Support U'wa fight against oil companies
Occidental Petroleum Abandons Oil Development on U'wa Land
LOS ANGELES, California, May 3, 2002 (ENS) - At its annual shareholder meeting today, Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) announced that the company will return to the Colombian government its controversial oil block located adjacent to the traditional territory of the U'wa people.
The U'wa and their American environmental supporters rejoiced at this result which follows a nine year campaign to halt the oil project in the Colombian cloud forest. Known for years as the Samore block, the land at issue is located in a guerrilla controlled area of northeast Colombia, and is estimated to hold up to 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil.
Uwa spokesperson Ebaristo Tegria said, "This is the news we have been waiting for. Sira, the God of the Uwa has accompanied us here in Colombia and our friends around the world who have supported us in this struggle. Now Sira is responding to us. This is the result of the work of the U'wa and our friends around the world."
Atossa Soltani, director of the advocacy group Amazon Watch, said, "Oxy's departure from the oil block will be a great victory for the U'wa. Oxy now needs to commit to staying out of all U'wa ancestral lands permanently."
Last July, Occidental Petroleum announced that its first exploratory well on Uwa land turned up dry. Today the company cited economic reasons for relinquishing the block.
Soltani said that the company's continuing public relations nightmare around the Uw'a issue weighed heavily on the decision.
Occidental Petroleum's attempt to develop oil production on the controversial block of land has been troubled.
The U'wa have repeatedly denounced Occidental's oil operation, saying it threatens their tribe and will raise the death toll of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of Colombia's civil war. At one point the approximately 5,000 U'wa threatened to commit suicide en masse unless the oil company stopped its operation on their territory.
U'wa leaders have conducted protest tours across the United States several times over the past five years and have visited Congress to raise support for their cause.
On March 31, 2000 a Colombian court ordered the oil company to stop all construction work on the oil drilling site. A Bogota judge supported the U'wa tribe's claim that oil exploration of the Samore block while located just outside their official reservation is part of the ancestral lands of their forefathers. The injunction was later lifted, and drilling was allowed to proceed.
In June 2000, Colombian riot police broke up a road blockade by U'wa people who were trying to prevent trucks from reaching the construction site where Occidental Petroleum was preparing to drill. Three indigenous children died in the incident.
Occidental also finds itself center stage in a growing controversy around the Bush administration's military aid proposal to spend $98 million to defend the company's Ca�o Limon oil pipeline in Colombia, which runs through traditional Uwa land.
In its 2001 Annual Report, Occidental Petroleum said, "Sabotage of the Ca�o Lim�n pipeline by leftist guerillas significantly disrupted our Colombian production last year."
Soltani says, "If Congress passes the proposal, this targeted military assistance for the pipeline will set a dangerous precedent of taxpayers covering private corporations' security expenses overseas."
"When in operation, Colombia is one of our most profitable operations on a unit-of-production basis and costs are kept at an absolute minimum when the field is down," Oxy said in the annual report. "Colombia accounts for less than three percent of our worldwide proved reserves and less than one percent of our total assets," the company said.
In a related development, Attorney General Ashcroft this week indicted six FARC guerrillas for the 1999 murders of three Americans working in Colombia with the Uwa people. Among the activists murdered was Terence Freitas who founded the U'wa Defense Project. The Freitas family issued a statement in opposition to more military aid to Colombia.
Human rights and environmental groups have highlighted the connection between oil development and militarization for years. Oxy pays a fee to the Colombian government on every barrel of oil produced, which funds the military. Amazon Watch estimates that one in four Colombian soldiers are detailed to protect oil installations.
Soltani said the threat to U'wa land from oil development is not yet over. "While Oxy's departure from the oil block is a welcomed development," she said, "the threat remains that another company could take over the area. In addition, Repsol-YPF is currently looking to develop the Capachos oil block, also located on traditional Uwa land."
The U'wa hold that the Earth is their Mother and oil her blood. They have often expressed the fear that the drilling will bring guerrilla violence to their territory.
The Colombian government has maintained that the oil revenues will benefit the majority of the Colombian people.
A recent U.S. Grand Jury indictment announced by the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft targets several Colombian guerrilla leaders with the murder of Ingrid Washinawatok, Lahe'ena'e Gay and Terence Freitas.
