21-year-old environmental defender leaves Colombia due to death threats against her over fracking pilot projects

Published by Brent Patterson on

On February 20, the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking tweeted: “COMPLAINT: 3 days ago, Yuvelis Natalia Morales, Youth Counselor of Puerto Wilches, member of Aguawil [the Committee for the Defence of Water, Life and Territory of Puerto Wilches] and the @ColombiaNoFrack Alliance left the country due to threats against her, due to her activism against the fracking pilots of [Colombian president] @IvanDuque and [the state oil company] @ECOPETROL_SA.”

Their Twitter thread continues:

Yuvelis Natalia received the first threats a year ago [on January 29, 2021, when she was 20-years-old], after intervening in a hearing on fracking in the Congress of the Republic, when she was approached by two men in her home in Puerto Wilches, which led us to remove her from her territory for several months.

These threats have returned in recent days, after his leadership in a peaceful sit-in against the hearing of the @ANLA_Col [the National Environmental Licensing Agency] about the fracking pilot Kalé, and the false public accusations by @ECOPETROL_SA that stigmatized those of us who were there.

Given the seriousness of the latest events, the negligence and inability of the government of @IvanDuque to protect her life, our colleague left the country as an emergency within the framework of the “Marianne Initiative” of the President of France, @EmmanuelMacron, whom we thank.

This is added to threats through pamphlets, messages and calls to members of various organizations of the @ColombiaNoFrack Alliance, which forced three other people to leave Puerto Wilches and Barrancabermeja in the last week.

From the @ColombiaNoFrack Alliance we fear for the life and integrity of environmental defenders, even more so when this Tuesday [February 22] we will protest again against the Hearing of the @ANLA_Col and @ECOPETROL_SA, in addition to other legal and advocacy actions that we will develop.

We demand that the government of @IvanDuque take the necessary measures to guarantee our life and integrity, as well as [Minister of Mines and Energy] @DiegoMesaP, [Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development] @CarlosECorreaE, and [Director of the National Environmental Licensing Authority] @RodSuarezCa immediately suspend the fracking pilot projects that are advancing today amid fear and persecution.

We publicly hold the state company @ECOPETROL_SA responsible for any violent action against our compañeras, which may derive from their stigmatization of our work and their complicit silence in the face of what has been happening against the members of the Alliance.

We ask human rights organizations and the international community to support the work of our colleagues Yuvelis Morales, [Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking member] Oneida Suárez, [vice president of the Fishermen’s Federation] Carolina Agón, [CRY-GEAM activist] Oscar Sampayo, [Federation of Artisanal Fishers and Environmentalists of Santander/FEDEPESAN representative] Yuli Velasquez, [Corporation for the Defense of Water, Territory and Ecosystems/CORDATEC activist] Carlos Santiago and many other people, today at risk for defending water and the environment.


PBI-Colombia accompanied CREDHOS has retweeted the Twitter thread above and commented: “We reject the threats to environmental leaders in Magdalena Medio, such as Credhos and the Regional Coordination for the Defense of Water, Territory and Dignified Life. We demand guarantees for the work of defending the environment.”

Threatened defenders on PBI-Canada webinar

Yuvelis, Oscar and Yuli spoke on this PBI-Canada organized webinar in April 2021 along with CREDHOS president Ivan Madero, Above Ground director Karen Hamilton and PBI-Canada Board member Luis van Isschot.

At that webinar, Yuvelis stated: “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 also noted: “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.”

Canada and fracking in Colombia

While Canadian energy assets in Colombia total about $8 billion, Canada has said little publicly about the exploitation of unconventional resources in Colombia.

But a Trade Commissioner with Global Affairs Canada uncritically noted in this Export Development Corporation article: “Colombian resources are depleting fast, so there’s a push to increase exploration through the auction of new blocks. Technologies related to oil recovery and mature fields are much sought after, as well as in the development of unconventional resources, like fracking and deep-water exploration.”

When asked directly about EDC’s position on fracking, EDC CEO Mairead Lavery has responded: “EDC’s environmental and social risk management policy framework and associated due diligence examine a wide range of environmental and social issues, including those that might be posed by projects employing hydraulic fracturing.”

Canadian companies welcome fracking

Canadian companies have been more explicit in their support for fracking. Among the Canadian companies that have welcomed it are Toronto-based Sintana Energy Ltd. and Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd.

In April 2021, Sintana welcomed the news of ExxonMobil being granted a pilot project contract for the Platero fracking pilot project near Puerto Wilches. Sintana owns a 30 per cent stake in the Platero block.

In June 2021, Charle Gamba, the CEO of Canacol, also commented: “The objectives of these [fracking pilot projects] are to demonstrate that this important resource can be developed in an environmentally safe way…” Canacol holds a 20 per cent stake in two potential fracking blocks are also near Puerto Wilches.

Gamba is aware of community opposition to fracking.

He has stated: “The regulatory environment at the moment is favorable for these fracking pilots. By no means does that ensure that, they will be able to execute them without difficulty, especially from the communities who remain heavily opposed to fracking from an environmental perspective.”

We continue to follow this situation closely.

“We defend water because it is the most important resource on which our community depends.” – Yuvelis Natalia Morales

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