploration program in Samore. According to Occidental, "These meetings include discussion of health and other programs that the company will support for local communities."

1993-1994: Occidental continues to hold meetings with isolated members of the U'wa community and people living outside the U'wa reservations and reserves. According to Occidental, 33 of these "consultations" were held, but the U'wa present at those meetings vehemently contest that appropriate consultations took place. The U'wa confirm Occidental's initial position (above) that the meetings involved discussions of education, and health projects that would be created with the coming of oil development. According to the U'wa, there were no presentations or discussions about the environmental or social impact of oil development. Furthermore, none of these "consultations" were endorsed by the Ministries of Environment or the Interior, nor were they under the supervision of a legally appointed representative of the indigenous organization, which is required under the 1991 Constitution.

March 31, 1993: Through a document drafted in Cubara, the Grand Council of the Traditional U'wa Authority presents INDERENA with a request for the extension of their territory to form the Single Unified Reservation (El Unico Resguardo). This reservation would re-unite the U'wa communities settled in Boyaca, Santander and Northern Santander, integrating within this territory the Cobar’a-Tegria, Bokota-Rinconada Reservation, constituted under Resolution 059 of July 5, 1987, and the Indigenous Reserve of Aguablanca-Tauretes (Resolution 138 of October 31 of 1979). The Unified Reservation is approximately one million hectares short of covering the ancestral territory of the U'wa. This reservation does not include U'wa communities of Arauca or Casanare, where there are approximately 600 U'wa. Since this time the granting of legal title to El Unico Resguardo has become the central demand of the U'wa in relation to the Ministry of Agriculture, which handles Indian land claims. It is seen and has always been presented as a necessary, initial act of good faith for any discussions to proceed about the possibility for oil development within their ancestral territory.

On the same day in Bogota, U'wa representatives called on Grant Geophysical (Occidental's contractor) to immediately cease their unauthorized geological studies, as they had not been approved by the Traditional U'wa Authority.

May 1993: Occidental arranges a public relations trip for several U'wa to visit Paez, an indigenous group in southern Colombia with which Occidental had previously worked.

August 1993: Several U'wa (who are selected by Occidental) visit Occidental's existing oil operations in Ca–o Limon to examine environmental impacts and other effects.

August 1993: Occidental and some U'wa representatives sign a statement. This agreement includes commitments to develop health, education, and other programs. Occidental has since claimed that it also approved their seismic operations in the area, however U'wa leaders are adamant that the environmental impact of these operations (multiple explosions in the forest) were never explained to them. Berito KuwarU'wa, the spokesman for the Traditional U'wa Authority (who is illiterate) maintains that he thought he was signing a piece of paper for health and education programs only.

December 1993: Colombian Congress adopts Law 99 creating the Ministry of the Environment, which replaces INDERENA. Law 99 also requires "prior consultation" with Indian communities for oil projects.

September 28, 1994: Edict 337 from the Ministry of the Environment orders that an appropriate consultation to be conducted with the U'wa. To satisfy this requirement the Ministry of the Interior notified the U'wa that a meeting would be held in Arauca, on January 10 and 11, 1995 to initiate the consultation process.179 Arauca is approximately 60 kilometers from the currently recognized U'wa reservations or reserves where the majority of the U'wa live.

November 1994: Occidental tells the Department of Indigenous Affairs (DGAI)--a branch of the Ministry fo the Interior--that guerrillas have interfered in discussion with the U'wa and requests instruction on how to proceed with the consultation process required by Law 99.

January 10-11, 1995: The "Prior consultation" meeting is convened in Arauca by the Bureau for Indigenous Peoples Affairs (DGAI) and the Ministry of the Environment in accordance with Law 99. Occidental claims that at this meeting, a memorandum was signed setting conditions for seismic exploration on U'wa land. U'wa leaders recall that they were told only that they were signing an attendance sheet.

U'wa representatives were sent to this meeting by the Werjayas and Karekas (see system of government) to listen to the company and return with the information so that the Association of Cabildos and the Traditional U'wa Authority could provide an official response to Occidental's proposed project. The U'wa representatives explained to Occidental and the DGAI their need to talk with both the government-recognized Association of Cabildos and the Traditional U'wa Authority in order to officially respond to them. The U'wa, the Ministries, and the official representatives of Occidental all agree to meet in February to discuss the response of the U'wa government.