Below is the recent statement by the Ingrid Washinawatok Flying Woman Fund on the indictments and how to obtain more information.Contact:
Ali El Issa 212-982-5358
Dean Cycon 978-544-2002
Jose Barreiro 607-255-1923
Rosemary Richmond 212-598-0100
We welcome the Grand Jury indictments against the assassins of our beloved Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahe'ena'e Gay. The indictments were announced by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. The FARC commanders who ordered the murders and the henchmen who carried it out deserve to be brought to justice. Both Colombian or American court systems are acceptable as long as justice is done.
Terrorism has been going on for a very long time and in many forms. The terrorism that killed Ingrid and Lahe'ena'e has long plagued Native leaders, whether from the Right or the Left. Just days ago, Guillermo Ovalle, an associate of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Quiche' Indian leader Rigoberta Mench� Tum, was assassinated by unknown gunmen in Guatemala.
In welcoming the indictments we reiterate that we do not endorse any actions of war, neither by governments or countries nor by armed bands of insurrectionists. We endorse only the strongest quest for the truth to be known and for justice to be done.
Ali El Issa, President
U'wa Leaders Come to DC to Join Mobilization for Peace in Colombia
1. Why You Should Come to DC April 19-22
2. U'wa itinerary highlights - Join Us!
3. Newsweek International April 8th "Pipeline Brigade"
4. Congressional Quarterly March 9th
"Occidental Petroleum Lobbies For Benefits From Both" Parties"
Many of you who are receiving this update have been supporting the U'wa for several years in their life or death struggle to stop oil exploitation on their sacred ancestral homelands in Northeastern Colombia.
There have been many points of crisis, numerous tragedies and some great victories. Since last July when OXY announced their failure to find oil at the Gibraltar 1 drill site and temporarily removed all their equipment from U'wa territory there has been a uneasy calm among U'wa supporters. But its has become increasingly clear that it was the calm before one of the biggest storms the U'wa have ever faced.
The U'wa struggle is in danger of being swallowed by the global reach of George Bush's global military offensive against "terrorism". The Bush proposal to expand US military aid to Colombia's repressive military and specifically to give $98 million to defend OXY's Cano Limon pipeline will only escalate the level of violence facing the U'wa and other communities. The proposed aid would go to the notorious 18th brigade, which is already being investigated for its links to the growing number of paramilitary killings in the Arauca province.
The U'wa and people from across Colombia have spoken out loudly and clearly. No more military aid! Colombia needs peace not oil development! Oil development fuels violence and terror. Oil provides revenue for all the armed factions since as companies like OXY have made clear they pay off the guerillas and the government alike.
This aid package is corporate welfare for a morally bankrupt corporation. The $98 million amounts to US taxpayers giving OXY a $3 subsidy per barrel while the U'wa and other communities get saddled with human rights abuses, violence, displacement and lasting ecological destruction. OXY helped create the current violent situation in Colombia so why should taxpayers subsidize the continuation of an unviable oil project that shouldn't be there in the first place? In 2001 the pipeline was bombed so frequently that it was shut down for 266 days of the year. Since its construction in 1986 the Cano Limon pipeline has been bombed over 1000 times spilling over 2.5 million barrels of oil into the surrounding ecosystems, roughly equivalent to 11 times the amount of oil spilt in the Exxon Valdez disaster.
So come to DC to support the U'wa as they take their case directly to the American Congress and people!
The U'wa are asking that their rights to their land and way of life be respected. The U'wa are asking all of us, as United States citizens, to lobby our government to stop funding the violence in Colombia. They need your help! So join us April 19th-22 in DC at the various mobilizations for peace in Colombia, the abolition of the World Bank and IMF and an end to Bush's war-mongering and attacks on civil liberties.
For a partial listing of U'wa events and appearances in the D.C. area check out #2 below. The U'wa need your support. We will be scheduling a work party on Saturday evening to help make visuals and props for Sunday's major demonstration at OXY's offices. If you are interested in helping out or you have a space to volunteer please call Patrick at 415-722-1846.
In addition to the U'wa there are a plethora of amazing events to come participate in. There will be teach-ins, marches, rallies, vigils, direct actions, cultural and religious events and much more happening throughout the weekend as people from across the country converge to rally for peace, justice, democracy and the globalization of principles rather than corporate profits.
For information about the various mobilizations happening on the weekend of April 20th check out :
U'wa Indigenous Leaders Arrive in Washington DC To Rally Against Plan Colombia and Military Aid For Oxy's Pipeline
WHO: Roberto Perez and Armando Tegria Rincunada, leaders of the U'wa People of Colombia
WHAT: Visit Washington DC this week to speak out against Plan olombia and military aid to OXY's Colombia operations.
