Berito Kuwaru’wa of Colombia was awarded the Goldman Prize in 1998 for leading a nonviolent, international campaign calling on multinational oil companies not to drill in the isolated, traditional homelands of his U’wa people, who consider oil to be the “blood of Mother Earth.”
After decades of contention, the U’Wa territory continues to be targeted for oil exploration. Although no drilling is taking place inside of the U’Wa resguardo (reservation), the lands legally recognized by the Colombian government, the larger ancestral territory of the U’Wa is rife with oil exploration and production activities.
In February 2014, oil exploration activities intensified on the Magallanes oil block, which is located outside of the U’Wa resguardo, but well within their ancestral territory. It is also located directly next to the Cubogón River, a spiritual site and critical resource for the U’Wa people.
In March 2014, a section of the Caño Limón oil pipeline that runs directly through the U’Wa resguardo was illegally bombed, causing toxic pollution and severe health ailments for the villagers. As a community who has been fighting to protect their land and people from the hazards of oil production for several decades, the spill reignited the U’Wa’s resolve to end oil exploration on their homeland.
Prior to the bombing, the Caño Limón pipeline carried nearly 80,000 barrels of oil per day to the Caribbean coast. With a loss of over US$136 million in oil revenues to date, the Colombian government is eager to repair the pipeline and get back to business as usual. But the U'wa, exercising their rights within their own legal territory, have refused to permit any repairs to be carried out until the government seriously addresses their demands (a list of which can be found HERE, in Spanish).
Fearing the government may use military force to forcibly remove the U’Wa from their land near the pipeline site, Kuwaru’wa and the U’Wa people are once again working with their international partners to raise awareness about the situation and pressure the government into resolving the situation peacefully.
Last month, government authorities did grant a meeting with a delegate of U’Wa, but negations failed after several hours. The U’Wa issued the following statement after the meeting:
“We are extremely concerned about how the Colombian government will handle this situation. The pressure for them to repair the pipeline increases every day. The degree to which they are unwilling to seriously consider U'wa demands, their other route is to forcibly remove the U'wa from their encampment in La China. Let's keep building the international solidarity with the U'wa and send a clear message that repression is not an option.”
In the video below, Kuwaru’wa explains the U’Wa’s spiritual connection to the land and makes an appeal to viewers to stand in solidarity with his people. “What could we do right now if we didn’t have blood in our bodies? Our bodies would weaken and die. That’s what’s happening as we are extracting this blood [oil] from the Earth, causing the slow death of our natural environment.”
For more information about the U’Wa’s plight and for ways you can help, please visit Amazon Watch by clicking HERE.