Feburary 3, 1995: Interpreting the January meetings as adequate consultation, the Ministry of the Environment grants Occidental the environmental license for seismic exploration to be conducted within and around the U'wa reservation.

February 1995: The U'wa leadership reiterates that they are opposed to to any further discussions around oil development until their initial demand - the establishment of the Unico Resguardo U'wa - is met. When they learn that that the permit has been granted, the U'wa do not attend the proposed second meeting. Occidental decides to complete seismic work outside of U'wa reservation, but inside the proposed Unico Resguardo, until agreement can be reached.

April 1995: El Nuevo Siglo reports that the U'wa have threatened mass suicide by jumping off a 1,400 foot cliff if Occidental begins oil exploration activities on their territory.

April/May 1995: The ELN (one of the leftest-rebel guerrilla groups) escalates activity in the area surrounding the U'wa territory. First they kidnap an official of Grant Geophycial (Oxy's seismic contractor) and hijack a grant track. Then in May the ELN kidnaps indigenous Senator Lorenzo Muelas and holds him hostage for 30 hours near the U'wa reservation.

July 4, 1995: Occidental begins seismic exploration outside, but inside the boundaries of the Unico Resguardo (as defined by the U'wa, lands yet to be recognized by the Colombian government). Some U'wa and colonists in the town of Samore apply for jobs with new seismic contractor, Inversismica.

August 1995: The Public Defender (the human rights ombudsman in the Attorney General's office) files suit against the Environmental Ministry in Bogota Superior Court claiming U'wa constitutional rights have been violated and seeking cancellation of Occidental's environmental permit. The Public Defender also files a separate action in the Council of State (Colombia's administrative court) claiming that Occidental failed to meet legal requirements for consultation with the U'wa and asking the Council to invalidate the permit.

September 14, 1995: The Superior Court in Bogota rules in favor of the U'wa, holding that the granting of the environmental license threatens the U'wa's basic rights and that a proper process of consultation must be established. Occidental appeals to the Supreme Court of Justice.

October 19, 1995: The Supreme Court reverses the previous decision, ruling in favor of Occidental. The case is sent to the Colombian Constitutional Court for review.

December 1995: The ELN murders two Inversismica employees and seismic activities are halted.

December 1995: Berito Kuwaruwa, reaffirms U'wa opposition to the oil project in front of Occidental, the Ministers of Mines, Environment, and the Interior.

January 1996: The Constitutional Court agrees to review the Supreme Court decision upholding Occidental's environmental license.

February 1996: Seismic exploration resumes.

August 1996: The "U'wa Forum for Life" is organized by Senator Muelas at El Chuscal, the entrance to the main U'wa reservation. Representatives of international NGO's and journalists are in attendance.

September/October 1996: Pressure mounts on Occidental as the Coalition for Amazonian Peoples and Their Environment in Washington issues "Action Alert" via the Internet, which focus es on Occidental's violation of the U'wa's rights. Then AP-Dow Jones News releases story entitled "Colombia Indian Tribe battles Occidental Over Exploration" describing 17th Century mass suicide. The New York Times runs story headed "A Conflict of Indians vs.Oilmen in Colombia."

January 12, 1997: The U'wa case is brought before the Constitutional Court, the highest authority on rights and constitutional affairs in Colombia.

February 3, 1997: The Constitutional Court rules in favor of the U'wa, holding that the U'wa had not been consulted and that the presence of the environmental license threatened their ethnic, cultural, social, and economic integrity. The Court demanded that an appropriate consultation be conducted within 30 days.

March 4, 1997: The Council of State decides on the second case filed by the public defender on behalf o the U'wa, contradicting the Constitutional Court. By a vote of 14 to 7 the Council rules rules that a valid consultation with the U'wa was held and dismisses the Public Defender's administrative appeal against Occidental's license. Council magistrates claim that this finding supersedes the Constitutional Court decision. Simultaneously, Energy Minister Rodrigo Vilamizar and Oxy Colombia President Steve Newton announce that a new consultation with the U'wa will be convened before exploration wells are drilled [As of July 1998, no consultation has taken place, although Occidental has selected an initial drillsite].

