Cultural Genocide, Language Revitalization, and the International Campaign Against Occidental Petroleum

By Jake Ling / Intercontinental Cry

This is the third installment of “The Guardians of Mother Earth,” an exclusive four-part series by Intercontinental Cry examining the Indigenous U’wa struggle for peace in Colombia.

Featured image: U’wa children are now taught their native language in the resguardo’s bilingual schools, as well as lessons in Natural Law: how to protect, care and safeguard Mother Earth. Photo: Jake Ling

In the cloud forests on the eastern cordillera of the Colombian Andes there is no internet, and phone reception is limited to a few lookouts on the craggy cliffs above the tree line. As news from the U’wa mobilization in the paramos surrounding the sacred Mount Zizuma filter down to the base of the mountain range in the Boyacá Frontier District on the Venezuelan border, Berito rests in his wooden shack recovering from tuberculosis. As he slowly convalesces, the indigenous leader has time to reflect on the struggle that has defined much of his life and can take pride in this next generation of pacifist U’wa warriors who have taken up the fight to save Mother Earth in his absence.

“When we start to educate, we need to educate two worlds,” Berito told IC. “One is of the west through its books, then there is the harmonious civilization of the spiritual, our own culture, which teaches peace with the environment and the house of nature.”

Education has been a key strategy to the U’wa leadership to ensure the tribe’s survival into the 21st century. Berito learned the importance of educating U’wa children about Natural Law, which predates and takes precedent over the laws of men, as the result of a childhood trauma: as a young boy, he was kidnapped by Catholic missionaries and forced to live in a convent until, after several years, his mother rescued him. The missionaries named him Roberto Cobaria, after the Cobaria river that ran past the mission. This arbitrary name followed him for most of his life as it was the name officially recognized by the Colombian government.

The 450 meter bridge that crosses the Cobaria River is what separates Berito's house on the eastern border of the resguardo and the Catholic mission that once held him against his will. Photo: Jake Ling

The 450 meter bridge that crosses the Cobaria River is what separates Berito’s house on the eastern border of the resguardo and the now reformed Catholic mission that once held him against his will. Photo: Jake Ling

The massive wooden convent that held the young Berito had enough rooms to house priests, nuns, cooks, cleaners, and at least 80 other abducted U’wa children. Today, however, this place that once perpetuated the cultural genocide of the U’wa has been transformed into a school that teaches their native language inside its classrooms with murals depicting their ancient mythology decorated along the walls. In the playground the unruly grass and patches of moss and lichens cover the cracked base of a neglected statue of the Virgin Mary, but the intergenerational scars left by the missionaries are evident in the survivors and their families.

“They took my mother when she was 6 or 7 years old and kept her there for about 16 years,” Luis Eduardo Caballero, the Fiscal (legal representative) of the U’wa Peoples, told IC. According to Caballero, the Catholic Church invaded from opposite ends of U’wa territory in the late 1940’s via the Andean plateaus of Boyacá as well as the lowlands beside the Cobaria and Arauca rivers. A rival evangelical organization called the Summer Institute of Linguistics, located a short drive outside of U’wa territory, was also involved in the systematic kidnapping of indigenous children.

“They prohibited our rituals, our fasts, our celebrations called the dance,” said Caballero, adding that the missionaries lured the children away under the guise of providing free education. Those inside the convent who spoke their native language were punished. “They weren’t able to make my mother stop speaking U’wa, but many others, yes.”

The Catholic mission that once perpetuated the cultural genocide of the U’wa has been transformed into a school that teaches the U'wa native language. Photo: Jake Ling

The Catholic mission that once perpetuated the cultural genocide of the U’wa has been transformed into a school that teaches the U’wa native language. Photo: Jake Ling

Murals depicting their ancient mythology are now decorated along the walls of the reformed Catholic mission. Photo: Jake Ling

Murals depicting their ancient mythology are now decorated along the walls of the reformed Catholic mission. Photo: Jake Ling

As Berito grew to adulthood, he served as the governor of the U’wa and became a spiritual authority or Werjayá in the U’wa tongue, a shamanic healer in charge of communicating with the superior powers that inhabit nature: the rivers, the plants, the sun, and the stars. His childhood experience in the convent galvanized him to take the fight for his people’s rights outside the isolated cloud forests to the capital Bogotá and then beyond Colombia’s borders. It was only until December of last year, that Berito traveled to a judicial office in the capital to officially change his name from Roberto Cobaria, that which was placed on him by the Catholics, to Berito KuwarU’wa KuwarU’wa, the name used by his people.

The leaders significance as an influential elder statesmen for Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples has not gone unremarked. “Berito taught Colombia’s indigenous people and the world the importance of the globalization of resistance, how to defend the beloved Earth and how to fight against climate change.” said Luis Fernando Arias, the Chief Councilor of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC).

“Internationally, Berito is the most well-recognized face of the U’wa struggle.” said Andrew Miller, who accompanied the U’wa leader with Amazon Watch to meet Avatar director James Cameron in his Los Angeles living room. “Especially in the late 1990’s, Berito was a global ambassador of the U’wa’s beautifully poetic cosmology that captured many people’s imaginations. He struck up a bond with Terry Freitas, the young activist who helped galvanize the international movement in support of the U’wa, as well as people like Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch’s founder.”

Terence Freitas was the co-creator and coordinator of the U’wa Defense Working Group that was essential in drumming up international support for the U’wa. The young activist transformed his bedroom at his mother’s house into the de-facto HQ for the U’wa’s international campaign against Occidental Petroleum in the late 1990’s. Even his mother was unaware of the extent of her son’s involvement until one morning she found Berito, the leader of 7,000 indigenous people from the isolated paramos and cloud forests of eastern Colombia, sleeping on the living room floor of her suburban Los Angeles home.

“I noticed that he immediately bonded with Roberto, there was a link between them,” said Francois Mazure from the EarthWays Foundation that hosted Berito during his visit to Los Angeles. “Roberto was the father and Terry was the son.”

In 1997, after meeting with the directors of Occidental Petroleum in Los Angeles, Berito was kidnapped on his return to Colombia by gunmen who tried to force him to sign a drilling agreement. He refused and they beat him. In 1998, Freitas accompanied Berito to Al Gore’s office to meet the environmentalist vice president after the U’wa leader was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize. Unfortunately Al Gore, whose father sat on the board of Occidental Petroleum and owned a small fortune in the company’s shares, never pressured Oxy publicly.

A year later Berito invited Freitas and two native American activists, Lahe’enda’e Gay and Ingrid Washinawatok, to help set up schools to protect the U’wa language and culture and defend their way of life from the oil industry. Washinawatok was a world-renowned 41-year-old indigenous activist known as Flying Eagle Woman of the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin and a rising leader in the struggle for indigenous rights. She also directed the Fund for the Four Directions, which promoted the revitalization of indigenous languages and cultures. Lahe’ena’e Gay was a 39-year-old member of Hawaii’s Kanaka Maoli Nation, as well as the founder and director of the Pacific Cultural Conservancy International, which works to preserve cultural and biological diversity.

Freitas knew the risks. On a trip to U’wa territory a year earlier he reported being observed and followed on various occasions by individuals he believed were paramilitaries. During that same trip he was stopped by the Colombian military and forced to sign a declaration that absolved the army of any responsibility for his security. He interpreted the act as a threat. The shared vision of Berito, Freitas, Gay and Washinawatok to develop schools to teach the next generation of U’wa children a non-colonial curriculum; alongside lessons on Natural Law, which was set down by the divine spirit Sira entrusting the U’wa with the guardianship of Mother Earth, outweighed the risks.

As Berito guided the three activists on their way to the airport to leave Colombia, they were kidnapped by masked gunmen. While the U’wa leader was immediately released, the bodies of the activists were found a week later bound and blindfolded with multiple gunshot wounds in a Venezuelan cow field over the Arauca river.

Because the FARC was then in preliminary peace talks in the late 1990’s, presaging more recent events, the guerrilla group appeared to have little to gain and much to lose from the kidnapping and executions. Indeed, the FARC high command was quick to deny complicity, in order to protect those fragile peace talks.

The armed men at the road block where the group were kidnapped also did not fit the profile of the local FARC – they were allegedly much younger, not dressed in fatigues, and had their faces covered – leading some to wonder if they were a rogue group opposed to the peace accords. The stretch of highway through Arauca province where the group had been traveling was dominated by the paramilitaries, who at the time had been waging a campaign of extermination against trade union leaders, human rights activists and suspected guerrilla collaborators. Eventually, however, a rebel commander from the guerrillas acknowledged: “Commander Gildardo of the FARC’s 10th Front found that strangers had entered the U’wa Indian region and did not have authorization from the guerrillas. He improvised an investigation, captured and executed them without consulting his superiors.”

