France welcomes Afro-Colombian anti-fracking youth activist Yuvelis Morales as Canadian government remains quiet
Canadian transnational corporations – including Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd. – have welcomed the prospect of commercial fracking in Colombia.
Calgary-based Parex Resources has also been named by Colombia’s Minister of Mines and Energy as among the companies “seeking to operate” a fracking block.
And Calgary-based Frontera Energy is a minority owner in a 236,000 barrel per day pipeline that runs from the Magdalena Medio region that is reportedly ready to move increased crude output if fracking is commercially approved.
The Canadian government has not publicly dissuaded this.
And yet, the pilot projects – including the Platero project on a block of land co-owned by Toronto-based Sintana Energy Ltd. – has already led to a dangerous situation for environmental defenders, including 21-year-old Afro-Colombian activist Yuvelis Natalia Morales.
Morales is the founder of Aguawil, the Committee for the Defence of Water, Life and Territory in the community of Puerto Wilches.
Morales has commented: “This committee is quite special and is very important in Colombia as it’s a youth committee. We are all between 18 and 25 years old.”
The first death threat against Morales came in January 2021, not long after she had organized a protest in December 2020.
Morales says: “Some armed men came to my house and trapped me. They put a gun to my head.”
By April 2021, Morales told PBI-Canada: “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 has also explained: “They would call our phones, come to our houses, threaten our parents, saying they would take away their jobs. They started to persecute them, calling them ‘guerrillas’. In Colombia, when they label you a guerrilla, this means death.”
More threats in February 2022 forced Morales to move to France. She was able to do so under the French government’s Marianne initiative for human rights defenders that was launched in December 2021.
Morales was among the first defenders welcomed in 2022. France says: “[This year’s cohorts] will be made up entirely of women, consistent with France’s feminist diplomacy.”
On March 8, Morales met with French president Emmanuel Macron to express her concerns about fracking in Colombia.
She told Macron about the systemic violence against environmental defenders who oppose fracking in Colombia and denounced Colombian president Iván Duque who “travels the world talking about the protection of the environment and the planet, while his policies in Colombia destroy nature and contribute to increasing the emission of gases that generate the climate crisis.”
Morales also asked Macron “to influence the international community so that the Colombian State provides the guarantees to defend the land, without that costing us our lives and so that the companies involved in these projects respect human rights.”
Despite Canada’s “Voices at Risk” guidelines to protect human rights defenders, no public statements of concern have been made about fracking in Colombia.
Canada has also not encouraged the Colombian government to ratify the Escazú Agreement for the protection of environmental defenders as have the Embassies of Norway, Germany and Sweden in Colombia.
Nor does Canada have a temporary relocation program for at-risk human rights defenders. It was not an option for Morales to come to Canada.
Along with France, Germany launched the Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative (ESI) for the protection of threatened human rights defenders in June 2020, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports the Shelter City Network, and the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has supported three-month stays for at-risk defenders since 2011.
We continue to follow this situation given fracking is expected to begin in 2023 and could be brought forward this year.