April 16, 1997: 3,000 people march to the Ministry of the Environment in Bogota, to demonstrate their support for the U'wa. Students, environmentalists, and journalists were accompanied by Berito KuwarU'wa and the Vice-President of Cabildo Mayor, Luis Caballero.

April 17, 1997: An Occidental Colombia representative presented U'wa leader Berito KuwarU'wa with a letter from Oxy Colombia President Stephen Newton stating that Oxy sought to begin dialogue with the U'wa and had no intention of entering their territory to conduct exploration without the express permission of the tribe. The letter contained some ambiguity as to the definition of U'wa territory.

April 19, 1997: An open letter was published in a major newspaper in Colombia reiterating Occidental's position that it would not undertake exploration on the U'wa territory without their consent.

April 20, 1997:Stephen Newton, President of Occidental of Colombia is quoted in El Tiempo saying that the U'wa territory is "the house of Father Perez" [at the time a former priest, Father Perez was the leader of the ELN]. Paramilitaries and Colombian armed forces often target those they suspect of aiding the guerrillas. In making this statement Newton is linking the U'wa and the guerrillas, and thus endangering the lives of U'wa leadership. It is neither the first not the last time that Occidental officials make this dangerous and unsubstantiated claim.

May 1997: The Traditional U'wa Authority, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), and the Amazon Coalition file a complaint against the Colombian government with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a branch of the Organization of American States. The claim states that the U'wa's rights as indigenous peoples are being violated.

May 6, 1997: Occidental executives meet U'wa leader, Berito KuwarU'wa, and Edgar Mendez of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) in Los Angeles to listen to their concerns about potential oil development in the Samore area.

May 28 1997: U'wa representatives of 27 U'wa communities meet with Occidental, the Ministry of Mines, Interior, and the Environment in Cubara at the base of the government recognized U'wa territory to discuss oil development. The U'wa had invited the Ministers and Occidental for three days, but two days before arriving, the Ministers cancelled for two of the set dates. The Ministers only allowed three hours for the U'wa to state their position, when the U'wa were planning on having both groups talk for three days in order to resolve the conflict.

June 1997: Separate to this process, the Colombian Foreign Ministry asks the Organization of American States (OAS) for help in resolving the Oxy-U'wa situation. An OAS mission including specialists from Harvard University's Center for Non-Violent Solutions interviews multiple stakeholders to identify potential solutions.

June 1997: Berito KuwarU'wa is threatened by hooded gunmen in his village and told to sign a "Convenio", an agreement form. As KuwarU'wa cannot read, the contents of the form are not known. He refused to sign the form and was badly beaten.

June 1997: The U'wa Defense Project, a coalition of NGO's, is formed in the US. Members include the Action Resource Center, Amazon Watch, Center for Justice and International Law, Colombian Human Rights Commission (DC), Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Earth Trust Foundation, Project Underground, Rainforest Action Network, and Sol Communications. The group later becomes known as the U'wa Defense Working Group. Their mission is reprinted on the last page of this report.

September 1997: The OAS/Harvard mission issues its report calling for an immediate and unconditional declaration from the oil companies committing to suspend plans for oil exploration and exploitation in the Samore block; movement on the process of titling to U'wa lands; moderation of public rhetoric from all parties; recognition and respect for the U'wa system of authority and leadership; and other measures to promote understanding.

Occidental says that they agree with these recommendations, except for the first and most important recommendation Oxy says this "remains under consideration."

October 5, 1997: The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) holds hearings on the complaint filed by ONIC, the Amazon Coalition, and the U'wa.

December 19-21 1997: A team from IACHR travels into the U'wa territory to interview members of the community.

January 1998: Rainforest Action Network releases an Action Alert targetting Shell for their involvement in Samore. Thousands of letters from concerned citizens flood Shell headquarters.

Feburary 7-9 1998: The Cabildo Mayor - Grand Council of the U'wa - meets to discuss the OAS/Harvard recommendations and what their next steps should be.

