Judge orders the release of social leaders criminalized in relation to protests against Toronto-based Frontera Energy
On September 16, El Nuevo Oriente reported on the eight social leaders from San Luis de Palenque, Casanare, Colombia arrested on November 27, 2018 in relation to their opposition to the social and environmental harms caused to their community by Toronto-based Frontera Energy and its Cubiro Block operations.
The article highlights: “Due to expiration of terms when more than 500 days have elapsed without a formal trial having been installed, a guarantee control judge ordered the release of the eight social leaders prosecuted in the middle of a lawsuit by the oil company Frontera Energy in San Luis de Palenque (Casanare).”
The article also notes: “The release decision was appealed by the Prosecutor’s Office and by Frontera Energy’s lawyers.”
The community struggle has been accompanied by two organizations: the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COSPACC).
In response to the news yesterday, the CSPP tweeted: “We celebrate the freedom of environmental leaders from San Luis de Palenque, Casanare, who were captured after protesting against the Canadian company Frontera Energy. Once again we show that being a social leader is not a crime.”
And PBI-Colombia tweeted: “Thanks to the essential work of our accompanied organizations @CSPP_ and @CospaccOficial that makes visible the serious risk of defenders of the territory and the environment in #Colombia.”
On September 17, Prensa Libre Casanare additionally reported: “The release orders are to be carried out immediately because they were issued for Ferney Salcedo, confined in the La Picota prison in Bogotá, Jesús Leal Salcedo, Yulibel Leal Oros, María Teresa Rincón Duarte, Jerónimo Salcedo Betancur and Josué Eliécer Rincón Duarte.”
Carmen Idaida Salcedo and Miguel Ángel Rincón Santiesteban had already regained their freedom on August 10 (as noted below).
Prensa Libre Casanare also notes: “The process continues and the preparatory hearing against the community leaders, indicated for the crimes of conspiracy to commit a crime, blocking of roads, attempted homicide and terrorism is pending.”
Frontera’s operations are said to have resulted in dust pollution from heavy trucks on the road; post-production water being sprayed on the road to contain the dust; the dumping of post-production water into the Pauto River; water-takings from the river; and the burning of gases associated with the extraction of these barrels of oil.
Last year, Michel Forst, at that time the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, noted in this report to the UN Human Rights Council (on page 9, points 29 and 30): “Social protests [took place] between 2016 and 2018 in response to the failure of Canadian public company Frontera Energy to fulfil its obligation to compensate communities affected by environmental damage and to repair damaged roads.”
Violeta Stereo FM Casanare adds: “According to the peasants and social leaders, the protests at the time sought to make visible the breach of the environmental license and the other agreements signed between the multinational and the community.”
Significantly, Forst also highlighted that Frontera signed two agreements on November 16 and 19, 2018 with the Colombian Ministry of Defence totalling US$1.3 million to provide protection for the company and that just days later, on November 27, 2018, the army and police launched a massive operation and arrested the activists.
Most recently, on August 10, COSPACC tweeted: “The 2nd Municipal Criminal Court [has] revoked the custodial arrest measure imposed on 2 of the 8 leaders prosecuted in the case of #SanLuisdePalenque. We demand the freedom of social leaders.”
The following day, Prensa Libre Casanare reported: “After 20 months of being deprived of liberty, with the measure of house for jail, the judicial decision favored the engineer Miguel Ángel Rincón Santiesteban and Carmen Iraida Salcedo Gutiérrez.”
Peace Brigades International has accompanied this struggle and continues to monitor this situation closely.