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Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 18:51:53 -0600 (CST)
From: Dennis Grammenos <dgrammen@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: Colombia: U'wa Defense Group stmt on murders of US activists
Article: 56988
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.23865.19990309181642@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

On the Murders of Three American Activists in Colombia

From U'wa Defense Working Group, 6 March 1999


Steve Kretzmann (510) 421-5130-mobile, 510-705-8982, 510-339-6933
Shannon Wright (415) 398-4404, ext. 316 or (415) 920-9809
Atossa Soltani, (310) 456-1340
Melina Selverston (202) 785-3334

Today we feel that we're fighting a large and strong spirit that wants to beat us or force us to submit to a law contrary to that which Sira (God) established and wrote in our hearts, even before there was the sun and the moon. When faced with such a thing, we are left with no alternative other than to continue fighting on the side of the sky and earth and spirits or else disappear when the irrationality of the invader violates the most sacred of our laws.—'wa Statement, August 10, 1998

We are grieved and shocked by the tragic news of the murders in Colombia of our three colleagues and fellow activists Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok, and Lahe'ena'e Gay and offer our heartfelt condolences to their families and friends. Terence Freitas was a dear friend of all of ours and a dedicated activist who had devoted the last two years of his life to supporting the U'wa people of Colombia to defend their rights and traditional territory from oil exploration by Occidental Petroleum. Terry served as the coordinator of the U'wa Defense Working Group. No one outside of Colombia has done more to support this struggle than Terry.

We call for a full investigation by the US government and independent human rights observers into the deaths of our three colleagues. We call on the State Department to ensure that the possible role of paramilitary groups is fully investigated, and we call upon the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) to clarify their involvement, if any.

The U'wa people's rights and ancestral land remain under threat from the proposed oil project. The U'wa have expressed repeatedly and in adamant terms their opposition to this project. Occidental's application for a drilling license is currently pending with the Colombian Ministry, and a decision is expected at any time. The well sites in question fall within an area the U'wa consider their ancestral land.

On several occasions last year, Terry reported being followed and observed by individuals believed to be associated with paramilitary activity. On the same trip, Terry was forced to sign a statement by the Colombian military, which essentially absolved the Colombian military of any responsibility for his safety. He interpreted this as an intimidation tactic. The deaths of our friends underscore the need for immediate steps to peacefully end the escalating violence in oil regions and against human rights advocates in Colombia.

We reaffirm the U'wa's demand that Occidental immediately withdraw their application to drill on ancestral U'wa lands and call on Occidental to consider its role in the ongoing cycle of violence in Colombia.

Oil and violence are inextricably linked in Colombia. Thirteen of the fourteen Colombian military battalions implicated in human rights abuses by Amnesty International received U.S. weapons or training. Occidental's Caño Limón pipeline has been attacked by guerrillas more than 500 times in its 12 years of existence. In response to this guerrilla tactic, the government has militarized oil production and pipeline zones, in the process persecuting local populations whom the government assumes are helping the guerrillas. Arauca, the area where our friends were killed, has one of the highest rates of documented human rights abuses by paramilitary forces loyal to the governments.

We resolve to carry on the work of Terry, Ingrid and Lahe' in defense of the U'wa people. Their deaths will not be in vain.