Reuters reports on the threats against environmental defenders opposed to fracking in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

“These have been the worst days of my life, but ironically, also the best days, because I’m alive.” – Yuvelis Morales. To hear more from Yuvelis, register for our webinar on May 8 by clicking here.

On April 28, Reuters reported: “Colombia’s anti-fracking activists are facing increased threats and violence as two investigative pilot projects to extract oil and gas from unconventional fields move forward, five campaigners said, with some forced to flee in fear for their lives.”

The article further notes:

The anti-fracking activists told Reuters that threats, intimidation and attacks from unknown assailants have spiked since February, after a public hearing on the Kale project’s environmental license.

Campaigners accuse Ecopetrol of tarring protesters as hooligans, after the company decried what it said were “acts of vandalism” during the February hearing.

Contractors who stand to lose out if the projects do not go ahead are behind the threats, two of the activists alleged, as did another who was attacked in 2021.

Threats pushed two of the campaigners to leave the town this year, including Yuvelis Natalia Morales, 21, who fled to France after she and her bodyguards were chased through Puerto Wilches by men on a motorbike.

Prior to that February incident, Morales – a member of the Aguawil committee, a group seeking to protect water sources – received various threats from people who approached her at home, she said.

Then one day, just after leaving home with two bodyguards provided by an anti-fracking coalition, she got a terrifying message.

“My mom wrote to me two minutes after saying ‘sweetie, there are two armed men looking for you here, they’re on a high-powered motorcycle,'” Morales said by telephone. “That’s when everything started to feel like a movie.”

Morales and her bodyguards drove around the municipality to try to escape the pursuers, she said. They could not go far because the leftist National Liberation Army rebels, who are active locally, had forbidden citizens to leave that weekend.

Local police took more than an hour to arrive at a hotel where they sought refuge, Morales said.

They did not take her statement, she added, but asked her to sign a document confirming they had spoken to her.

The Magdalena Medio regional police confirmed officers found Morales and the bodyguards at a hotel, adding they responded to the reports “immediately” and arranged protection measures.

The attorney general’s office has received 33 reports of threats made to activists in Puerto Wilches and Barrancabermeja, a nearby city, of which 12 cases remain active, it told Reuters in a statement.

Three cases have been shelved and 17 are considered inactive, because there is evidence they are connected to other crimes, the office said. In one other case, the victim withdrew their complaint.

Leonardo Gutierrez, 66, a palm oil producer and anti-fracking member of the committee evaluating the pilot projects, told Reuters that a recent call left him shaking with fear.

“They told me that if I keep messing around, if I keep getting involved, they are going to kill me.”

The attorney general’s office requested protection for Guttierez following the threats.

The government unit which provides security to activists would not comment in detail but Gutierrez said the request was denied.

Other activists also reported threatening phone calls, text messages, intimidation and attacks.

The full article can be read at Violence against activists grows as Colombia’s pilot fracking projects progress.

Webinar, May 8

Please join us on Sunday May 8 when we will hear about the popular resistance to fracking in Colombia, the threats being experienced by environmental defenders opposed to fracking, and the role of Canadian corporations (including Toronto-based Scotiabank) in fracking and oil and gas generally in Colombia.

Our panel will feature Yuvelis, environmental defender Carolina Agón and Edmonton-based Oil Change International researcher Bronwen Tucker.

The webinar will be moderated by PBI-Canada Board member Luis van Isschot. He is a professor of history at the University of Toronto and the author of The Social Origins of Human Rights: Protesting Political Violence in Colombia’s Oil Capital, 1919–2010.

The webinar will be available with simultaneous translation in English and Spanish.

To register, please click here.

Categories: News Updates

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