Washinawatok’s Menominee Nation and various other U.S. indigenous rights groups accused the U.S. State Department of destabilizing their own negotiations with the FARC for the release of the activists, which they had believed would be imminent. During the failed peace talks of the 1990’s, the US State Department had released $230 million in military aid to the Colombian army, and fighting in the north between the army and their right wing paramilitary allies against the FARC had left 70 people dead on both sides.

Meanwhile, Occidental Petroleum wasn’t just spending millions to lobby the U.S. government to increase military aid to Colombia – it was providing direct financial and logistical support to the Colombian military. The oil giant was also funding private security firms like Air-Scan, which carried out the cluster-bombing massacre of Santo Domingo on Occidental’s behalf, as well as the paramilitary death squads involved in kidnapping, torture, extrajudicial killings and massacres of civilians across the region.

Most surprisingly, however, was the U.S. multinationals’ links with Colombia’s marxist guerrillas, confirmed when Oxy Vice-President Lawrence Meriage gave testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000. He admitted that Occidental employees regularly made payments to members of the FARC and ELN. Meriage’s acknowledgement of Oxy’s work relationship with the guerillas came three years after the ELN and FARC were declared “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” in 1997, making it a crime to provide material support to these groups.

Meriage’s testimony was also consistent with the actions and admissions by long-time Occidental leader Armand Hammer, who reports in his biography how Occidental’s Latin American security chief, former FBI employee James Sutton, was fired when he spoke out against the company’s payments to the ELN. “We are giving jobs to the guerrillas…” Hammer told the Wall Street Journal in 1985 “…and they in turn protect us from other guerrillas.”

An investigation by the LA Times found that Occidental Petroleum was funneling millions of dollars to the ELN guerillas as well as jobs and food for their members. “The rebels used the money to gain new recruits and weaponry,” the LA times stated, claiming the ELN were on the verge of being wiped out by the Colombian military in the early 80’s before receiving Oxy’s financial backing. “In effect, Occidental rescued the group that later turned against it.”

After his passing, Freita’s former girlfriend lashed out at Oxy in a letter to Vice President Al Gore, referring to the company’s friendly links with the guerrillas. Berito later testified to Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to complain about the incident that took the life of three of the U’wa People’s greatest friends and allies. An article in the LA Weekly eulogizing the young activist after his death stated: “In May 1997, Freitas met the man who would change the course of his life: U’wa leader Roberto Cobaria.” Terry Freitas was 24 years old when he was executed.

The international campaign against Occidental Petroleum soon hit critical-mass. With many still reeling over the death of the three activists, protests against the oil giant were launched in London, Hamburg, Lima, Nairobi and several cities across the United States. The U’wa leader Berito Cobaria once again traveled from the cloud forests of eastern Colombia to the west coast of California where he planned to challenge Oxy CEO Ray Irani at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. Meanwhile as Occidental Petroleum funded all sides of Colombia’s brutal civil war, the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars of crude oil to the Caribbean coast continued.

 

Bison Abuse in the Hebgen Basin

By Buffalo Field Campaign

Government hazers descended upon our soon-to-be national mammal this Monday, marking the season’s first forced removal operation west of Yellowstone National Park. Agents with the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) disturbed and chased forty-four buffalo with about twelve newborns from lands west of the South Fork of the Madison, in the Denny Creek area, a place buffalo love. Unfortunately, this is one of the last strongholds for the few seasonal private and public lands ranchers in the Hebgen Basin. However, no cattle occupy these lands until mid to late June. They are gone by October. Because of the short-term presence of cattle, these lands were excluded from the Governor’s year-round buffalo habitat designation. Ranchers like to use the excuse of brucellosis, but the real reason buffalo are chased out of this area is because the ranchers don’t want to share grass with the native buffalo.

BFC patrols were out in force documenting from multiple angles. The buffalo were chased across the South Fork of the Madison, then down a long power line trail which eventually led to the Madison Arm Road, where they hazed them further down the dusty gravel road, bullying them across the Madison River, and over to the bluffs that lead to Horse Butte, where buffalo are now safe from such abusive harassment. The buffalo were pushed at least ten miles, the tiny calves trying desperately to keep up with their moms and the rest of the herd. Our bike patrols followed, documenting everything, and tried to appeal to whatever compassion the hazers might have had to give these baby buffalo a rest and chance to nurse. When buffalo are left alone, newborn calves will take naps every five minutes, getting up to nurse for a few moments, maybe romp around for a bit, then quickly bed down for another nap. While the hazers went at a slower pace than usual, it was still too much for those little buffalo. Hazing, no matter the pace, is always abusive — that is the nature of it, to make wildlife uncomfortable or frightened enough to leave the place of their choosing to escape the danger.

The calves were growing more exhausted by the second. Their little legs were tiring, they were hungry, confused, and sticking close to their mothers. But the hazers wouldn’t relent. Nursing breaks and naps, which they sorely needed, were entirely out of the question. Surprisingly, a couple of hours into the haze, the hazers did stop for a moment. Did they actually hear our concerns? Did the buffalo reach a soft spot in their hearts? Of course not. The reason they stopped is because a couple of Yellowstone park rangers came through to observe. The rangers just drove through saying “nice and slow, that’s what we like to see,” and went on their way. As soon as they were out of sight, the cowboy tactics resumed. The rangers will likely report that the haze was “going well” but our footage will be able to show the truth of what really took place. It’s hard to know, but we hope that this first haze will also be the last of the season.

The buffalo hazed this week were part of the first large group to venture to this part of the basin this spring. In past years we have seen many more. In fact, there are very few buffalo in the entire Hebgen Basin right now, which is a source of concern. It’s also ironic, as this is the first time they are permitted to be here without the threat of hazing. In years past it was not uncommon to see between 400 and 600 buffalo, while currently there are barely 200. On a recent trip into the park we counted only forty buffalo between West Yellowstone and the Madison Junction, making us wonder if the hunt, slaughter, and winter kill had combined to severely impact the central herd, which migrates both north into the Gardiner Basin and west into the Hebgen Basin.

Fearing the worst, I called Yellowstone’s bison biologist who confirmed that management actions and winter kill had taken a heavy toll on the central herd, but he indicated that there were also some unusual weather patterns this year that may have contributed to so few buffalo being in the Hebgen Basin, changes that lead the buffalo to use the landscape differently than we normally see. Changing weather patterns are just a small piece of it, though. While natural forces are formidable enough, when combpounded with annual kills through indiscriminate boundary hunting and capture-for-slaughter, the population becomes increasingly vulnerable to collapse. Without understanding how their management decisions and climate change are combining to affect the health and viability of these herds, the agencies are threatening the future of America’s last wild bison.

Being on the ground, with the buffalo, observing them in their habitat, learning how and when they use the areas they choose to use, observing their behavior, family structures, and dynamics allows us to see the patterns and subtle changes that may hold significant meaning, and it puts BFC in an extremely unique position to be the strongest and most educated advocates for the country’s last wild buffalo.

 

They Say the Land is Dead, but it Lives Yet

U’wa struggle against tuberculosis, parasitic worms, climate change and the threats of violent paramilitary repression

Featured image: “The U’wa were sent a photo of a sheep in military gear and carrying a rifle, implying that they are associated with the guerrillas. These are very serious accusations, providing a political rationale for violent paramilitary repression against the U’wa.”

—Andrew Miller, Director of Advocacy at Amazon Watch. Photo: unknown

By  / Intercontinental Cry

This is the second installment of “The Guardians of Mother Earth,” an exclusive four-part series examining the Indigenous U’wa struggle for peace in Colombia. 

Nestled below the snow-capped mountains on the eastern cordillera of the Colombian Andes is the town of Güicán, known internationally to hikers as the gateway to Colombia’s magnificent Cocuy National Park. To the east of the mountain range the impenetrable tropical vegetation provides cover from air strikes for the guerrilla armies along the Venezuelan border. On the western border of U’wa territory the vegetation disappears with the altitude into a vast network of Andean peaks, valleys, and pristine wetland ecosystems called paramos.

It was here late last year during the October 25 municipal elections when the mountains surrounding Güicán became the scene of an ELN ambush resulting in the deaths of one policeman and 11 soldiers from Colombia’s High-Mountain Battalion. The battalion had left the U’wa resguardo at 3am and marched down a narrow mountain trail while carrying 130 votes cast by the remote indigenous communities of Bachira when they stopped to rest only to come under fire from rifles and guerilla rocket-launchers called “tatucos.” The sergeant leading the group communicated back to base that his security detail of 34 soldiers and two policemen charged with protecting delegates from the voting commission as well as an indigenous U’wa guide were under attack when radio contact was lost.

