What could be ahead for Canada-Colombia relations following the election of Gustavo Petro?
Photo: Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez on election night.
On June 19, Gustavo Petro was elected the next president of Colombia.
Petro and his vice-presidential running mate Francia Marquez, an Afro-Colombian lawyer and environmental defender, will be sworn into office on August 7.
The day after the election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “Congratulations to @PetroGustavo, the President-elect of Colombia; and to @FranciaMarquezM, the Vice President-elect and the first Afro-Colombian to take on the role. I’m looking forward to working with you both on priorities like democracy, gender equality, and climate action.”
What are some of the possible implications for Canada-Colombia relations?
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement
While the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia (that came into force on August 15, 2011) may not have appeared in recent news articles, there are numerous references to concerns about Colombia’s free trade agreement with the United States.
NPR has reported: “[Petro] wants to make changes to Colombia’s relations with the United States by seeking a renegotiation of a free trade agreement.”
The Associated Press adds that Petro blames the free trade agreement with the U.S. “for impoverishing Colombian farmers.”
That article further explains: “His campaign platform calls for the creation of “smart tariffs” to protect Colombia’s countryside from agricultural imports allowed under a decade old free trade agreement with the U.S.”
Earlier this year, Yessika Hoyos Morales with the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) told an audience in Canada:
“Colombia and Canada have signed a free trade agreement and before that free trade agreement was signed Colombia established concrete commitments which included the respect of human rights, and a reduction in impunity, a responding to previous violations that have taken place. These commitments have not been fulfilled and so I think it’s very important to note that this lack of action, this non-fulfillment, is sending a very clear message. This clear message is that business and money are more important than human lives. And so, it’s extremely important for you all to remind your government that they do have obligations, that commitments have been made that have not been fulfilled and that in the end people’s lives are more important than money.”
It is conceivable that a renegotiation of the Canada-Colombia FTA could be on Petro’s agenda.
Oil and gas
With $8 billion invest in Colombia, it is the second largest location for Canadian Energy Assets Abroad (CEAA). Twenty-eight Canadian mining companies also hold assets totalling $1.406 billion in Colombia
The Wilson Center has noted: “Petro advocates a dramatic transition away from oil and coal production, which constitute the majority of Colombia’s exports and where U.S. firms play a significant role.”
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo reporting from Bogota has also highlighted: “Petro said that this is going to be a government of peace, and that in this country peace means social justice, environmental justice. He has been talking about rethinking oil and gas exploitation, putting an end to fracking and he has pledged not to use his powers to ‘destroy opponents’.”
Toronto-based Scotiabank has provided more than $3 billion in financing to the state-owned oil company Ecopetrol, the company that would operate the planned Platero and Kale fracking pilot projects in Puerto Wilches.
Reuters has previously reported: “Some in the industry believe Petro will not be able to slow their operations anytime soon, since the government of current President Ivan Duque has signed 69 exploration and production contracts during bidding rounds.”
Significantly, of those 69 oil and gas exploration contracts that were awarded between 2019 and 2021 by the Duque government, 39 went to Canadian companies (and 26 of those 39 blocks went to Calgary-based Parex Resources Inc.).
The day following the election, the stock price of Parex Resources dropped by 9.35 per cent. The Colombian newsmagazine Semana also reported that the stock price for Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd. had dropped by 7 per cent.
It is conceivable that the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement could be invoked to protect these investments.
In February 2019, Prime Minister Trudeau stated: “The time for democratic transition in Venezuela is now. The international community must immediately unite behind the interim President seeking to restore democracy in the country.”
Furthermore, the read-outs from the meetings between Trudeau and Colombian president Ivan Duque on July 31, 2020, May 11, 2020, January 26, 2019, and September 25, 2018 all make reference to “the crisis in Venezuela”, but not human rights violations in Colombia.
In contrast, NPR has reported: “Petro is willing to resume diplomatic relations with Venezuela, which were halted in 2019.”
Infodefensa.com has reported: “[On] May 19, the Colombian Government, through the Ministry of Defense, approved the purchase of 50 General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) 8×8 LAV III DVH armored vehicles.”
The article adds: “The LAV III DVH is manufactured by the Canadian subsidiary of General Dynamics Land Systems.”
It’s not the first time Canada has sold light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Colombia.
In January 2013, GDLS-Canada announced: “The Colombian Ministry of National Defence has awarded a USD $65.3 million contract to General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada for 24 Light Armoured Vehicles for the Colombian Army.”
In January 2015, ArmyRecognition.com noted: “The LAV III will go to the Colombian Army Combined Medium Arms Task Force, an army unit based in the town of Distracción, Guajira department, on the border with Venezuela.”
The next 100 days and beyond
We will be watching over the coming 100 days and beyond how Petro’s campaign promises and the responses from Canada, transnational corporations and other interests materially affect the security situation for environmental defenders in Colombia.
For more: Colombia Elects 1st Leftist President Gustavo Petro & 1st Black VP Francia Márquez. Can They Deliver?, Democracy Now! and One more nail in the coffin of Trudeau’s Latin American strategy by Yves Engler, Canadian Dimension magazine.