Key excerpts from PBI convened webinar on fracking and extractivism in Magdalena Medio, Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On April 29, Peace Brigades International in collaboration with CREDHOS and Above Ground hosted a two-hour webinar on extractivism and fracking in the ecologically sensitive Magdalena Medio region of Colombia.

To watch the video of that webinar moderated by Luis van Isschot of PBI-Canada, please click here. (The Zoom webinar had simultaneous translation by Kath Nygard, but the Facebook video is mostly in Spanish.)

Ivan Madero, the president of the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) made the first intervention.

Madero highlighted: “A characteristic of the pandemic has been the concessions for fracking and extractive industries, including Canadian companies.”

“We have been carrying out research of the purchasing of lots by [Calgary-based] Parex [in relation to a third-party transaction of land controlled by drug traffickers]. …We have also seen that Parex generated a legal process against community leaders and as CREDHOS we won a right of protection for constitutional rights.”

“There have been two fracking projects approved, one by the Colombian petroleum company Ecopetrol, the other by ExxonMobil, a foreign company, which opens the door for these projects to be carried out by transnational corporations.”

He stated: “We are living a political genocide, a social genocide.”

Madero closed by asking Canadians to make statements so that the Colombian government will ratify the Escazu Agreement for environmental defenders, to call for a review of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in relation to the actions of Canadian companies in Canada, for guarantees for environmental defenders, and in opposition to fracking.   

Madero was followed by Oscar Sampayo, an environmental activist with CRY-GEAM, as well as the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking and the National Union of Food Industry Workers (SINALTRAINAL).

Sampayo noted: “There has been hydrocarbon extraction in the Magdalena Medio region for the past 100 years. When it began in 1918, it dispossessed the original Indigenous populations living in this area, including the Yariguíes.”

With a PowerPoint map, Sampayo also noted Petrosantander, a company with Canadian capital that has extracted oil in the region for 70 or 80 years.

He also highlighted the impacts of hydrocarbon extraction on communities, territories, and nature that will be worsened by the fracking pilot projects.

Sampayo also noted that the American jaguar moves through this area, less than 8 kilometres from the Ecopetrol fracking pilot project. He said: “It is possible that the American jaguar will be one of the victims of these pilot projects.”

He also highlighted that the Platero fracking pilot project on the VMM-37 block is on land that was granted to Patriot Energy, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Sintana. Sampayo noted that it is important to pursue research to understand the relationship of the granting of the land title and its use for a fracking pilot project now.

Sampayo also expressed concern about the relationship between Canadian corporations operating in the region, drug traffickers, loans from the Export Development Corporation (EDC) to these companies, and land conflicts and tensions.

Next, Yuli Velasquez of the Federation of Artisanal Fishers of Santander (FEDEPESAN) spoke from the city of Bucaramanga.

Velasquez spoke about the pollution of water sources in the city of Barrancabermeja and the social and environmental struggle in defence of water.

She said: “We have faced various threats and assassination attempts, but we will continue working and contributing to the protection of the environment.”

Velasquez says: “We are working hard to stop fracking. Pollution will impact future generations. As fisherpeople we are impacted by water pollution. We can’t allow corporations and contractors to come in and affect the well-being of our communities.”

Then Yuvelis Morales of the Committee for the Defence of Water, Life and Territory of Puerto Wilches (AguaWil) spoke.

Morales stated: “This is a committee that was formed to combat the imposition of not one, but two fracking pilot projects in Puerto Wilches.”

She highlighted: “The armed conflict isn’t something of the past. In all regions of the Magdalena Medio the armed conflict continues to be something very present.”

Morales continued: “We have highlighted the impacts of fracking on not only the environment, but also the health of the people. And when AguaWil became more visible, and didn’t disappear, when we became a problem for the oil companies, those interested in promoting fracking and its economic benefits, they started to threaten, stigmatize, and silence us. More than eight of our youth have been threatened.”

She further noted: “We are against fracking and not only a company, but a government, but Ecopetrol is a government company, in addition to the transnational companies. And we have shown that the community of Puerto Wilches doesn’t want fracking, but the government doesn’t care, and they continue to try to impose these projects on us.”

Morales concluded: “We have a constitutional right to a healthy environment, but the government is not interesting in hearing the communities because we are a problem for them, they aren’t interested in listening to young people. But we will keep fighting.”

Lastly, Montreal-based Karen Hamilton of Above Ground spoke about the role of the Crown corporation Export Development Canada, civil society concerns about the new Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise and steps that can be taken to address this situation.

Hamilton noted: “For decades Canadian civil society has been advocating for strong environmental and human rights policies at EDC because of their poor track record, as well as a lack of transparency and accountability around their decision.”

She also highlighted: “Oil and gas received $8.1 billion of support from EDC last year.”

Hamilton also noted the Trade Commissioner Service, a support for Canadian companies including in Colombia, that operates very closely with the EDC and the Canadian Embassy. Their support extends to oil and gas companies in Colombia.

She then noted that Parex, Gran Tierra, Canacol and Ecopetrol have all received support from EDC over the past five years. Notably, Parex is the top company receiving support: six loans of between $250 and $475 million (EDC doesn’t disclose specific amounts).

Hamilton highlighted: “EDC doesn’t disclose what the companies will use the loans for commercial confidentiality reasons.” That said, she added: “It would be great to know if EDC is supporting fracking or if fracking is not part of the activities it is supporting.”

She then noted that one possible recourse for communities adversely impacted by Canadian companies is the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE). Again, that said, she highlighted numerous concerns that civil society has with the CORE.

Among those concerns is the inability of the CORE to compel companies to provide documents and testimony to perform the investigation required.

Hamilton concluded with next steps, including ending all fossil fuel subsidies and implementing mandatory due diligence legislation.

We then moved into a question-and-answer session that included questions about the role of trade unions in Colombia in relation to opposition to fracking, if it’s still possible to revoke or suspend the fracking pilot projects, and the legal strategies that could be pursued given these companies are based in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Notably, Sampayo replied that the Colombian Petroleum Industry Workers Union (USO) has joined the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking.

Madero also noted that he visited Canada in November 2019 and is interested in working with allies outside of Colombia on these issues, notably in relation to the Canadian company Parex and the illegal purchase of land CREDHOS has denounced.

He also highlighted that Colombian civil society is saying no to the Colombian government and transnational corporations wanting to frack in Colombia because it will worsen climate change and that will impact the world.

Morales also asked Canadians to help to raise awareness and share AguaWil posts about the impacts that fracking will have on climate change, water, nature, and communities.

Madero concluded by saying that the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement needs to reflect these concerns and that the Canadian Embassy needs to make better known to communities and environmental defenders its ‘Voices at Risk’ guidelines.

And Sampayo wrapped up the webinar by highlighted that there needs to be more robust advocacy in support of the proposed bills that would ban fracking in Colombia.

Peace Brigades International will continue to work with all the speakers on this webinar on the issues they raised with such great clarity and compassion, as well as to further reflect and explore the questions and ideas posed during this discussion.

To connect and support the organizations on this webinar, you can find CREDHOS, CRY-GEAM, the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking and Above Ground on Twitter and FEDEPESAN and AguaWil on Facebook. You can also find regular updates on these issues from us on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.

If your question wasn’t answered, please also feel free to email me at and I’ll do my best to answer or find an answer for you.

To watch the video of this webinar, please click here.

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