A coordinated air and ground assault was launched by the Colombian military to rescue the survivors and recover the bodies at an altitude of 9,842 ft where the tough mountain terrain makes helicopter access difficult. Two police were found wounded but alive while two soldiers as well as the U’wa guide and the civilians from the voting office remained unaccounted for as the ELN disappeared into the mountains. Vladimir Moreno, an indigenous U’wa leader, told El Tiempo there was no precedent for such violence in the region and that historically the guerillas had never interfered with the votes of local U’wa. “This is a peaceful community,” he said.

“We will request from national and international organizations to demand that the armed actors in the resguardo withdraw,” Moreno told Caracol Radio, “and we also demand from the Ministry of Defence that the Army clears out of the area within the resguardo because this has violated international humanitarian law.”

The incident, which was the most violent confrontation between the ELN and the state military since peace negotiations between the FARC and government started three years ago in Havana, resulted in the consequent militarization of U’wa and rural communities across the western border of the resguardo.

Now, six months later, Güicán is the epicenter for a non-violent U’wa mobilization: for the last few months the indigenous community has blocked the entrances of the Cocuy National Park. “The U’wa Nation is the Guardian of Mother Earth and from now into the future we will not permit tourism into the national park,” Yimy Aguablanca, an indigenous leader from Güicán, told IC on March 21, 2016. He added that tourism is affecting the water and the entire eco-system around the park and that non-indigenous rural people have joined the protest.

An U'wa Indigenous Guard. Photo: Tatiana Vila Torres / Kinorama Copyleft

An U’wa Indigenous Guard. Photo: Tatiana Vila Torres / Kinorama Copyleft

The scarce facilities like rubbish bins and toilets in the state-run park mean some of the trails are littered with trash and visitors are forced to defecate beside the mountain streams that supply drinking water for surrounding communities. Outrage over the poor administration of the park was further inflamed in February when a charity match of high-altitude soccer was broadcast over YouTube. The match took place on the glacier of the U’wa’s sacred mountain Zizuma, the resting place of their divine beings. Known as Mount Cocuy in Spanish, an estimated 90 percent of Zizuma’s glaciers have disappeared in the last 150 years due to climate change. What little ice there is left is receding at a rate of 25 meters per year.

“Today we cry as our Zizuma is condemned to disappear,” went out the U’wa Communiqué that was broadcast through social media. Yimy Aguablanca said this latest mobilization of the U’wa will not stop until the state hands over administration of the park to the U’wa. So far, their calls for a direct dialog with the Minister of Environment have been ignored. The Constitution of 1999 allotted 220,275 hectares for the U’wa but this is a fraction of their ancestral lands, which once included the Cocuy National Park and areas rich with oil and gas reserves, which were conveniently left out of the agreement by the Colombian government.

In 2015, the U’wa High-Council made up of indigenous leaders from different communities across their territory, approved the creation of the Indigenous Guard. These guardians are responsible for territorial control and defense, and while unarmed, they have a mandate to ensure that no one enters the reserve without authorization, especially technical staff like geologists. The decision to form the Indigenous Guard came in response to an event in May 2014, when the U’wa detained functionaries from the company ENCOMINING who were in the Campo Hermoso region of their territory attempting to take coal samples. The importance of the current mobilization around the Cocuy National Park to not just the U’wa but also non-indigenous rural communities in the region is evident by the fact that rural farmers are now standing side by side with the Indigenous Guard to block all entrances to the park.

“Today when we look at our rights over our territory it is not the same as that of our ancestors,” Berito told IC. “It has been exploited, violated, distributed, but still even now we must always protect the water, the animals, and the forests.”

It was during ‘la Violencia’ — a dark period in Colombian history that began in 1948 — when the borders of the U’wa Nation’s territory were first reduced as thousands of refugees fleeing conflict from other parts of the country settled on the fertile banks of the Arauca. Instead of seeing enemies that needed to be vanquished, the U’wa saw victims worthy of compassion and retreated further into the mountains. Over the next 10 years, 200,000 people were killed as the civil war engulfed the country. La Violencia was eventually resolved by a power-sharing agreement in 1958 that turned Colombia into a dictatorship and consequently set the stage for a Marxist guerrilla insurgency against the central government.

Since 1964, another 260,000 people have been killed in the current incarnation of the Colombian armed conflict, and the war-torn provinces of Arauca, Casanare, Norte de Santander and Boyacá that overlap U’wa territory have become some of the most violent and militarized states in the country. In the north of U’wa territory in Norte de Santander, when word spreads of the Colombian army’s proximity, U’wa men race back from the fields to their families so the women are not alone in their homes.

To the south of the Cocuy National Park in Boyacá province, land that once belonged to the U’wa and is still considered sacred by their people has been violated by turning it into a permanent military base to defend nearby petroleum wells from five divisions of the FARC’s formidable Eastern Block and the heavy concentration of ELN fighters in Arauca and Casanare.

Although U’wa territory falling within the borders of the national park is protected from mining under the constitution, the proximity of these intense large-scale petroleum and gas exploitation projects has greatly affected the region’s fragile and delicately interconnected ecosystems. The Andean paramos that make up much of the terrain in the south and west of U’wa territory as well as the national park absorb water like giant sponges before releasing it into the rivers that nourish all life in the cloud forests on the eastern edge of the cordillera and the vast wetland Savana called Los Llanos that stretches thousands of miles into Venezuela.

An U'wa bi-lingual teacher named Jose Cobaria sharpens his machete in the unusually dry Cobaria river. "The government invests all of its money in guns and war not education and health." Photo: Jake Ling

An U’wa bi-lingual teacher named Jose Cobaria sharpens his machete in the unusually dry Cobaria river. “The government invests all of its money in guns and war not education and health.” Photo: Jake Ling

These rivers are symbols of spiritual purity in U’wa cosmology, but a severe drought engulfing the region caused by overzealous mining in the Andean paramos, climate change and El Niño has turned these once mighty tributaries flowing through the U’wa ancestral lands into stony creek beds. To make matters worse, the once crystalline waters they carried from the snow-capped peaks and glaciers of the Sierra Cocuy and Güicán have been infected with a parasitic worm that stunts the indigenous children’s growth and swells their bellies, leaving them malnourished and lethargic while depleting their immune systems.

A dose of antibiotics from Cubará hospital can control the worm, but many indigenous families cannot afford the journey down the mountain to the town for a doctor’s prescription. Those that can make the trip to purge their children’s stomachs find out that after drinking one glass of water the worm is back. “We have to defend our health,” Berito told IC, “and this means examining the exploitation and contamination of the water which has cast a shadow over the rivers.”

"U'wa locals say the drinking water didn't used to make them sick and that the parasitic worm which has recently contaminated the water supply severely affects indigenous children, swelling their stomachs and leaving them malnourished."

“U’wa locals say the drinking water didn’t used to make them sick and that the parasitic worm which has recently contaminated the water supply severely affects indigenous children, swelling their stomachs and leaving them malnourished.”

Further up the mountain, 50-year-old Kuiuru Kobeua has worked 8 hours a day for the last 14 days planting seeds on a small plot carved out of the forest to make sure his wife and three children do not go hungry come harvest. Two months ago, when his test for tuberculosis in Cubará hospital turned out negative, he was sent home with a packet of Ibuprofen. Two months later, he has trouble talking between violent coughs and the constant need to clear his phlegm-filled throat and lungs. He can barely afford another trip to Cubará and fears being turned back home again with nothing but another packet of painkillers. Meanwhile, the cough is not going away and he feels increasingly weak.

Until the Colombian government establishes a Tuberculosis Clinic in Cubará, the town's under-resourced health clinic is unable to properly identify or treat the disease such as in the case of Kuiuru Kobeua, who was sent home from the hospital with nothing but painkillers. Photo: Jake Ling

Until the Colombian government establishes a Tuberculosis Clinic in Cubará, the town’s under-resourced health clinic is unable to properly identify or treat the disease such as in the case of Kuiuru Kobeua, who was sent home from the hospital with nothing but painkillers. Photo: Jake Ling

“To prevent such cases of tuberculosis,” Yimy Aguablanca said, “we need to recognize and tell the world that the actual health policies of this government do not guarantee that our U’wa brothers are protected from the disease.”

On the other side of the U’wa’s ancestral territory the Earth First Journal reports that there are not enough seats for the patients in the tin-roofed off-the-grid medical clinic in Chuscal and that some of the sick are sprawled on the cracked floor tiles. Diseases such as tuberculosis, dysentery and leishmaniasis, a parasite spread by sandflies that attacks people’s internal organs, are rife. “We’re short of everything,” Eusebio Carceres, the head nurse at the isolated healthcare outpost, told Earth First. “Antibiotics, vaccines, lab equipment – we’re even short of clean drinking water because the oil spills have poisoned so many sources around here.”

