Colombia’s U’was say no to gas drilling in their territory
June 2, 2014
Plans by Colombia’s state-owned firm Ecopetrol to drill for gas in the north of the country have been suspended following opposition from the indigenous U’wa people.
An organization representing 17 U´wa communities, Asou’wa, raised the alarm about the drilling in late February reporting the arrival of “an avalanche of heavy machinery” and an increasing army presence.
The site that Ecopetrol wants to drill is called ‘Magallanes’, situated just to the north of the U’was’ reserve, but which Asou’wa says falls within the ancestral territory of three U´wa communities.
“The Magallanes project is an imminent threat to the physical, social and cultural integrity, environment, and ancestral territory of the U´wa people, as well as an assault on our historic and cultural patrimony,” Asou’wa states. “The U’wa are appalled that the sacred river Cubogón, a tributary of the river Arauca, is just 500 metres from where the drilling is planned. Continuing the project would lead to its gradual and silent death.”
According to Asou´wa, drilling Magallanes violates international law, Colombia’s constitution, and the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The drilling also ignores a 2009 ruling by the constitutional court, states Asou’wa, which called the U’was in danger of “extermination” and ordered the government to prepare and implement a “safeguard plan” protecting them.
“Drilling at Magallanes is a direct contradiction of that ruling which said that special considerations are required,” says U’wa woman and Asou’wa legal advisor Aura Tegria Cristancho.
The situation has been made more complicated after a series of terrorist attacks in February, March, and earlier this month on the Caño Limon-Covenas oil pipeline which runs through the north-east of U´wa territory.
In the penultimate attack, on March 25, the pipeline was detonated 100 meters from U’wa and colonos’ settlements, leading to oil pouring into a river Cubogón tributary, a miscarriage, and people seeking medical help. Asou’wa has strongly condemned the attacks and emphasized how extractive industry projects continue to bring serious negative impacts to the Uwas’ territory and lives.
“Once again we urge Ecopetrol to suspend the Magallanes project because it is an assault on the cosmovision of our people and will affect our territory, our environment, and our culture,” Asou’wa announced.
Initially the U’was refused to allow Ecopetrol to repair the pipeline, saying its presence in their territory and the attacks on it are leading to human rights violations and “repeated social and environmental dangers.”
Asou’wa said their decision was also in response to “the avalanche of new extractive projects in their ancestral territory”, and because the government had not provided timely responses to past U’wa requests.
One such request was made to the Ministry of the Interior in September 2013 asking for a commission to visit the region to see how the U’was will be impacted by Magallanes. The request was ignored.