Colombian environmental defenders express concerns about suspected links between Ecopetrol and paramilitary groups

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by Al Jazeera.

On May 9, Al Jazeera reported: “Many Colombian activists are increasingly worried that they could be targeted for their work, as recent data from Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and Corporacion Compromiso, a local NGO, reveal a sharp increase in threats and violence towards environmental defenders.”

The article by Iñigo Alexander López continues: “The stakes for activists in Santander are especially high. Over the past 18 months, the JEP recorded more than four dozen threats against activists across the region.”

It then notes: “Corporacion Compromiso [Corporación para el Desarrollo del Oriente Compromiso] reported even higher numbers, citing 68 threats towards environmental defenders in Santander in the opening three months of 2022 alone – a significant increase from 2021, when it documented a total of 70 incidents in the whole year.”

“The [Magdalena Medio] area comprises the heart of Colombia’s petroleum industry, and the local town of Puerto Wilches has been selected for the country’s first fracking project, meeting strong resistance from locals and environmental groups. This opposition, in turn, has drawn threats from local armed groups.”

The article highlights: “Local environmental defenders and a representative of the JEP told Al Jazeera that they suspected a connection between the paramilitary groups intimidating them and the state-owned Ecopetrol, which is behind the fracking project.”

“The company has been accused of having ties with the Gulf Clan [AGC] specifically.”

A JEP representative told Al Jazeera: “Many contractors and those connected to these [fracking] projects have links to illegal groups.”

On a recent PBI-Canada webinar, Carolina Agón, a member of the CREDHOS human rights committee, stated: “This is not a secret. Ecopetrol has ties and is working hand in hand with the illegal armed groups.”

Carolina added: “We know that the companies are working together with the self-defence forces. We have the AGC and AUC working in our territory. I’ve received threats from both of these groups. I’m not sure which of these groups tried to kill me.”

On that webinar, Juan Camilo Delgado of CREDHOS also commented: “It’s very concerning when we look at the historic relationship between the oil companies and organized illegal groups, specifically paramilitary structures, which has led to human rights violations and attacks against social leaders and environmental leaders from the municipality of Puerto Wilches [in the Magdalena Medio region].”

Canada and Ecopetrol

On that PBI-Canada webinar, Edmonton-based researcher Bronwen Tucker of Oil Change International also noted: “Since 2012, Export Development Canada has given CAD $1.4 billion in government backed loans to oil and gas in Colombia. This is 44 per cent of all G20 international public finance for energy in Colombia in this period.”

Bronwen also shared this slide of the top recipients of Export Development Canada financing in Colombia between 2012 and 2020.

The Banking on Climate Chaos website also reveals Scotiabank’s recent investments in Ecopetrol. Scotiabank provided USD $665 million to Ecopetrol in 2018, another $666.67 million in 2020, and $1.7 billion in 2021 for a total of $3.0 billion in financing.

The Al Jazeera article also notes: “Yuvelis Natalia Morales, a 21-year-old environmental activist, was reportedly forced to flee Puerto Wilches and seek protection in France after intruders came to her home last year and put a gun to her head.”

Yuvelis also took part in the PBI-Canada webinar.

In that space, Yuvelis stated: “When your companies and banks are investing in mining and energy megaprojects in other countries where human rights are being violated every day, you are not an environmentalist country, you are not a green country. I’m sorry to be so blunt. This is a reality that people don’t often want to say because when you open your mouth that could mean you are shot in the forehead.”

With Ecopetrol possibly proceeding with drilling on its first fracking pilot project in August, we will continue to follow this situation very closely.

You can watch the video of this webinar here.

Categories: News Updates


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