PBI-Colombia accompanies COSPACC at protection and self-protection workshop in Casanare

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On April 10, PBI-Colombia tweeted: “@CospaccOficial holds a protection and self-protection workshop for communities and human rights organizations in the midst of a worrying context and serious risks for human rights defenders in #Boyacá #Casanare.”

COSPACC president Fabián Laverde Doncel has previously commented: “Casanare has been an extremely victimized zone mostly because of the business that engages in the extraction of natural resources, especially petroleum.”

Toronto-based Frontera Energy in Casanare

At this time, we also recall the criminalization of eight social leaders in San Luis de Palenque, Casanare by Toronto-based Frontera Energy.

Frontera’s operations in that community 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 oil.

In December 2019, UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst explained: “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.”

Frontera then signed two protection agreements on November 16 and 19, 2018 with the Colombian Ministry of Defence totalling US$1.3 million.

Days later, on November 27, 2018, the army and police launched a massive operation and arrested eight social leaders.

The 16th Brigade and Canadian-made military helicopters

El Espectador has reported that it was “an operation of 200 men, between members of the Police and the National Army, who landed in two helicopters.”

Forst also expressed concern at “the apparent connection between Frontera Energy, the army’s 16th brigade and the Attorney General’s Support Office in this criminalization.”

Notably, the 16th Brigade is “charged with defending oil drilling operations” in Colombia, according to a 1993 report by Human Rights Watch.

We don’t know what helicopters were used by the army and police in that raid, but Waterloo, Ontario-based Project Ploughshares has previously reported in this briefing that Canada sold 40 surplus Bell CH-135 Huey II military helicopters to Colombia via the United States between September 1998 and February 2000.

That briefing also notes that Canada shipped 12 Bell 212 helicopters from Mirabel, Quebec to the Colombian police and military between 1994 and 1996.

The type of helicopter used by the Colombian police and army to detain the social leaders critical of a Canadian corporation could be a question for the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a federal Crown corporation that facilitates exports.

But regrettably, as Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese has reported: “The Ottawa-based CCC [Canadian Commercial Corporation], which helps Canadian exporters get contracts with foreign governments … acknowledges  it conducts no follow-up to ensure exported Canadian-built equipment isn’t being used to abuse human rights.”

PBI-Canada support

On May 7, 2020, PBI-Canada organized a conference call for COSPACC and the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) to raise concerns about the criminalized social leaders in San Luis de Palenque with officials from Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa and the Embassy of Canada in Colombia.

On June 2, 2020, PBI-Canada organized a virtual roundtable for COSPACC and the CSPP to share these concerns with Above Ground, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Amnesty International Canada, WWF-Canada, le Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (PASC), and el Comité por los Derechos Humanos en América Latina (CDHAL).

On July 2, 2020, PBI-Canada also hosted a Zoom call with COSPACC and CSPP with Canadian Member of Parliament Paul Manly to discuss this situation.

Justice delayed for social leaders

It wasn’t until August 10, 2020, that a court revoked the custodial measures imposed on two of these social leaders. Then on September 16, 2020, after more than 500 days having elapsed without a trial, a judge ordered the release of the six other leaders.

At that time, El Nuevo Oriente reported: “The release decision was appealed by the Prosecutor’s Office and by Frontera Energy’s lawyers.”

We continue to follow this case.

PBI-Colombia has accompanied the Social Corporation for Community Counseling and Training (COSPACC) since 2009.

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