Although the Colombian government routinely sends mining engineers into and around U’wa territory through state-run petroleum companies, the government’s failure to provide the region with uncontaminated drinking water or medical specialists to heal the community’s sick is striking.

The problems facing the U’wa are compounded by the limited arable land allotted to them in the constitution. It has forced them to change their agricultural practices. In decades past, the U’wa rotated crops to conserve soil quality and left areas to regenerate for up to 12 years before returning to ensure a bountiful harvest. Now the quality of soil is declining along with the quantity of their yields; sufficient food to feed the entire community is becoming increasingly scarce. Given the choice of clearing more of their sacred forests for agriculture or starving, however, the U’wa choose to fast. Amazon Watch neatly summed up the situation: although the U’was are pacifists who are unwilling to kill anyone for their beliefs, they are willing to die for them.

On the western paramos surrounding the sacred Zizuma, Yimy Aguablanca and a hundred other rural and U’wa protesters are standing firm despite the threats sent to the Indigenous Guard. On March 25, they received a cryptic photo of a sheep, grazing below the sacred mountain, dressed in guerilla military fatigues and carrying an assault rifle. The not-so-subtle threat means the U’wa have been categorized as an armed rebel group — and therefore a military target.

“When your protests disrupt an economic activity, you become a target of armed actors who operate on behalf of those interests,” said Andrew Miller, Director of Advocacy at Amazon Watch. He added that local politicians with ties to the tourism industry have been affected economically by the U’wa’s biocultural conservation efforts. Along with the threatening photo, Miller said that rumors are now circulating about the U’wa receiving bribes from the FARC to help them re-establish contraband shipment routes through the national park.

“These are very serious accusations providing a political rationale for a violent paramilitary repression against the U’wa,” Miller told IC. “The notion that the U’wa are associated with an armed group is absurd. They are actually radical pacifists by culture.”

The third installment in this series turns to recent history centered on Berito Cobaria, catholic missionaries and the international movement against Occidental Petroleum. It will be available soon on Intercontinental Cry.

Pennsylvania Township Legalizes Civil Disobedience

New Law Shields People from Arrest for Protesting Project

By Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Grant Township, Indiana County, PA: Grant Township Supervisors passed a first-in-the-nation law that legalizes direct action to stop frack wastewater injection wells within the Township. Pennsylvania General Energy Company (PGE) has sued the Township to overturn a local democratically-enacted law that prohibits injection wells.

If a court does not uphold the people’s right to stop corporate activities threatening the well-being of the community, the ordinance codifies that, “any natural person may then enforce the rights and prohibitions of the charter through direct action.” Further, the ordinance states that any nonviolent direct action to enforce their Charter is protected, “prohibit[ing] any private or public actor from bringing criminal charges or filing any civil or other criminal action against those participating in nonviolent direct action.”

Grant Township Supervisor Stacy Long explained, “We’re tired of being told by corporations and our so-called environmental regulatory agencies that we can’t stop this injection well! This isn’t a game. We’re being threatened by a corporation with a history of permit violations, and that corporation wants to dump toxic frack wastewater into our Township.”

Long continued, “I live here, and I was also elected to protect the health and safety of this Township. I will do whatever it takes to provide our residents with the tools and protections they need to nonviolently resist aggressions like those being proposed by PGE.”

In 2013, residents in Grant Township learned that PGE was applying for permits that would legalize the injection well. Despite hearings, public comments, and permit appeals demonstrating the residents’ opposition to the project, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit to PGE.

Finding themselves with no other options, residents requested the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Grant Township Supervisors, with broad community support, passed a CELDF-drafted Community Bill of Rights ordinance in June 2014. The ordinance established rights to clean air and water, the right to local community self-government, and the rights of nature. The proposed injection well is prohibited as a violation of those rights.

PGE promptly sued the Township, claiming that it had a “right” to inject within the Township.

The case is ongoing. Last year, in October 2015, the judge invalidated parts of the ordinance, stating that the Township lacked authority to ban injection wells. Three weeks later, in November 2015, residents voted in a new Home Rule Charter. The rights-based Charter reinstated the ban on injection wells by a 2-to-1 vote, overriding the judge’s decision.

CELDF assisted the community with the drafting of the Charter and is representing the Township in the ongoing litigation with PGE.

Grant Township Supervisor and Chairman Jon Perry summed up the situation by saying, “Sides need to be picked. Should a polluting corporation have the right to inject toxic waste, or should a community have the right to protect itself?”

Perry continued, “I was elected to serve this community, and to protect the rights in our Charter voted in by the people I represent. If we have to physically and nonviolently stop the trucks from coming in because the courts fail us, we will do so. And we invite others to stand with us.”

Those others are showing up. Tim DeChristopher, co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, stated, “I’m encouraged to see an entire community and its elected officials asserting their rights to defend their community from the assaults of the fossil fuel industry, and I know there are plenty of folks in the climate movement ready to stand with Grant Township.”

CELDF community organizer Chad Nicholson has been working with the community since 2014. He added, “In our country’s history, we celebrate people standing up to challenge unjust laws. The American Revolution, abolition, women’s suffrage, the labor and civil rights movements, marriage equality – all required people to take action resisting illegitimate laws. All required creating new and more just laws in their place. We applaud the people of Grant Township for taking action as their community is threatened, and asserting their rights. It is an honor to stand with them.”

If you are interested in supporting the efforts in Grant Township, please contact Stacy Long, lemonphone28@gmail.com or 724.840.7214.

Indigenous U’wa Struggle for Peace in Colombia

This is the first installment of “The Guardians of Mother Earth,” a four-part series examining the Indigenous U’wa struggle for peace in Colombia.

On September 23, 2015, in the Palace of Conventions in Havana, Cuba, his excellency Juan Manuel Santos, the President of the Republic of Colombia, and Commander Timoleon Jimenez, Chief of General Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed an agreement on transitional justice and reparations to the victims of the country’s 51 year old civil war, resolving one of the final points in the country’s peace negotiations.

“We are adversaries, we come from different sides, but today we move in the same direction,” said President Santos, “this noble direction that all societies can have, is one of peace.”

In a show of unity, the warring parties all wore white-collared shirts without ties, as they sat on opposite sides of the brown mahogany tables encircling an artificially bright-green shrubbery arrangement. Around the room’s perimeter stood a throng of reporters, crowded together behind a red rope line, snapping photos of the historic handshake between the president and the leader of the country’s largest guerrilla army. A prolonged war that has killed more than 260,000 people and victimized and displaced seven million more seemed to be drawing to an end.

Among the victims of the conflict are the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia. Of the 102 tribal nations in existence today more than half are at risk of disappearing – forced displacement and mining on indigenous territory during the armed conflict have contributed heavily to the widespread demise.

A progressive genocide of negligence and privation is also taking place. The Indigenous Peoples of Colombia are routinely denied basic commodities such as antibiotics, vaccines and clean drinking water that residents of big cities take for granted, not because the country’s indigenous have been targeted for extermination, but because they have become politically insignificant.

During the Havana peace accord, the indigenous nations who trace their Colombian heritage back thousands of years, from before the time of the Spanish conquest, were not mentioned once.

Inside a wooden shack in the isolated cloud forests of eastern Colombia, three kilometers west of the Arauca river on the Venezuelan border, Berito Cobaria, the internationally recognized leader and spiritual guide of the indigenous U’wa, points out the shades on the x-ray scan of his chest. It shows the same strain of tuberculosis that is ravaging his people.

Berito X-ray. Photo: Jake Ling

Berito X-ray. Photo: Jake Ling

The single-story hospital in Cubará, the nearest town on the river, is poorly equipped and understaffed. Visits from medical specialists are rare because the hospital is located in the “Red Zone” – conflict areas the Colombian government has declared dangerous due to the heavy concentration of guerrilla forces.

“The government needs to establish a tuberculosis clinic in Cubará,” Berito told IC. He confirmed he is slowly overcoming the deadly disease but despairs for his people as the tuberculosis outbreak rapidly spreads throughout the U’wa Nation’s ancestral lands.  The U’wa believe there needs to be harmony in the world for there to be harmony in the cosmos, but the balance of nature has been disturbed and a sickness has fallen upon Berito’s people. Infectious western diseases such as influenza, dysentery, tuberculosis, and the common cold continue to wreak havoc on the unaccustomed immune systems of the U’wa, who up until the late 1940’s lived an isolated existence on the forested cliffs and the remote Andean wetlands and cloud forests of eastern Colombia.