WHEN & WHERE:
Wed. 4/17 at 1:30 pm
Press Conference, Colombia Mobilization at the National Press Club
Fri 4/19, 2-4 pm
Colombia Mobilization Congressional Briefing sponsored by Rep. George Miller
Sat 4/20, 10-4 pm
Colombia Mobilization Teach-In, at First Congregational Church, 925 G St NW
Sun 4/21 - time 11am
Mobilization for Global Justice March to OXY's DC Office (call for details-PHOTO OP- Puppets & Pipelines street theater)
Sun 4/21, 12:45 pm
Colombia Mobilization Rally, Sylvan Theatre, National Mall
WHY: Leaders of the 5,000 member U'wa indigenous community from Colombia arrive in Washington DC tomorrow to denounce the Bush Administration's proposed $98 million supplemental aid package to protect US-based Occidental Petroleum's pipeline project in the war torn region of Arauca. OXY's controversial operations in the province have been a magnet for violence and a root cause of conflict in the country's bloody 40-year civil war.
In their week long stay, the U'wa will meet with Congressional representatives and join dozens of Colombian delegates as part of the Colombia Mobilization-events organized by a grassroots network of rights,labor, faith, and environmental organizations gathering to call for an end to US military aid to Colombia and a negotiated peaceful resolution to the conflict. They will also share their struggle with activists gathered for the Mobilization for Global Justice, and other peace rallies throughout the weekend.
Preventing oil exploitation on their ancestral homelands and stopping U.S. military aid is a matter of life and death for the U'wa tribe and all the people of Colombia. The pipeline aid proposal calls for US training and equipment for the notorious 18th Brigade of the Colombian military. Human Rights experts agree that militarization of the region will only aggravate the already violent atmosphere and risks making the U'wa the next collateral damage in the country's conflict.
The U'wa have made headlines around the world for their peaceful resistance of OXY's exploratory drilling in the Siriri block which falls entirely on their sacred homelands. The U'wa have long warned that OXY's project will bring Colombia's bloody four decade long war to their homeland-a prediction that is rapidly becoming a reality.
Occidental lobbied aggressively for increased military aid to protect their war zone operations since they formed the Colombia Business Partnership in 1996. Critics of the plan say that it will not only exacerbate conflict in the region, but amounts to a massive corporate subsidy to protect a morally bankrupt oil company and their bad business decisions.
EDITOR'S NOTE - In this Newsweek article below a "Washington military source" says that Colombia oil "matters zilch" to U.S. energy security because it is only the 7th largest exporter of oil to the U.S. Don't believe it! The key point that is not mentioned here is the fact that whereas most other major oil suppliers to the U.S. have been fully explored only 20% of Colombia's potentially oil bearing regions have been explored due to the civil war. Colombia is considered by both the oil industry and the US military to be an essential oil frontier to be tapped.
Likewise when the article says "Bush officials... concede that Occidental lobbied for protection, but not strongly, and that it made no difference." any semi-conscious observer of the corporate buy out of American politics will see right through this simplistic lie. In addition to spending over $9 million lobbying for increased military aid to Colombia, OXY also donated $1.5 million to federal campaigns between 1995 and 2000. For a complete run down of OXY's political influence peddling see article #4 below.
April 8 issue - Is George W. Bush using war as an extension of his oil policy? It looked that way in February, when Washington announced a $700 million aid package for the Andean region, largely to fight the twin threats of guerrilla war and drugrunning that threaten the area. As is usual, half the money will go to Colombia, but with a new twist: $98 million for training and equipping a Colombian brigade of around 2,000 soldiers to protect the 772-kilometer Cano Limon pipeline. Used to transport crude oil to the Caribbean coast from a field pumped by Occidental Petroleum of California in partnership with the Colombian state oil company, the pipeline is a favorite target of rebel saboteurs.
THIS WOULD HARDLY be the first time a nation defended its interest in smoothly flowing oil supplies by force of arms. Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the gulf war that followed are only the latest conflicts over control of fossil fuel. Bush's critics have argued since September 11 that his "war on terror" is really about oil, and their suspicions have been heightened by the Pentagon's clear intent to keep access to bases in the oil-rich Caspian Sea region after the war in Afghanistan winds down. But in Colombia the oil connection is not conjecture: it was spelled out in a budget request that specifically names the pipeline and Occidental, and appeared to set a dangerous precedent.