February 3, 1998: Colombian government representatives hold a meeting in Bogota to discuss options on U'wa case. Noting Shell's imminent withdrawal from the project, they discuss several options: a suspension of the terms of the Samore contract or the application for an environmental permit for the drilling of the first well. By this time, Occidental has identified their first drill site, located just north of the proposed Unico Resguardo, and south of the Tama National Park.

Feburary 16, 1998: Cabildo Mayor and the Executive Committee of ONIC issue a letter responding to the OAS/Harvard recommendations. Overall, the U'wa are in agreement with the recommendations, although they cite concern that the process is geared towards the approval of the oil project, rather than respect for the U'wa's rights to determine their future. As preconditions to entering into any dialogue the U'wa call for: respect for the Traditional U'wa Authority as the only representative body for the U'wa, the establishment of the Unico Resguardo, the legal codification of a suspension of oil activity on Samore Block, a public retraction from Occidental of all statements linking the U'wa to guerrilla activity, and the demilitarization of U'wa territory. This response from the U'wa indicates their willingness to talk, but only if they retain their right to make a final and binding decision over the fate of their lands [As of June, 1998, these demands are still on the table].

Also on this day various news sources report that Shell Colombia is interested in selling off all its onshore interests in Colombia, including their 37.5% stake in the Samore project. Shell spokesmen cite only financial reasons, but other sources identify growing concerns about guerrilla violence and the potential for a public relations disaster "like Nigeria" with the Samore project. [As of June, 1998, Shell has yet to interest any buyers, and retains its stake].

March 1998: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommends that the Colombian government seek a "Friendly Settlement" of the Samore situation. This finding normally means that if both parties are willing to enter into friendly settlement the commission will not take additional action.

April 2, 1998: The Traditional U'wa Authority and ONIC send a letter to IACHR indicating their willingness to enter into a friendly settlement/dialogue contingent upon the government and Occidental's acceptance of the demands laid out in the letter of 16th February.

April 14, 1998: A full page ad runs nationally in the US in the New York Times. Headlined "Why Occidental's Oil Project Is A Death Sentence For the U'wa People", it is signed by twenty-seven environmental, human rights, and religious organizations.

April 15th, 1998: Berito KuwarU'wa is honored with the Bartolome de las Casas Award from Spain for defense of indigenous rights in the Americas.

April 20th, 1998: Berito KuwarU'wa is presented with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his courage, persistence, and vision in defending his community from oil development.

April 22, 1998: The US environmental organizations Amazon Watch and Action Resource Center coordinate a nonviolent direct action against Occidental's Headquarters in Los Angeles. Protestors "install" a 23-foot long pipeline in Oxy's lobby, while climbers hang a banner across the street. Seven are arrested.

May 1, 1998: Berito KuwarU'wa speaks to Occidental petroleum shareholders at their Annual General Meeting, asking them to respect the U'wa people. On the same day, Occidental executivesmeet in Bakersfield to discuss options for the Samore project.

May 26, 1998: The Bogota daily El Tiempo reports that Occidental is scrapping the current contract for the Samore project and seeking to renegotiate the terms so that exploration rights would be granted only for an area of Samore that is outside the proposed Unico Resguardo. Occidental public relations officers spin this as a solution to the crisis, apparently overlooking the fact that the new proposed drill site remains on U'wa ancestral lands. In addition, neither Oxy nor the Colombian government has talked to the U'wa about this proposal.

May 27, 1998: Ecopetrol, the state-owned oil company, holds a press conference in Bogota confirming that Occidental has offerred to renounce its contract for Samore, in return for new rights to a smaller area (up to 25% of the initial block). The renegotiation would guarantee Occidental a fixed rate of return on their investment, rather than the original, sliding scale.



(Chronology 1988 - 1998)

early March 1999

Former Occidental Petroleum lobbyist Theresa Fariello is appointed to become Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for international energy policy, trade and investment.

April 23-25, 1999

US Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson visits Colombia to attend a seminar organized by the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and to lobby in support of Occidental Petroleum's Samoré Block project. Richardson and Colombian President Andrés Pastrana stay up late talking and drinking. Scott Pastrick, a former Clinton/Gore fundraiser retained by Occidental to lobby in support of its Samoré project, records that the Richardson-Pastrana talks were "positive" and that "things are moving in the right direction."1

August 24, 1999

The government and U'wa traditional authorities sign an agreement expanding the official borders of the Unified U'wa Reservation to encompass 543,000 acres. The U'wa make it clear that they remain opposed to oil exploration and exploitation anywhere within their ancestral territory, which extends beyond the new limits of their reservation.