Beginning on February 13th, 2016, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla army, the ELN (Army of National Liberation) imposed a 72-hour armed strike inside Red Zones like Cubará and other towns that border U’wa territory. Under the threat of violence, all stores and businesses in Cubará were closed, the roads were empty and lucky members of the Colombian military got three days’ rest in fortified outposts while their colleagues searched for explosives laid along Highway 66. Despite their dominance in the frontier towns along the Venezuelan border, even the ELN needs to gain permission from indigenous authorities like Berito to enter the ancestral lands of the U’wa. Known as the United U’wa Resguardo, the territory is restricted to all outsiders.

A day after the ELN’s armed strike was lifted, U’wa families on their way to Cubará to stock up on supplies of bread, sugar, eggs and tobacco were traveling barefoot or on the backs of pickup trucks past Berito’s home, which stands sentinel on the eastern border of the resguardo. Ten minutes away at the border town, Colombian soldiers had returned from their outposts to patrol the streets. Stores were serving clients, and locals walked openly with white plastic shopping bags, acts that had been banned and punishable by death during the armed strike. The only trace of the armed strike was the ubiquitous graffiti scrawled on buildings around town: “ELN – 51 YEARS OF RESISTANCE”.

Historically, U’wa territory has been of strategic importance to the Marxist guerrillas because it connects the contraband routes from Venezuela over the Arauca river to the central Andes of Boyacá province, a short drive from the capital Bogotá. Unarmed outside of the agricultural tools they use to cultivate staple crops of yucca, plantains and potatoes, the U’wa authorities will reluctantly grant permission to the ELN to pass through the resguardo on the strict condition they do not set up camp inside their territory. In return the ELN respect U’wa sovereignty, will not enter without permission and will not stop until they have traversed the steep and extremely difficult climb out of the cloud forests and cross the western border of the resguardo, below the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Cocuy and Güicán.

This region, which is rich in lucrative oil and gas reserves, is also of great strategic importance to the United States’ and Colombian governments, multinationals like Houston-based Occidental Petroleum and Spanish oil giant RepSol, as well as the right-wing paramilitary death squads, which have been historically allied with the central government and big business.  For the U’wa Peoples, however, oil is the sacred blood of their Mother Earth, and without its blood their mother will die.  For more than two decades U’wa have mobilized aggressive non-violent campaigns to assert more control over their ancestral territory in the midst of one of the most troubled regions of the Colombian Civil War, but it was their struggle against Occidental Petroleum (called Oxy for short) that gained international attention in 1997, when Berito declared that his people “would rather die, protecting everything that we hold sacred, than lose everything that makes us U’wa.”

Oil blocks on U'wa territory. Map by Fidel Mingorance / HREV 2014

Oil blocks on U’wa territory. Map by Fidel Mingorance / HREV 2014

As Oxy pushed into the U’wa’s ancestral lands, the indigenous nation collectively threatened to commit mass suicide by leaping off a 15,000-foot cliff if drilling on their territory went ahead.  This was not a publicity stunt. U’wa tribal lore tells of their people walking off the “Cliffs of Glory” en masse centuries ago rather than submit to the brutal Spanish conquistadors. The U’wa set up a makeshift village beside Occidental Petroleum’s Gibraltar 1 drilling site, and were clubbed, tear-gassed, threatened with rape, evicted, arrested, and harassed by state security forces on behalf of Oxy. A year later in 1998, Berito was given the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for leading the non-violent campaign against Occidental Petroleum – the same year the US multinational was complicit in the cluster-bombing of a countryside agricultural community, killing 18 civilians including 9 children, near the resguardo’s south-eastern border, in order to protect the Caño-Limon-Covenas oil pipeline.

The pipeline, jointly run by state-owned Ecopetrol and US-based Occidental Petroleum, pumps up to 220,000 barrels of crude daily from the war-torn Arauca province through U’wa territory on its way to the Caribbean coast. It was also the beneficiary of $100 million US military aid that was granted to the Colombian army in 2003, after Occidental Petroleum spent $4 million lobbying the US government to protect it. The ELN, and their ideological ally, the FARC, have bombed the pipeline more than a thousand times. The consecutive attacks over decades have spilt millions of barrels of cancerous unprocessed crude into the rivers and forests of the region, exponentially more than that of the Exxon Valdez environmental disaster.

In a separate bombing incident in March 2014, the U’wa refused to permit repairs to the pipeline until the government began dismantling the Magallanes drilling site on the northern border of the U’wa resguardo, which Ecopetrol had set up in secret months earlier. The Wall Street Journal reported the Colombian government lost $130 million during the 40-day U’wa protest, which was resolved by dismantling the new drilling rig. Ecopetrol has not cancelled the mining license, however, and the threat of exploitation remains. The most recent attack on the pipeline was a twin bomb attack by the ELN on March 15th, 2016, a week before the deadline to finalize the preliminary peace agreement that President Santos and Commander Timoleon Jimenez had agreed to six months earlier in Havana.

As the March 23rd deadline came and went without even a symbolic gesture of unity, both the FARC and government blamed each other for stalling. A week later the government saved face by announcing to the press it had entered formal peace talks with the ELN, but the country’s second-largest guerrilla army watered down public optimism by stating negotiations would not stop them from attacking critical government infrastructure, which include mining assets in the region and oil concessions surrounding U’wa territory such as Oil Block Cor 19 and Cor 45 which extend across the west and north-west of the resguardo; the Arauca oil block; and  RepSol and Integra Oil drilling rigs on the resguardo’s eastern border. There is also  Ecopetrol’s Siriri Oil Block, which along with Caño-Limon-Covenas is located in the north of U’wa territory.

A small fraction of a percent of the money rolling in from this multi-billion dollar mining bonanza would be more than enough to fund schools, provide fully-stocked healthcare facilities and install piping to provide clean drinking water for every indigenous and rural community in the region. In one isolated U’wa school inside the resguardo, four computers generously donated by the Colombian government gather dust because there is no electricity; here many of U’wa children are malnourished with swollen bellies because a non-native parasitic worm has contaminated the water supply. In a tin-roofed shack that serves as a hospital in Chuscal on the other side of the resguardo, the head nurse complains of the difficulty of caring for patients suffering from tuberculosis and dysentery because of a lack of vaccines, antibiotics and even clean drinking water after an oil spill contaminated the river.

Now while the international community is openly discussing buzzwords like “Peace Colombia” and “post-conflict” in anticipation of a historic peace agreement between the FARC and government, the U’wa people are demanding high-level talks with the government to address their various grievances. The government response has thus far been to ignore the U’wa, or to invite an indigenous delegation to Bogotá where low-level bureaucrats with no authority merely shuffle papers and nod their heads. Meanwhile, the tuberculosis outbreak continues to spread across U’wa territory.

The U’wa, who call themselves the people who know how to think and speak, consider themselves the Guardians of Mother Nature, and large tracts of land inside their territory have become biological reserves for jaguars, spectacled bears, as well as a kaleidoscopic array of endemic plant and bird life that do not appear anywhere else on the planet.  As an ambassador for his tribe, Berito has traveled the world recruiting the support of activists of all stripes, from the late Terry Freitas, native American activists Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahe’enda’e Gay, to the founder of Amazon Watch Atossa Soltani, and Hollywood celebrities like Avatar director James Cameron.

The indigenous leader knows that the ability of his pacifist tribe of 7,000 people to defend themselves against these extremely powerful economic and political forces is limited. This is especially true while numerous multinationals and armed groups battle for control around and sometimes inside his people’s land hidden from the eyes of the international community beneath the forest canopies. Non-violence, however, needs an audience and once again the U’wa leader is calling upon the world to watch over his people.

“History is its own kind of law,” Berito said. “They say the land is dead, but it lives yet. It is only wounded by the taking of oil. The dignity of native peoples comes from the land – and like the land it can be saved.”

The second installment in this series examines the U’wa struggles against tuberculosis, parasitic worms, climate change and threats of violent paramilitary repression. You can read it here: They say the land is dead, but it lives yet

Toxic Range: BLM’s Growing Chemical Addiction

This article originally appeared on Counterpunch

By Katie Fite / Wildlands Defense

BLM is escalating herbicide use on public lands in the wake of the September 2015 Sage-grouse Plan Amendments and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Not Warranted Finding for ESA listing. A primary agency excuse for forsaking sage-grouse ESA protection is the pipe dream that new habitat will be created through radical deforestation, and that fuelbreaks will stop fires. The Finding lays it out:

Cumulatively, the FIAT assessments of the five priority areas identify more than 16,000 km (10,000 mi) of potential linear fuel treatments, approximately 2.99 million ha (7.4 million ac) of potential conifer treatments, more than 2 million ha (5 million ac) of potential invasive plant treatments, and more than 7.7 million ha (19 million ac) of post-fire rehabilitation (i.e., should a fire occur, the post-fire rehabilitation identifies which areas BLM would prioritize for management) within the Great Basin region…

The deforestation acreage is larger than Vermont. Native pinyon and juniper trees are treated as weeds, rather than a forest community vital for biodiversity and buffering climate change effects. Real weeds will have a field day in the wake of the bulldozers, bull hogs, masticators, chain saws, mowers, roller-choppers, brush beaters and “prescribed” fire unleashed for subduing woody vegetation. Lands will be doused with herbicides to try to keep cheatgrass, rapidly advancing medusahead, and others from thriving in the wasted, bared soils and hotter, drier, grazed sites. The fuelbreaks will raze sage and trees across a distance greater than that between Patagonia and the North Pole. These cleared zones will parallel many roads on public lands, further fragmenting wildlife habitats and providing fertile grounds for flammable annual grass in the chronically grazed arid landscape, and for human-caused catalytic converter, target shooting and other fire ignitions.