If the United States would defend Occidental's supplies, why not those of any number of American oil companies in potential war zones? At a time when the Bush administration has built its energy policy around reducing U.S. dependence on Mideast oil, and is working overtime to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, it can't ignore disruption of other sources. In March, Bush aides were planning to push through $15 million to $30 million in emergency spending to "jump-start" the pipeline defense effort, rather than wait for the 2003 budget process to grind itself out. Senior Bush officials insist the Cano Limon brigade has its origins not in U.S. oil interests but in parliamentary maneuvering back home. Conventional wisdom in Washington is that Colombia will lose the war against the rebels without more U.S. help.
Bush officials, like their predecessors, express frustration at laws that limit U.S. military aid to Colombia to the war on its notorious drug traffickers. Before leaving on his trip to South America in March, Bush vowed to do everything possible to expand U.S. aid beyond drugs to help in Colombia's other war, the decades-old fight against Marxist guerrilla armies. That's where the Cano Limon brigade comes in. "The pipeline got in there because the White House figured it was the only thing they could do within the existing guidelines," says a senior Pentagon source.
In the wake of 9-11, it may work. The congressional distinction between fighting drug runners and insurgents in Colombia has never made much sense, because the guerrillas make their money running drugs. By now the rebel armies control about half the country, and the larger one, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), makes an estimated $300 million a year in the drug trade. It is also waging a campaign of economic sabotage. Last year rebel bombings put Camo Limon out of commission for 266 days, costing Colombia $500 million in lost export revenue. In January and February, guerrillas widened the attacks to electricity pylons, bridges and waterworks around the country.
As Washington describes it, the new Cano Limon brigade is a way of defending the economic lifeline of a nation on the verge of becoming what one Pentagon planner calls "a failed state." To the extent that this is about oil, it's about Colombian oil, Bush officials insist. They concede that Occidental lobbied for protection, but not strongly, and that it made no difference. Colombia is the seventh largest supplier of oil to the United States, exporting 332,000 barrels per day in 2000. At that rate Colombia "matters zilch" to U.S. energy security, says a Washington military source.
However, oil matters hugely to Colombia. It is the chief source of export income, which will be critical to the future health of the economy and Colombia's ability to hold off FARC. The State Department has long listed FARC as "terrorists" rather than guerrillas. In the wake of September 11, money for the pipeline brigade can be sold to Congress as funding for the war on terror. The plan will likely pass the House, but faces tougher scrutiny in the Senate.
� 2002 Newsweek, Inc.
Vice President Dick Cheney cast a critical spotlight on Occidental Petroleum Corp's clout when he told former Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign to abstain from energy policy decisions because of a Gore family stake in the company.
Now, Democrats - and a smattering of Republican budget hawks - are wondering if the Bush administration is tailoring its policy with Colombia to help the same company, a contributor to both parties.
For decades, Occidental Petroleum has been a powerful player in Washington, advocating policies that aid its quest for domestic oil reserves and for expansion of foreign operations stretching from Pakistan to Latin America. Armand Hammer, the company's founder who died in 1990, sought increased trade with the former Soviet Union.
Occidental is angling for congressional support for Bush�s request to increase military aid for Colombia to help fight leftist guerrillas who attack one of the country�s main income sources: oil pipelines.
Lawrence P. Meriage, an Occidental vice president, argues that the Colombia government has effectively lost one of it chief assets because guerrillas have been able to shut it down. He said they had attacked the pipeline 170 times in 2001, and 15 times so far this year.
"This isn't about Oxy," Meriage said. "This is about the Colombian government being in trouble."
Critics argue Occidental would be the prime beneficiary of the $98 million sought by the Bush administration to pay for arming and training a brigade of Colombian troops to guard a 483-mile pipeline that runs from the Cano Limon oil field to the Caribbean Sea. Occidental owns a 35 percent stake in the oil that flows in the pipeline.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., for example, questioned the need for taxpayers to help defend a pipeline for a "company that had record profits last year," when other Colombian pipelines are guarded by private militias.
In coming weeks, the question of protecting the pipeline is expected to revive a longstanding debate in American foreign policy on when it is appropriate to send military forces to defend American companies.
"Defending corporate interests became a dirty word after President Woodrow Wilson. He argued we should do things for unselfish reasons," said John Hulsman, a foreign policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. "Now, we have a vibrant debate since the Bushies came in. It�s okay do to things for strategic corporate and commercial interests."
