Protesters confront Gore supporters

Nathan Whalen

Five banner-wielding protesters descended upon Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign state headquarters above Chipotle Mexican Grill on Thursday to protest his involvement with an oil company allegedly threatening an indigenous group in Colombia.
Protesters objected to Occidental Petroleum Corporation’s attempt to drill for oil on land owned by U’wa, an indigenous group living in a remote part of Colombia.
Gore has a $500,000 investment in Occidental Petroleum, according to the Rainforest Action Network, a group that helped coordinate the event.
The activists passed out flyers on the corner of Washington Avenue and Oak Street and displayed a banner demanding Gore sell his holdings in the company.
Representatives from Gore’s campaign would not comment.
Thursday’s protests come at a time when the U’wa people are in danger of being forcibly removed from the land they use by the Colombian government, Smith said.
However, Roger Gillot, spokesman for Occidental Petroleum, said the company doesn’t have any plans to drill on U’wa land. The Colombian government increased U’wa’s land holdings from 150,000 to 500,000 acres last year, according to a Washington Post article.
According to the Gore 2000 Web site, Gore states his obligation to protect the environment for future generations.
“His actions don’t reflect his words,” said John Davidson, who is applying for graduate school at the University this year and held a banner in front of Chipotle.
Davidson, who spent the last three years working in Mexico as an activist for indigenous peoples’ issues, heard about the U’wa protest during the Highway 55 protests late last year.
Protesters said they believe the drilling will be an environmental catastrophe in a region embroiled with civil strife.
One of the oil company’s pipelines has suffered damage from years of internal fighting among militant groups in Colombia, said Joel Smith, member of the Rainforest Action Network.
The U’wa community’s situation gained international attention when 5,000 community members threatened to commit suicide if the drilling started in 1996.
“We’re trying to put pressure on (Gore) to stop this project,” Smith said.
The protest was part of a larger, coordinated action staged in major U.S. cities, such as New York and San Francisco.
“I think it’s appalling that (Gore’s) family is financially benefitting from Occidental,” said Emily Lindell, a demonstrator who was passing out flyers and encouraging people to express their thoughts to Gore’s campaign volunteers.
Another factor angering protesters is the alleged hypocrisy between Gore’s relationship with Occidental and his stance on the environment.

Nathan Whalen covers construction and facilities. He welcomes comments at [email protected]