Photo-journal of 10-day PBI-Canada visit to frontline communities in Colombia
Photo: PBI-Colombia communications coordinator Valentina Carvajal, advocacy coordinator Javier Garate, Brent Patterson, and CREDHOS president Ivan Madero on June 28 by the Magdalena River in Puerto Wilches.
Peace Brigades International-Canada coordinator Brent Patterson has just returned from a ten-day visit with PBI-Colombia accompanied defenders and frontline communities.
Articles on each of these visits will be produced in the coming days.
For now, here is a first overview of the PBI-Canada visit to Colombia.
SATURDAY JUNE 25 – Ottawa, Bogota
The trip began with a 6 am departure from Ottawa, a layover in Newark, New Jersey, and an evening arrival in Bogota.
SUNDAY JUNE 26 – Bogota
We visited the El Testigo (The Witness) exhibition in Bogota that features photographs of the armed conflict by Jesús Abad Colorado. The exhibition included this photo of PBI-Colombia accompaniment of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado.
MONDAY JUNE 27 – Bogota
In the morning we planned for the week ahead and then met with Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) president Franklin Castañeda at the PBI-Colombia house in Bogota. He updated us on the situation of Calgary-based Frontera Energy in San Luis de Palenque and noted that a Canadian pension fund may hold shares in Frontera (an issue we will be researching in the coming days).
TUESDAY JUNE 28 – Barrancabermeja, Puerto Wilches
After a 7 am flight from Bogota to Barrancabermeja and a 50-kilometre drive north to Puerto Wilches, we met with social leaders there and heard their determination to stop fracking and to defend life, water and territory. Even with the new president promising to ban fracking the community remains concerned that fracking could still proceed (as the state-owned oil company Ecopetrol has said will happen).
WEDNESDAY JUNE 29 – Bajo Simacota
In the morning we drove about 250 kilometres from Barrancabermeja to Bajo Simacota and saw the environmental impacts of the Calgary-based Parex Resources Aguas Blancas gas/oil field on the community and its water.
That evening CREDHOS convened a meeting in Barrancabermeja where we heard from several groups, including the Federation of Santander Fishers for Tourism and Environment (FEDEPESAN) about their concerns.
THURSDAY JUNE 30 – Barrancabermeja
In the morning we visited the San Silvestre wetland ecosystem in Barrancabermeja and witnessed the impacts of Ecopetrol and large-scale agribusiness (buffalos and palm) on the water, wildlife and livelihoods of artisanal fishers.
FRIDAY JULY 1 – San Luis de Palenque
After flying to Yopal the night before, we met with social leaders who have been criminalized for defending water, community life and roads against the impacts of Toronto-based Frontera Energy’s Cubiro block oil operations near San Luis de Palenque (about 100 kilometres east of Yopal).
SATURDAY JULY 2 – Yopal
We met with a CSPP lawyer to further discuss the situation in San Luis de Palenque and then spent the afternoon at the Social Corporation for Community Advice and Training (COSPACC) office in Yopal before flying to Cali that evening.
SUNDAY JULY 3 – Buenaventura, Bahia Malaga
In the early morning hours we departed Cali for Buenaventura. After a boat ride to the island of La Plata, we joined PBI-Colombia accompanied NOMADESC and a Canadian labour delegation to hear the Afro-Colombian community of Bahia Malaga on the threat of “conservation” to ancestral and collective rights. On the way to the island we saw dolphins and a whale in the area where there is the threat of the channel being dredged for a deep water port and an expanded Colombian military base.
MONDAY JULY 4 – Buenaventura
Along with NOMADESC and a Canadian labour delegation, we returned by boat (over choppy Pacific Ocean waves) to Buenaventura and met with the Black Communities Process (PCN) at their office and heard about displacement, forced disappearances, “free trade” and a forest-related carbon offset scheme.
That afternoon we were present at a meeting between the Mayor of Buenaventura, a delegation of labour leaders from Canada and NOMADESC as they discussed the need to renegotiate the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, notably with respect to labour rights.
TUESDAY JULY 5 – Bogota
After returning to Bogota the previous evening, we met with representatives of the Embassy of Canada in Colombia to ask questions that arose from our meetings over the past nine days with frontline communities impacted by Canadian corporations and financing.
That afternoon we met with Bogota-based CCAJAR lawyer Rosa Maria Mateus to discuss the impacts of the Cerrejon coal mine on Indigenous peoples and the right to water as well as to plan for a webinar on this in the fall. Coal from this mine is still exported to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Late that afternoon we learned that Yuli Velásquez, president of the Federation of Artisanal Fishers of Santander (FEDEPESAN) had experienced an attack and that her guard had been shot in the head. We reported on that in this article: Yuli Velásquez shot at near Barrancabermeja, her guard wounded in the attack.
“Peace Brigades International-Canada thank you very much for your unconditional support, sadly in Colombia we do not receive support. They stigmatize our work as human rights defenders. Protect and preserve life. The water belongs to more than 300,000 people in Barrancabermeja, not just fishermen.”
This photo with Yuli and PBI-Colombia advocacy coordinator Javier Garate was taken on Thursday (June 30). She experienced an armed attack against her on Tuesday (July 5).
WEDNESDAY JULY 6 – Departure for Ottawa
Departed Bogota at 8:30 am that morning and arrived back in Ottawa at 10 pm that evening.
Look for more articles, webinars and additional follow-up emerging from this visit in the coming weeks and months.