Robert Ebel, director of energy and national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that the defense of corporate interest is politically difficult to defend and is an important, but unstated part of foreign policy decisions. "It hints at favoritism. And it raises questions about who gave the most campaign donations," he said. "But if we can defend our citizens overseas, why not corporations?"
Steve Kretzmann, a spokesman for the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank, says Occidental has kept a low profile in Washington, but began to attract scrutiny of environmental and taxpayer groups during the 2000 presidential election.
"Occidental has been very ambitious in lobbying behind the scenes,�� he said. "But the public never knew much about it. . . . Now, with questions about Colombia, there will be more scrutiny."
During the campaign, Cheney questioned Gore's support for a moratorium on royalties that companies pay to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. "At the time Gore did this, it was clear that perhaps the biggest beneficiary of that proposed extension of the moratorium was Occidental Petroleum," Cheney said at the time.
Gore said that the stock was held in trust and did not influence his conduct. His late father, Sen. Albert Gore Sr. (House, 1939-44, 1945-53; Senate, 1953-71), acquired the stock as a company director.
Some taxpayer groups also questioned the company's role in lobbying for a fiscal 1996 spending law (PL 104-106) authorizing the sale of the Elk Hills naval petroleum reserve in California. Occidental later bid $3.65 billion to acquire the reserve. (1996 Almanac, p. S-1)
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a third-party presidential candidate in 2000, portrayed the auction as a mistake in a time of cheap oil. "People thought Occidental would lose clout after Armand Hammer's death. But that hasn't been the case," he said.
Last year, Occidental spent about $2 million on lobbying. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the company and its employees accounted for $215,000 in hard- and soft-money donations in the 2002 election cycle, with 81 percent targeted to the GOP.
Meriage argues the company's clout is exaggerated. He contends the company merely supports aid for countries where it operates. And sometimes it does not get its way.
Last year, for example, Occidental lost its campaign for loosening trade sanctions on Libya, where it hopes to re-establish an old oil claim. Congress enacted a five-year extension of a law (PL 107-24) that imposes trade sanctions on companies that invest in the energy industry in Iran or Libya. (2001 CQ Weekly, p. 3039)
Occidental faces a tough battle on the Colombian pipeline. Democrats say the plan would draw the Pentagon into a quagmire and set a precedent for defense of oil interests.
Source: CQ Weekly The definitive source for news about Congress.
�2002 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved
Alan K. Ota Congressional Quarterly
RAINFOREST ACTION NETWORK www.ran.org
U'WA LEADER SPEAKS AT OCCIDENTAL SHAREHOLDER'S MEETING
1. Update on U�wa Day of Action/Phone Zap
2. Press release from Occidental Shareholder�s Meeting
3. Los Angeles Times Article #1 on U�wa at OXY Shareholder�s Meeting
4. Los Angeles Times Article #2 on U�wa visit to Los Angeles
April 26, 2001 is a national day of action for the U�wa people. On this day Roberto Perez, U�wa traditional authority leader will be again confronting representatives of Sanford Bernstein/Alliance Capital urging them to use their role as Oxy largest investor to either getting the drilling on U�wa land cancelled or divest from Occidental Petroleum.
Take action now! Contact a local organizer (listed below) to participate in actions and events at Sanford Bernstein or Alliance capital offices. There are actions planned at 10 out of 13 offices. Action is still needed at the Sanford Bernstein offices in Cleveland, Ohio, West Palm Beach Florida and White Plains, New York. Even a few people standing outside passing out flyers will send a message to Sanford Bernstein. Contact Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can organize at one of these offices.
Don�t have an office near you? No problem - organize a phone zap. Find the phone number of the Sanford Bernstein office nearest you by checking out their http://www.bernstein.com/locations.htm , Have your friends, family, and coworkers call Sanford Bernstein and let them know you support the U�wa people and their campaign to non-violently resist the exploitation of their land and culture. Urge Bernstein/Alliance Capital to take action for the U�wa! The choice is simple get the drilling on U�wa land stopped or divest from Occidental Petroleum.
