by David T. Rowlands
from Green Left Weekly, 20 July 2007
The corporate media has heaped praise on Al Gore following the international rock gig Live Earth. But to ask the U’wa people, from the tropical cloud forests of north-eastern Colombia, what they thought about Gore and Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), the oil company from which his personal fortune is derived, would be to receive a very different opinion.
Gore’s father, Albert Gore Sr, was close to Oxy’s founder, Armand Hammer. Gore Sr took up the directorship of an Occidental subsidiary after retiring from the US Senate. His estate included Occidental stock worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Gore Jr has continued to receive extensive financial support from Oxy.
But such support demands political reciprocation, and Gore used his time in office to recompense his patron. As vice-president, Gore was instrumental in implementing Plan Colombia, a military operation ostensibly aimed at “narco-terrorists,” but designed to smash native resistance to increasing US control over the nation.
Many commentators — including Noam Chomsky — have convincingly linked Plan Colombia and the so-called “war on drugs” to Washington’s ongoing quest for hegemony in Latin America.
Oxy, which still benefits from the stepped-up US military presence, was one of the most ardent proponents of Plan Colombia. After all, the best way for US military contractors to protect a pipeline is to remove the surrounding population, and coca eradication provides a pretext for the wanton aerial spraying of carcinogenic chemicals.
During the late 1990s, the 5000-strong U’wa repeatedly attempted to prevent Oxy from drilling on their land, as oil extraction, for them, means genocide.
Occidental is only one of a number of multinational companies seeking unrestricted exploitation rights to Colombia’s natural resources. It is well-documented that oil companies, including Occidental, Exxon and BP, have used paramilitary groups to force indigenous Colombians off their land to be “re-settled” in the Amazon, where disease, starvation and violence exact a fearful toll.
Gore has served his petrochemical masters well. But this didn’t rate a mention on the New Jersey stage where the new environmental messiah took the seven-point Live Earth pledge. “Your silence,” as U’wa representatives have said directly to Gore, “signifies the death of planet Earth and, consequently life upon her.”
The Live Earth pantomime is yet another example of the profound disconnect between image and reality in US politics, and Democrats and Republicans share in the hypocrisy.
The dilemma facing peoples like the U’wa is reason enough to kick the petroleum habit and the political system it controls. As the courageous U’wa can testify, oil extraction equates with massacre, dispossession and genocide of indigenous and non-white population groups.