Colombian Tribe Topples Mighty Oil Giant

| May 17, 2002

Colombian Tribe Topples Mighty Oil Giant

Divine intervention and the will of 5,000 indigenous people of the U'wa tribe may have spared Siriri, Colombia, from Occidental Petroleum's drill. Gabrielle Banks reports in AlterNet that Occidental pulled out of the plan earlier this month, though the company insists that an exploratory drilling that yielded no oil was the real reason.

The cause of the dry well, many environmentalists suspect, was the U'wa people's prayers for the oil to 'move.'

After a nearly 10-year battle in which the U'wa tribal leaders 'diligently filed lawsuits, lobbied at corporate headquarters, and mobilized peaceful blockades at well sites to block Occidental,' the tribe took their cause to the U.S., where it garnered sympathy and support. (The U'wa had even resorted to threats of mass suicide if Occidental was given the go-ahead with plans to drill, prompting protesters to put the pressure on Al Gore, who was at the time a major stockholder in Occidental.)

What happened in the interim seems to be a mystery, and the result a miracle, as Occidental geologists soon confirmed that it was futile to proceed with drilling.

Whatever the actual cause of Occidental's backdown may be, Banks says that the victory is an example of what peaceful collective action can accomplish. It is also a memorable lesson for multinationals in general. Banks quotes Michael Brune of the Rainforest Action Network: 'It shows that drilling for oil in ancestral territories of indigenous communities in a tropical rainforest region is an unviable and untenable business plan.'
--Julie Madsen
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