Contact Info for Organizers in Sanford Bernstein/Alliance Capital Cities -
Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch 310 455-0617
Sharon Lungo, Action Resource Center, 310 396-3254
LOS ANGELES, CA - Roberto Perez, President of the U'wa Traditional Authority of Colombia once again took center stage at a lively demonstration on Friday at Occidental Petroleum's Annual Meeting in Santa Monica and delivered his people's message of resistance to supporters outside and shareholders inside the meeting. "We will continue resisting oil drilling, we will continue defending our sacred ancestral territory, we will continue to defend our culture and our sacred sites," said the U'wa chief.
The U'wa have captured headlines around the world for their crusade to halt Occidental's oil project in the Siriri block (formerly known as Samore) and have stated they are willing to die to stop it. Surrounded by scores of supporters from labor, human rights, and environmental organizations, Perez called on shareholders to divest. Actor Cary Elwes (Princess Bride, Shadow of a Vampire) made a passionate plea inside the meeting to the company to stop the Gibraltar 1 exploratory well located on the peaceful U'wa tribe's sacred lands and reminded shareholders that the money they stand to make from their Occidental Petroleum (OXY) stock is tainted with the blood and suffering of indigenous peoples.
The tribal chief was also joined by Michelle Weber from Witness for Peace-Southwest, and Dave Campbell from PACE International Union, and Dee Dominguez, a leader of the Kitanemuk Tribe of Tejon Indians from Elk Hills -- outside Bakersfield, California --whose tribe is fighting OXY to stop the desecration of 97 burial and cultural sites threatened by the company's operations.
Sister Laura Goedken, from the Sinsinawa Dominicans accompanied the U'wa chief inside the meeting to speak on behalf of a shareholder resolution calling for a report on the risks and liabilities associated with OXY's Colombia operations. The U'wa leader, then, attempted to present a prepared statment from his people to the board of directors but was cut short after 2 minutes by an impatient and disrespectful CEO Ray Irani who did not wait for a full translation of the statement. Irani instead interrupted the Chief saying that "we can't understand you speaking Spanish."
Other U'wa supporters asked management about the security costs of Oxy's operations in Northeast Colombia including the financial risks and liabilities of guerrilla bombings, resulting oil spill clean up costs as well as the effect of bad publicity on the company's image. OXY's management dodged these questions merely saying that they are a contractor for the Colombian Government and thus not responsible.
In retaliation to the U.S. government's $1.3 billion military aid to Colombia, attacks on Oxy's installations including bombings of its Ca�o Limon pipeline have dramatically escalated in recent months --over sixty attacks so far in 2001 -- forcing the company to declare "force majeure" twice in the past six months. Since 1986, the pipeline has been bombed more than 800 times, spilling more than 2.3 million barrels of crude oil into rivers, ecosystems, and farmlands. These spills are equivalent to 8 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. Believing that such violence and ecological disaster will spread to the heart of their territory, the U'wa say that they will continue their uncompromising resistance.
Following the meeting, U'wa supporters vowed to step up the divestment campaign against Oxy and its top shareholders. Activists claimed partial victory that after being hit with 75 protests across the US and Europe last year, Fidelity Investments, one of Oxy's largest shareholders and the world's largest mutual fund, dropped over $420 million or 60 percent of its Oxy holdings. The campaign will now be targeting Oxy's largest shareholder, Berstein / Alliance Capital, which is in the process of being acquired by AXA Financial. Groups are planning demonstrations on April 26 at the company's New York Headquarters as well as other Bernstein/Alliance Capital offices nationwide to urge divestment from Oxy. Robert Perez will be traveling to Boston, New York, Stratford, and Providence on a U.S. speaking tour through April 28.
Sarah Hale, Times Staff Writer
April 21, 2001
Los Angeles Times Business
Activists targeted Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s annual meeting Friday to press for an end to an oil-drilling project on what they say is sacred native land in Colombia, continuing what has become a noisy and angry tradition for the Los Angeles oil company.
As shareholders arrived at Oxy's meeting in Santa Monica, they were met by about 100 protesters waving signs, beating drums and shouting disapproving chants in English and Spanish. For the last five years, U'wa tribe supporters have picketed the event in hopes of swaying shareholders to divest from Oxy.
The meeting is traditionally held to showcase the company's yearlong efforts to boost earnings and reduce debt. However, company directors fielded several questions about Oxy's potentially profitable interest in an oil-drilling project that sits on land claimed by the U'wa. Occidental, backed by the Colombian government, began drilling a long-delayed test well in the area late last year. All 5,000 members of the nature-worshiping U'wa tribe have threatened in the past to walk off a 1,400-foot cliff in the Andes in a mass suicide to protect the land they say has belonged to them for thousands of years. But Occidental continues to maintain that its test-well site is in a developed area outside the U'wa reservation. The activists, some of whom own Occidental stock, also put forth a non-management resolution asking company directors to investigate the financial, environmental and cultural risks of the oil project. They say adverse effects on Oxy's public image, coupled with legal liabilities, could hurt the company's long-term profitability. About 6% of shareholders voted for the resolution.