BLM is further reverting to a 1960s worldview of farming-style manipulation of wild lands, mainlining chemicals in support of its treatment habit. This distracts attention from the fact that the new BLM Sage-grouse Plan Amendments allow livestock grazing and many other threats to the bird to continue with little real change, despite a torrent of litigation claiming otherwise. In support of the folly, NRCS and BLM have concocted elaborate models deeming native forest and sage expanses unhealthy or “at risk.” After clearing, the land may be seeded, often with a mix of exotic forage grass and “cultivars,” not the local native plant ecotypes, but plants bred to be big and tough and a livestock forage boon. Places purged of woody plants will be embedded in a landscape “compartmentalized” (BLM’s term) by fuelbreaks.

Livestock grazing is a primary cause of weed infestation and dominance across public lands. But BLM refuses to deal with livestock as a cause of weeds. PEER very recently filed a complaint with CEQ and rancher sycophant Interior Secretary “what’s good for the bird is good for the herd” Sally Jewell over BLM’s denial of the climate effects of cattle and sheep grazing.

That’s only part of it. BLM is a weed denier of the worst sort, and willfully blind to the adverse climate effects of its land clearing. Instead of addressing cattle causes of weeds, BLM’s time honored method is to spray and walk away, leaving livestock free to graze and trample sprayed land in short order, churning soils and copiously defecating, ensuring a fresh batch of weeds takes hold.

2007 Weed EIS and PER Set the Stage

In 2007, BLM completed a Westwide 17 State Weed EIS and risk assessments for expanded herbicide use tripling sprayed acres, along with a Programmatic Environmental Report PER bedfellow laying out burning, chaining, mastication, bull hogging, mowing, brush beating, harrowing, “biological thinning” (dustbowl style grazing) and other severe weed-causing disturbance assaults on native vegetation communities. Environmentalists implored the BLM to address weed causes, employ passive restoration and minimize spraying. BLM ignored this, saying weed causes were dealt with in “allocations” of Land Use Plans. The many Plans issued since then do not address causes of weeds in divvying up “forage” and other allocations, like this and this. Risk assessments based on minimal info, predictably found the chemicals were safe for public land. The PER’s ecological impacts were never analyzed. The fore-shadowed radical treatment disturbance, now funded by hundreds of millions of dollars of sage-grouse and fuels funds, is laying waste to the West. BLM’s project rationales are a constantly moving target.

The Oust Debacle

As BLM was preparing the Weed EIS, it became embroiled in litigation with southern Idaho farmers over a crop catastrophe. BLM had ballyhooed DuPont’s Oust herbicide as a panacea for cheatgrass. Prominent range staff that had long pushed exotic forage plants as desirable on “rangelands” worked closely with DuPont to fine-tune the chemical.

“Oust is the best tool we’ve ever had, yes sir,” says Scott Anderson, a supervisor in the BLM’s Shoshone, Idaho, office. “There’s nothing like it.”… “In the mid-1990s, BLM officials began using it experimentally against cheatgrass, which the agency had been fighting a losing battle to control. They discovered that when sprayed immediately after a fire, Oust was nearly 100% effective in suppressing the growth of cheatgrass for at least a year. “That gave us an opportunity to come in and reseed the sagebrush and other desirable vegetation,” explains Mike Pellant, a BLM rangeland ecologist in Boise.

Oust kills plants by preventing roots from taking in water and nutrients from the soil.

It did this splendidly when the wind blew herbicide-infested soil onto crop fields and poisoned the earth. After the farmers finally figured out what had happened, BLM declared an Oust moratorium. Prolonged litigation ensued, with over 66 days of testimony in federal court. A jury trial and verdict found BLM bore 40% responsible, and Dupont 60%. Damages of 17 million dollars were awarded to the farmers. But the District Court ruling was appealed, and reversed by the Ninth Circuit in 2011. Courthouse News described the long ago initial filing “a day late and 17 million dollars short.”

“Idaho farmers filed their complaint a day too late to collect damages from the government after their crops were caught in the crossfire of a federal agency’s herbicidal battle against non-native grass, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday … The farmers’ claims against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are “forever barred.”

Oust affected so much ag land that damage was detected. Most of the spraying takes place in remoter wild places where drift effects could escape detection.

Meanwhile, BLM kept on spraying, purposefully blind to weed causes. The 2007 Weed EIS blessed Plateau (Imazapic) as the new cheat panacea. Mowed and roller-chopped sage, prescribed burned forests and sage, and wildfire areas were doused with Plateau. It was applied over untold 100,000s of acres following fires. But there is still a hitch. Similar to Oust, Plateau kills “desirable” seedlings. So at the same time BLM has been spending tens of millions of dollars on seeding burned lands ostensibly for sage-grouse, it applied a potent lingering seedling killer. A scientist letter responding to BLM’s unprecedented 67 million dollar rehab boondoggle for the Soda Wildfire pointed out:

First, spraying a pre-emergent herbicide (imazapic/Plateau) may not have much effect on cheatgrass in 2015 because it germinated prior to application. Second, and much more importantly, imazapic will kill any seedling forbs that emerge from the seed bank. This will decrease abundance and diversity of forbs which are necessary for sage grouse…

Plateau also kills sage seedlings and the native seeds in the soil seedbank. Without sage, the sage-grouse, pygmy rabbits and other wildlife are doomed.

Oregon: A Special Case, and Sacrificing the Eastside

Oregon citizens and activists have often been alert, vocal and litigious in opposition to public and private lands herbicide campaigns that take place in the big dollar timber country on the west side of the Cascades. So BLM deals with ecosystems and people there a bit more lightly. In 1984, an injunction in Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides et al. v. Block prohibited herbicide use by BLM and the Forest Service in Oregon. BLM prepared a new EIS for four herbicides in 1987, and the injunction was modified, allowing 2,4-D, dicamba, glyphosate, and picloram. In 2010 a new EIS expanded herbicides. It has fewer protections for lands, waters, fish, frogs, wildlife and people on the east side of the Cascades. BLM added 10 more herbicides west of the Cascades, but did not allow aerial spraying, vs. 13 more herbicides east of the Cascades and allowed aerial spraying.

In synch with its 2007 EIS, BLM went far beyond treating “noxious” weeds in Oregon. “Management objectives” ballooned: the control of all invasive plants; the control of plants as necessary to control pests and diseases …; the control of vegetation to meet safety and maintenance objectives …; and, the treatment of vegetation to achieve specific habitat goals for Federally Listed and other Special Status species

East of the Cascades, 2,4-D, Dicamba, Fluroidone, Imazapic, Imazapir, Picloram could be sprayed aerially (note this is fewer chemicals than inflicted on the rest of the states aerially in the 2007 EIS). There is so-called “restricted” use of Chlorsulfuron, glyphosate, hexaninone, metsulfuron metyl, tebuthiuron “only where no other means available” … “where practical, limit glyphosate and hexaninone to spot applications.” Weasel word language is pervasive, providing leeway to wiggle out of promised protections. If livestock might eat the plants, BLM is to apply “at the typical rather than the maximum rate,” but no word on what to do about native ruminants “don’t apply some chemicals where wild horses are present, or herd them out of the area.” There is minimal protection for recreation – a campground might be fleetingly signed. Protections recommended for reptiles and amphibians were not adopted, even provisions leaving bits of untreated habitat as refugia were scuttled. BLM is increasingly outsources spraying, through agreements with Counties and “cooperators.” Protections that appear to have survived could readily fall by the wayside in practice.

The Spray and Walk Away Path Forward

Now BLM has just released a Final EIS adding three more bizarrely named chemicals (rimsulfuron, fluroxypyr, aminopyralid) for use across the West in its War on cheatgrass, medusahead, prickly pear (which with along with the saguaro are a keystone desert species), pigweed and others.