As of May 24, 2000, the U'wa report, "The government has not handed over one piece of the enlarged territory committed to us."2

September 21, 1999

Colombia's Environment Minister Juan Mayr grants a permit for Occidental Petroleum to begin exploratory drilling in the Gibraltar Area of Exploratory Interest. Occidental later proposes an initial drillsite, Gibraltar 1, approximately 500 meters from the Unified U'wa Reservation and within the U'wa ancestral homeland. Despite requirements in the Colombian constitution and international agreements, the U'wa are not included in a formal consultation process.

September 30, 1999

After a visit to the area of Gibraltar 1, two Colomobian officials--the Sub-director of Indigenous Affairs and the Defensoria del Pueblo (People's Ombudsman)--issue a report that confirms the presence of indigenous communities and sacred sites in the Gibraltar 1 area of influence, condtradicting the Director of Indigenous Affairs' initial findings. These findings were the basis of the Ministry of Environment's decision not to consult with the U'wa.

October 24, 1999

At least 10 million Colombians march in anti-war protests in more than 600 cities, towns and villages across the country.3

November 16, 1999

Approximately 200 U'wa, from children to elders, assemble at the proposed drillsite. There they construct and begin inhabiting a new permanent settlement.

November 18, 1999

On behalf of the entire U'wa people, the Association of U'wa Traditional Authorities officially registered contracts to purchase two farms near the border of their Unified Reserve. These farms - named Bella Vista and Santa Rita - encompass the land designated for the Gibraltar 1 well. The official who signed these documents, Dr. Daniel Jordán Penaranda, notary public of Pamplona, has since been murdered.4

December 3, 1999

Colombia submits its Letter of Intent to the International Monetary Fund, outlining proposed economic policies in compliance with IMF structural reform. In it, Colombia pledges to increase private sector investment in oil with enough new production to remain a net exporter of oil.5

January 11, 2000

United States State Department offers $1.6 billion aid package to Colombia. Secretary Madeleine Albright states, "Our assistance will be used, first, to help train and equip Colombian security forces so that more of the country is brought under the control of democracy and the rule of law."6

January 19, 2000

Agents of the Colombian military enter U'wa territory. Occidental contractors bring in machinery to begin work in the area.

January 20, 2000

Riot police from Cucuta arrive in U'wa territory. The U'wa at the drill site are surrounded and isolated from the outside. At this point, government agents numbered at least hundreds7, and according to U'wa at the scene, five thousand.

January 20-25, 2000

The troops block access to food, water and other necessities. U'wa leaders are promised meetings with military and Occidental officials, lured out and then prevented from returning. Reports indicate that the riot police tell the U'wa that if they do not leave Gibraltar 1, they will be killed and their water poisoned.

January 25, 2000

The last 25 U'wa who had refused to leave are forcibly evicted by the Colombian military. The protesters report they were kicked and punched by the troops as they were forced aboard helicopters. After their eviction, they are detained for several hours.

The U'wa call on foreign governments to reject funding for the Plan Colombia because the Colombian government "seeks through this Plan to increase violations against the Colombian people and in particular, against indigenous groups."8

The Colombian government alters the terms of Occidental's lease, in order to make them more favorable to the company and to accelerate production.9

Guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) fling roadclearing equipment belonging to an Occidental contractor Rocas del Llano off a cliff. The equipment includes four backhoes, four caterpillars and six containers10. In their next communiqué, the U'wa declare that they "don't agree with the actions of the National Liberation Army (ELN) to destroy the machinery and equipment of the transnational oil company OXY, since actions like these only make the conflict worse."11

January 31, 2000

A communiqué from the U'wa condemns "collusion" and "tight coordination" among "the Colombian government through the armed forces, the FARC, the multinational OXY and the subcontracting company Rocas del Llano."12

February 1, 2000

The U'wa begin a "civilian strike," a peaceful uprising "in defense of the social rights of the U'wa and the people of the Sarare area.