Colombia is key to the firm's oil production in Latin America, Chairman and Chief Executive Ray R. Irani told shareholders. He said that the test well in northwest Colombia should be completed this year and that the company had worked with the U.S. and Colombian governments to ensure that the project can be completed without violence.
"Neither the U.S. government nor the government of Colombia recognize the allegation that we are drilling on U'wa sacred land," Irani said. The U'wa people, who say the land is their home and the sacred burial ground of their ancestors, are afraid their cultural identity will be forgotten, said Roberto Perez, the tribe's president. "For eight years, we have been fighting against Occidental for our land," Perez told supporters before the meeting. "We will continue to defend our ancestors, our culture and our sacred rights. . . . Several community members have been beaten, mistreated and arrested. We hold Occidental responsible."
Despite lengthy, pointed questions from several stockholders and U'wa supporters in the audience, Irani tried to keep the focus on Occidental's recent performance and outlook for coming years. He noted that in 2000, the company posted the strongest financial performance in its 81 years of operation. Driven by oil and natural gas operations, Oxy reported net income, before special items, of $1.3 billion on sales of $13.6 billion.
Company directors vowed to use some of the record earnings to reduce Oxy's debt by $1 billion this year. Since December, the company has trimmed its debt to $6.1 billion. Oxy shares gained 35 cents to close at $27.42 on the New York Stock Exchange
by Pam Noles, PAM.NOLES@LATIMES.COM
LA Time - Science & Environment 4/19/2001
CLAREMONT -- Prominent activists from around the world will gather at Scripps College this weekend to explore the history and impact of colonialism on indigenous people. Among the participants will be the leader of a Colombian tribe that once threatened mass suicide over a planned oil project near its ancestral home.
"Natural Sources, Native Rights" begins today and runs through Saturday, part of a semester-long symposium sponsored by the Humanities Institute at Scripps. This weekend's events explore the myriad issues surrounding the often controversial issue -- from the environment to racial identity through talks and poetry readings. Participants, nearly all scholar-activists, are from the United States, Australia, Colombia and other regions.
Friday's speakers include Roberto Perez, president of the U'wa Traditional Authority, who begins a U.S. speaking tour at the conference. The battle between the 5,000 members of his tribe, which lives in the Andes mountains of Colombia, and Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum began in 1992 when Occidental and another oil company were granted exploration rights by the Colombian government on land within the tribe's ancestral territory, said Kevin Koenig, a campaigner for Amazon Watch.
For the U'wa, the fight to prevent the oil project and to protect their homeland and culture is a matter of life and death, Koenig said. "What they have stated is they are willing to die for this," he said.
Besides land issues, the tribe is concerned the oil project will trap members in the cross-fire of a civil war between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army, a Marxist-Leninist group that has been waging a revolutionary campaign for decades. This week, about 100 employees of the company were possibly kidnapped by the guerrillas. In the past, the group has used mass abductions and frequent bombings of pipelines to press the Colombian government for concessions in peace talks. "The key point that the U'wa have continued to make is if oil development comes anywhere near their territory, oil infrastructure becomes a strategic target in an ongoing civil war," Koenig said.
Another featured speaker is Haunai-Kay Trask, professor and founder of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. The poet and author, who is a key player in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, said she will focus on the effect the military and tourism industries are having on the island's land and native culture.
Tourism accounts for $10.8 billion of Hawaii's economy. By contrast, pineapple and sugar together amount to about $269 million. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau estimates that a $7.87 million advertising campaign it mounted resulted in 757,000 tourist trips to the island over a two-year period, $1.07 billion in visitor spending and $75.5 million earned in state and county taxes.
Tourism fuels environmental damage, cultural oppression and a high cost of living, painful when tourism wages are low, Trask said. It brings development that wastes land and depletes water resources, a critical issue because "unlike California, we're not in a position to steal water from other states," she said.
But stewardship of the land, turning it into an agricultural powerhouse, and exploration of environmentally friendly ways to develop the fishing industry could provide an economic alternative, she said.
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