BLM claims these chemicals are safer for the environment and human health than those already in use. Safe, like aminopyralid that can be spread through manure? Or safe like post-emergence burndown rimsulfuron that is touted as great for mixing with others of its ilk, and for which even BLM’s assessment admits a drift risk for non-target vegetation? Just like Oust and Plateau, rimsulfuron kills seedlings of the very plants that wildlife must have to survive. There are only a few days left to weigh in on this latest EIS (blm_wo_vegeis@blm.gov). Meanwhile, step-down EA analyses expanding aerial spraying and broadening herbicide use are proliferating at the BLM District level.

BLM insisted their were minimal downsides to the banished Oust, the fallen from favor Plateau and the rest of the toxic lot, including woody plant killers like Tebuthiuron, which caused a profusion of cheatgrass in Nevada sage purging reminiscent of the 1960s. The current chemicals and all their associated carriers, adjuvants, breakdown products and other associated toxins, including unknowns from mixes of multiple active chemical ingredients that BLM allows, had been deemed safe in the 2007 EIS. Now that BLM has had a revelation that they are less safe, it is not dropping a single chemical.

What will the 7 million acres of new treatments, 10,000 linear miles of permanent bleak fuelbreaks, and rehabbing of failed fire rehabs (often using many of the same old techniques) do to the land? And how much spraying will accompany forest clearing for porkbarrel biomass? Beyond the butchered landscape, desertification and destroyed habitat, it may often be impossible for people to avoid unwanted exposure to herbicides on visits to public lands. Access roads will be bordered by FIAT-ordained fuelbreaks for long stretches. Cleared of “brush” and seeded with exotic forage grass, they will be favored cattle loafing areas. Aerial herbicide use in wild land settings with fickle weather ensures drift onto the road and dust, onto camping sites, killing non-target vegetation, polluting water in springs and streams, and contaminating sage-grouse, antelope and pygmy rabbit foods. New irreversible native species habitat loss and expanded habitat fragmentation will take place. Public lands will bear an even greater resemblance to an intensive cattle ranch operation under this desolate paradigm. How long will agency grazing climate and weed denial go on? Or denial of the climate consequences of deforestation right here at home? But look everybody, over there, a bright shiny new million dollar treatment saving sage-grouse.

Blockade Disrupts Klamath Salvage Logging

By  / Intercontinental Cry

In the early morning hours before daybreak on May 2 in the fire-impacted conifer forest near Seiad Valley in the Klamath River watershed, 27 people including Tribal youth, river advocates and forest activists blocked the road leading to the Klamath National Forest’s Westside salvage logging project.

Demonstrators held banners that read ‘Karuk Land: Karuk Plan,’ recited call and response chants, and testified to the timber sales’ impact on ailing salmon populations. Work was delayed for approximately four hours, according to a news release from the river advocates.

The protesters said the Westside Salvage Logging Project would clear cut more than 5,700 acres on steep slopes above Klamath River tributaries and along 320 miles of roads within Klamath National Forest. Post-fire logging and hauling began in late April, before legal claims brought forth by a lawsuit led by the Karuk Tribe could be considered in court.

“The Forest Service should follow the Karuk Plan on Karuk Land. Traditional knowledge of fire helps everything stay in balance because it’s all intertwined,” said Dania Rose Colegrove of the Klamath Justice Coalition. “When you destroy the forests, you destroy the rivers.”

The protesters said the Westside plan, unlike the Karuk Alternative, calls for clear cut logging on steep slopes right above several of the Klamath River’s most important salmon-bearing streams, at a time when returning salmon numbers are reaching record lows.

Members of local Tribal youth councils who participated in the protest see Westside salvage logging as a threat to their future.

“Today I showed up and stood up for what is right for future generations,” said Lacey Jackson, a 16-year old Hoopa Tribal Youth Council member. “My cultural and traditional livelihood is being threatened, and the way they are going about this logging is a big part of that. I will continue to stand up for me, my people and future generations.”

River advocates say the Forest Service plan to clear-cut thousands of acres above the Klamath River disregards the reasonable Karuk Alternative and hurts at-risk salmon and river communities. They believe a healthy Klamath River requires sensible forest restoration that addresses the needs of both fish and people, like that laid out in the Karuk plan.

Federal and state fisheries agency scientists estimate that there are only approximately 142,200 Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon in the ocean this year, based on the returns of two-year-old salmon, called “jacks” and “jills.” The salmon from the Klamath and Sacramento River make up the majority of salmon taken in California’s ocean and inland fisheries.

The low numbers of Klamath and Trinity River fish expected to return to the river and tributaries this year will result in more restricted seasons for both the recreational and commercial fisheries on the ocean and recreational and Tribal fisheries on the rivers this season.

During a meeting on Klamath dam removal in Sacramento in March, Thomas Wilson, a member of the Yurok Tribal Council and owner of Spey-Gee Point Guide Service, described the dire situation that the salmon fishery is in this year.

“This season will be devastating for fishermen and people on the river. Usually we get around 12,000 fish for subsistence on the river and what’s left goes to the commercial fishery. This year our entire Tribal quota is only about 5,900 fish,” he explained.

“The people are praying that the science predicting the low numbers is wrong. If we don’t protect the fish now, it will hurt us down the road. As Yuroks and natives, we are conservationists. We want make sure enough to keep seed for the all of the resources for future generations,” Wilson said.

The last thing that the watershed needs, at a time when the fishery is in crisis, is a Forest Service-approved clear cutting plan that further threatens salmon and steelhead habitat.

 Youth Running 500 Miles In Opposition of Dakota Access Pipeline

 

Omaha, NE – In solidarity with the ongoing fight against the Dakota Access pipeline, a group of Native and Non-native youth have organized a 500-mile spiritual relay run from Cannonball, ND to the district office of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Omaha, NE. The run is titled “Run For Your Life: No DAPL.” It departed the Cannonball community on April 24th, 2016 and plans to arrive in Omaha on May 3rd, 2016. The intention of the run is to deliver an unified statement to the USACE in resistance to the oil pipeline that proposed to cross beneath sacred water needed for life. The runners will will also turn over a petition calling for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be conducted on the Bakken pipeline.

The running group is currently in Lake Andes, SD and plans for one day of rest, departing for Santee, NE on Thursday, April 28th.The participating runners are comprised of concerned citizens from across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

For the past several months, Native and non-Native peoples in the Midwest have been battling the construction of the Dakota Access/Bakken pipeline, a project that will go from North Dakota into South Dakota, Iowa and southern Illinois. If constructed, this large-scale pipeline will cross the 12,000 year-old Missouri River, one of the largest water resources in the United States that supports millions of people with drinking and irrigation water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stated that they will make the final decision on Dakota Access, LLC’s final permit needed to construct the Dakota Access/Bakken Pipeline no later than May 6th, 2016 .

Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), owned by Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., is proposed to transport 450,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude oil from the lands of  North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. Dakota Access Pipeline is proposed to cross under the Missouri River twice, and poses as a threat to the sacred waters that the entire breadbasket of America depends on.  The construction of Dakota Access will threaten everything from farming and drinking water to entire ecosystems, wildlife and food sources surrounding the Missouri.

The group asks that “Everyone stand with us against this threat to our health, our culture, and our sovereignty. We ask that everyone who lives on or near the Missouri River and its tributaries, everyone who farms or ranches in the local area, and everyone who cares about clean air and clean drinking water stand with us against the Dakota Access Pipeline!”

Dallas Goldtooth, Organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network, said: “We can not accept the risks an oil spill will cause upon the heartland of America. We cannot accept the trespassing across Oceti Sakowin lands by Big Oil. We cannot accept locking ourselves into more fossil fuels when Mother Earth demands us to leave fossil fuels in the ground. This Dakota Access pipeline is all risk, no reward. Simple as that.”

Follow the group’s Facebook page for run updates, and sign and share the group’s petition.

The Movement to Dismantle Civilization

Why all permaculture designs should include supporting a culture of resistance

This essay originally appeared in Colorado Permaculture Guild

By Jennifer Murnan / Deep Green Resistance

Currently, permaculture operates in the realm of bright green environmental activism and seemingly believes that the current culture can be transformed. Why should permaculturalists choose to align themselves with the deep green environmentalists that support dismantling civilization in the belief that it is irredeemable, and, in fact, is destroying life on our planet?

Here are the few reasons that have occurred to me:

The Permaculture movement has always run counter to the beliefs and principles of global civilization. It views nature as a partner, a teacher, and a guide whom we honor and are totally dependent on. This is completely contrary to the cultural view of western civilization; that the natural world is here to serve us, to be used and abused at will, and that this abuse is justifiable.