February 3, 2000

The U'wa and Embrea-Katio peoples of Ecuador hold a joint demonstration of "Yell and Ritual" at Colombia's Environment Ministry. They are joined by campaigners for the environment and indigenous rights, as well as students and unionists. Simultaneously, demonstrations in more than ten countries and at least 23 U.S. cities are held in support of the U'wa.

c. February 4, 2000

The Colombian military enters U'wa territory. Reports indicate that they have surrounded and detained groups of U'wa, prohibited U'wa from entering or leaving their territory, and prevented the flow of food or medicine into the territory.

February 3-11, 2000

Hundreds of people, mostly belonging to the U'wa and Guahibo peoples, conduct peaceful blockades of roads at two points in U'wa territory.

February 11, 2000

Under pressure to act from Occidental13, Colombian military and police troops converge by helicopter on a group of approximately 450 protesters who were peacefully occupying the Saravena-Pamplona road at Las Canoas, approximately 4 kilometers from the Gibraltar 1 site. Without warning, the troops used heavy machinery and tear gas against the men, women, children and elderly people who were gathered, forcing them to throw themselves into the nearby Cubujón River. As a result of this action, three children--Gloria Bócota. a 4-month-old baby, Jorge Anicuta, age 10, and Maricio Diaz, 9--drowned and several other people were injured.14 Elsewhere, 200 protesters are removed from the other blockade site.

The U'wa petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for precautionary measures to prevent further human rights violations.

February 15-17, 2000

Five organizations in Arauca state declare a general strike in solidarity with the U'wa.15 In the districts of Araucanos de Fortul, Saravena y Arauquita, as well as Cubará, businesses remained closed and public transportation is suspended.

February 20, 2000

March 15, 2000

The U'wa file an emergency request for an injunction with the 11th Circuit Court of Colombia, arguing that drilling at Gibraltar 1 will cause irreparable harm to the integrity of the U'wa and that the failure to consult with the U'wa prior to issuing the drilling license violated the Colombian Constitution and international law.

March 30, 2000

The 11th Circuit Court of Bogotá orders a temporary suspension to drilling at Gibraltar 1. The court finds that a number of fundamental rights of the U'wa community could be jeopardized by the project, and should be evaluated prior to drilling.

In a meeting with US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, U'wa leaders, and their supporters, Occidental Vice President Larry Meriage admits that the U'wa were not consulted about drilling plans at Gibraltar 1.

April 1, 2000

Over 1,200 U'wa begin a "peaceful and open-ended occupation" of the town of Cubara in Boyaca state.16

April 4, 2000

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) begins a nationwide mobilization in support the U'wa and Embera-Katio peoples in their struggles against oil exploitation and dams. The mobilization is called by 5,000 representatives from 48 indigenous groups in Colombia.

Colombia's four indigenous congress members begin a hunger strike.

More than 3,000 indigenous people from 15 communities block the road to the port city of Buenaventura in Valle de Cauca state in support of the national mobilization and to secure unfulfilled promises of land reform.

More than 1,000 protesters close the entrance to the main government building in Cali, the San Francisco Palace.

April 5, 2000

More than 400 indigenous protesters blockade the Pan-American highway in southwestern Colombia.

early April 2000

Colombia's Chamber of Deputies votes to censure Minister of the Environment Juan Mayr Maldonado for mishandling conflicts with the U'wa and Embera-Katio peoples.

April 10, 2000

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia declares a "territorial, cultural and social state of emergency of the indigenous peoples of Colombia" focused on the struggles of the U'wa and Embera-Katio peoples.

April 13, 2000

Nearly 7,000 indigenous people who had massed at La Maria, in Piendamo municipality, in Cauca state to block the Pan-American Highway between Popayan and Cali, are met with military repression and retreat to their communities for Holy Week.17

April 28, 2000

At Occidental Petroleum's annual meeting in Santa Monica, over 100 protesters join U'wa leaders Berito KuwarU'wa and Roberto Perez in calling on shareholders to divest from the company.

May 15, 2000

The Superior Court of Bogotá overturns the injunction preventing work at Gibraltar 1. Occidental vows to resume construction.

