Dr. Yésid Blanco and the struggle for environmental justice and the right to water in Colombia
Pediatrician Dr. Yésid Blanco has been an outspoken human rights defender and environmental activist in Barrancabermeja, Colombia.
He has stated, “My commitment to community health has extended beyond the clinic’s walls, embracing the defence of human rights and the environment.”
Dr. Blanco notes, “In 2015 I founded an organization to defend the wetlands, which then evolved into the Corporación Yariguies the following year.”
The Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project recently highlighted, “The Yariguíes Regional Corporation – Social Research Group into Extractives and the Environment in the Magdalena Medio Region (CRY-GEAM) works tirelessly to raise awareness of the impacts of oil refineries and extractives on nature.”
Dr. Blanco adds, “I have actively opposed fracking in the region in light of the threat it poses to the water supply, among other reasons.”
The Barrancabermeja-based Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) has supported the work of Dr. Blanco.
CREDHOS has noted, “Blanco has argued that fracking in Barrancabermeja and the surrounding region, known as the Magdalena Medio, would have a direct negative impact on the San Silvestre environmental protection zone, which provides water to the city, and is a strategic corridor for protected species such as the jaguar.”
The Ecologist has reported the wetland of the Cienega of San Silvestre is an area from which 300,000 people in Barrancabermeja source their drinking water.
In 2014, the local environmental authority the Autonomous Corporation of Santander permitted Empresa Rediba ESP to build a rubbish dump within the protected area, specifically in the village of Patio Bonito in the district of La Fortuna in Barrancabermeja.
Dr. Blanco reported on the occurrence of mercury in the drinking water and that children were being affected by this contamination.
He says, “There was a year in which I diagnosed 18 children with a very rare disease that consists of an immunological alteration. I started to look at what could be happening and, with the help of other colleagues, we saw that there was a direct relationship with exposure to heavy metals, including mercury.”
As a result of his environmental activism, and the vested interests it challenges, Dr. Blanco has experienced smear campaigns, threats and criminal proceedings.
He was forced to leave Colombia in November 2018.
PBI-Colombia has volunteers based in Barrancabermeja and accompanies CREDHOS. PBI-Colombia, CREDHOS president Iván Madero and representatives from the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP) will be visiting Canada this November to talk about extractivism, fracking and climate change.
For more on that tour, please click here.