Permaculture practice, by definition, is an attempt to depart from the model of exploitation and importation of resources necessitated by civilization. To live permanently in one place is the antithesis of the pattern exhibited repeatedly by civilizations. Civilizations cannot live in place. They violently import and exploit their human and natural resources, exhaust their ecosystems, experience population overshoot, and collapse leaving an impoverished land base in their wake. Western industrial civilization is currently playing this scenario out on a global scale. Permaculture not only cannot exist within the confines of civilization, it cannot coexist with a civilization that is devouring the world. I believe it is neither ethical or practical on the part of permaculturalists to attempt to do so.

Another reason lies in the common visions of the primacy of the earth shared by deep green and permaculture activists. The first ethic in permaculture is “Care for the Earth.” Without this basis, the second and third ethics, “Care for people,” and “Redistribute surplus to one’s needs,” are impossible. Healthy organisms produce a surplus as a way to feed and enrich the ecosystem in which they exist. Simply put, there is no health unless the earth is cared for first.

As Derrick Jensen states in Premise Sixteen of Endgame “The Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything.”

There are attitudes shared by Permaculture and the Deep Green movement. Permaculturalists believe in working with nature and not against it. Fostering a respect for all life is inherent in permaculture practice. Valuing people and their skills creates more diversity, creativity and productivity in permaculture and deep green communities. Alignment between Deep Green and the Permaculture movements is especially apparent in two permaculture design principles. Seeking to preserve, regenerate and extend all natural and traditional permanent landscapes is a goal of both communities. Preserving and increasing biodiversity of all types is recognized as being essential for survival by both Deep Greens and Permaculturalists.

A primary reason for permaculture to become part of a culture of resistance is that permaculture’s two guiding principles logically mandate dismantling civilization. The precautionary principle states that we should take seriously and act on any serious or destructive diagnosis unless it is proven erroneous.

Civilization has proven itself to be destructive to ecosystems since its inception. Western industrial civilization is causing the wholesale destruction of every ecosystem on Earth.  Aric McBay writes, “The dominant culture eats entire biomes. No, that is too generous, because eating implies a natural biological relationship; This culture doesn’t just consume ecosystems, it obliterates them, it murders them, one after another. This culture is a ecological serial killer, and it’s long past time we recognize the pattern.”

A large scale and effective response to this destruction is necessary. The tactics of the environmental movement, up to this point have been insufficient. We are losing. It is time to change our strategy. This is why the Deep Green movement is advocating for all tactics to be considered as a means to stop the murder of the Earth. This includes, but is not limited to, practicing permaculture, legislation, legal action, civil-disobedience, and industrial sabotage.

There are problems with holding the permaculture movement as the sole solution to global destruction. While transitioning to sustainability in our personal lives is important, even more important is confronting and dismantling the oppressive systems of power that promote unsustainability, exploitation and injustice on a global scale. In fact, if these systems are left in place, the gains made by the practice of permaculture will be washed away in civilization’s tidal wave of destruction.

“Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral and stupid. Sustainability, morality and intelligence (as well as justice) require the dismantling of any such economic or social system or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase,” said Derrick Jensen.

The second guiding principle of permaculture, “intergenerational equity,” also necessitates immediate action in response to the destructive force of civilization. This principle states that future generations have the same rights as we do to food, clean air, water and resources. This statement applies to all humans and non-humans equally. On a daily basis entire species are being eliminated from this planet as result of the activities of industrial civilization. “intergenerational equity” for them has ceased to exist and every day this destruction continues more species go extinct. Allowing this to continue is unconscionable.

Permaculture is based on close observation of the natural world, and I believe can only realize its full potential in a human community that acknowledges the natural laws of its land base as primary. Practicing permaculture in any context other than this necessitates subverting our principles and betraying everything that nurtures and sustains us, all that is sacred, our living earth. We can only truly belong in a culture of resistance.

Both permaculturalists and deep greens know that the earth is everything, that there is no greater good than this planet, than life itself. We owe her everything and without her, we die.

This is it, we need each other, everyone, every tactic we can muster in defense of the earth.

We have never been able to afford civilization.

Lierre Keith: “The task of an activist is not to navigate around systems of oppression with as much personal integrity as possible. It’s to bring those systems down.”

To Save a Rainforest

By Zoe Blunt / WildCoast.ca

“I’m in love. With salmon, with trees outside my window, with baby lampreys living in sandy streambottoms, with slender salamanders crawling through the duff. And if you love, you act to defend your beloved.” — Derrick Jensen

Pacific Coast people have always defended the places we love. Most of British Columbia is unceded indigenous land; native peoples have never abandoned, sold, or traded their land away. Many fought fiercely against the power of the British Empire. Cannonballs are sometimes still found embedded in centuries-old trees along the shore – leftovers from the gunboats that tried to suppress indigenous uprisings in the late 1800s.

Nuu-chah-nulth war canoes (Edward Curtis, BC Historical Society)
Nuu-chah-nulth war canoes (Edward Curtis, BC Historical Society)

A century later, descendants of the settlers have joined forces to battle corporate raiders. In the 1980s and 1990s, a groundswell of eco-organizing brought thousands of people together to stop clearcut logging in the cathedral forests of Vancouver Island’s Pacific coast, where timber companies were busy converting ten-thousand-year-old ecosystems into barren stumpfields and pulp for paper.

During those years, police arrested hundreds in Clayoquot Sound and the Walbran Valley at mass civil disobedience protests. Young and old alike sat in the middle of the logging roads and linked arms. The resistance went far beyond the peaceful and symbolic: unknown individuals spiked thousands of trees to make the timber dangerous to sawmills. Shadowy figures burned logging bridges and vandalized equipment. The skirmishes went on for over a decade.

Clayoquot Sound, 1993
Clayoquot Sound, 1993

We won a few battles. Several coastal valleys are protected as parks. But many of them have been logged. And now the logging companies are coming back for the valleys that remain unprotected.

One of the worst corporate offenders is Teal Jones, the company currently bulldozing the majestic Walbran Valley, two hours west of Victoria, BC. They are laying waste to a vibrant rainforest for short-term profit, without the consent of the Pacheedaht First Nation, the Qwa-ba-diwa people, or anyone else outside of government and industry. Teal Jones does not even own the land; it was taken from indigenous people in the name of the BC government sixty years ago.

Pacheedaht territory, Vancouver Island BC
Pacheedaht territory, Vancouver Island BC

This year, the elected leadership of the Pacheedaht First Nation threw its support behind building a longhouse in the contested valley, on the land that has sustained them for countless generations. At the same time, locals are pushing back against the logging by occupying roads and logging sites. This in spite of the company’s court order telling police to arrest anyone who blocks their work. Forest defenders are regrouping, but the destruction continues.

Women for the Walbran and Forest Action Network are ramping up to break the deadlock. We’re hosting direct action trainings to share skills and develop strategies for defending ecosystems. The agenda includes tactics like non-violent civil disobedience, occupying tree-tops, and backcountry stealth. We’ll have info on legal rights, indigenous solidarity, and more.

Tree-sit occupation, Langford BC. (Photo: Ingmar Lee)
Tree-sit occupation, Langford BC. (Photo: Ingmar Lee)

Our adversary, Teal Jones, is a relatively small company. Its owners are relying on the police to protect their “right” to strip public forests on Pacheedaht traditional territory. Profit margins are slim, and lawyers are expensive. The forest defenders are poor, but we have community support and a wide array of strategies for beating Teal Jones at its own game. Every tool in the box: we can launch a mass civil disobedience campaign, carry out hit-and-run raids on costly machines, coordinate a knockout legal strategy, or deliver the tried-and-true “death by a thousand cuts” with a combination of tactics.

However it plays out, Teal Jones is on borrowed time in the Walbran. But that’s cold comfort when the machines are mowing down thousand-year-old forests like grass.

Photo: Walbran Central
Photo: Walbran Central

The forest defenders do have certain advantages. On the practical side, we’re investing in the gear and training that will provide the leverage to win. We have a legal defense fund that’s both a war chest for litigation and a safety net for those who risk their freedom on the front lines. But our best defense is the thousands of people who love this land like life itself. Many live nearby and visit every chance they get, others came once and fell in love, and untold numbers have yet to see the Walbran’s wildlife firsthand, but they hold it in their hearts.

Photo: Stasher BC
Photo: Walbran Central

Those who love the land are a community. We are the organizers, sponsors, and volunteers who drive this movement forward. Everyone who shares these values can be a part of it; no contribution is too small. We’re going all-out to defend the forests, rivers, bears, cougars, otters, and eagles of the Walbran Valley. They sustain us and we give back by fighting to protect them.

Walbran River, the heart of the Walbran Valley, spring 2016. (Photo: Walbran Central)
Walbran River, the heart of the Walbran Valley, spring 2016. (Photo: Walbran Central)

Remember: Forest Defenders Are Heroes!

Strategic activism