May 20, 2000

A man from an unidentified local armed group threatens the U'wa blockading a bridge across the Cobaria River, warning that "that it would be better that [they] clear the road because the only thing [they] deserve is to be blown up."18

May 22, 2000

Responding to the May 15 court ruling, the U'wa call on the Constitutional Court to reverse the decision and urge protesters in Casanare, Arauca, Boyaca, Santander and North Santander to continue organizing uprisings in solidarity. They also demand that Occidental and the Colombian government respect their traditional, constitutional and millennial* rights.19

May 29, 2000

The armed passengers of a car from Samoré arrive at the U'wa blockade, threaten them with small arms, and order to them to disperse. When peaceful blockaders advance towards them, they drive off. The U'wa High Council responds by denouncing "the physical, psychological and moral assault on us by several individuals who appear to belong to some insurgent group that operates in the region of Sarare."20

1. Ken Silverstein, "Gore's Oil Money," The Nation, May 22, 2000.
2. Roberto Afanador Cobaria, Proyecto Defensa Territorio Ancestral U'wa, communiqué to public opinion, May 24, 2000.
3. Kirk Semple, "Colombians March to Back Peace Talks," Washington Post, October 25, 1999.
4. The U'wa cite "strange circumstances" surrounding the murder. U'wa and Guahibo Indigenous Peoples of Boyaca, Santander, Norte de Santander, Aruaca and Casanare [signed by Roberto Perez Gutierrez, AsoU'wa Representative and Ismael Uncacia, CRIA Representative],communiqué to the national and international public, Cubará, Colombia, January 31, 2000.
5. [Minister of Finance and Public Credit] Juan Camilo Restrepo Salazar and [General Manager of the Bank of the Republic] Miguel Urrutia Montoya, letter to Michel Camdessus, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Bogotá, Colombia, December 3, 1999. Available online at
6. Madeleine K. Albright, Statement on U.S. Assistance to Colombia, Washington, January 11, 2000.
7. The Colombian embassy in Washington, DC, claimed that 250 soldiers were present, while a military spokesman in Bogotá, Colombia put the number at 500.
8. Cabildo Mayor U'wa, "Invasion and Eviction of the U'wa People," communiqué to public opinion, Cubará, Colombia, January 25, 2000.
9. "Desempantanan al Bloque Samoré," El Tiempo (Bogotá), January 26, 2000.
10. "Eln atacó maquinaria en Bloque Samoré," El Tiempo (Bogotá), January 27, 2000. National Public Radio ("All Things Considered," February 16, 2000) reports instead that the ELN intercepted a convoy carrying the equipment and required them to dump the equipment.
11. U'wa and Guahibo Indigenous Peoples of Boyaca, Santander, Norte de Santander, Aruaca and Casanare [signed by Roberto Perez Gutierrez, AsoU'wa Representative and Ismael Uncacia, CRIA Representative],communiqué to the national and international public, Cubará, Colombia, January 31, 2000. Translation by Florencia Valle, Rainforest Action Network.
12. Ibid.
13. Occidental Colombia admitted pressuring the police in "'Guerrilla aprovecha debate u'wa,'" El Tiempo (Bogotá), February 21, 2000.
14. Association of Traditional U'wa Authorities and the Regional Indigenous Council of Arauca, "Urgent: Three Indigenous Children Killed During Combined Police and Military Raid," public denunciation, February 11, 2000. Names from El Tiempo.
15. Social Organizations of Arauca State (ADUC, CUT, FEDEJUNTAS, ASOJER, and CRIA), Public Declaration, Saravena, Colombia, February 14, 2000.
16. Weekly News Update on the Americas #532, April 9, 2000.
17. Weekly News Update on the Americas #533, April 16, 2000.
18. The U'wa High Council (Cabildo Mayor)-Traditional U'wa Authorities, communiqué to public opinion, Cubará, Colombia, May 29, 2000.
* Millennial refers to U'wa life in their homeland for millennia, giving them rights that stretch back into time immemorial.
19. Roberto Perez Gutierrez, President of the Cabildo Mayo, communiqué to the national and international public, May 22, 2000.
20. Ibid.

This document last modified on 07/07/00

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