How will the Canadian government and business interests respond to the Petro government’s agenda in Colombia?
Photo: Maninder Sidhu (third from the right) meets with Canadian business representatives in Bogota the day after Gustavo Petro’s inauguration.
On August 8, Maninder Sidhu, the Parliamentary Secretary to Mélanie Joly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted: “It was a pleasure to attend the inauguration of President @petrogustavo in Bogotá. Canada looks forward to working with you and your administration. Felicidades Presidente!”
That afternoon, Sidhu tweeted: “Last year Canada and Colombia had over $2.3 billion in bilateral trade. Important discussion today with Canadian industry representatives on how we can continue to grow our economic relationship.”
And that evening, Sidhu also tweeted: “Appreciated the warm welcome from Minister of Foreign Affairs and Peace @AlvaroLeyva. Canada and Colombia are close partners, and share many commitments including peace and reconciliation, growing our bilateral trade, and fighting climate change.”
Potential upcoming issues in Canada-Colombia relations
1- “Peace and reconciliation”
Time magazine reports: “Petro wants to restore diplomatic relations with Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela—breaking away from the Washington-backed Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president in 2019.”
In January 2019, the Canadian Press reported: “Emboldening Venezuela’s opposition has been a labour of months. …Canadian diplomats in Caracas, with their Latin American counterparts, worked to get the country’s opposition parties to coalesce behind the one person who emerged strong enough to stand against Maduro: 35-year-old Guaido.”
Petro’s “peace and reconciliation” agenda also includes negotiations with guerilla and paramilitary groups, as well as a disavowal of the “war on drugs”.
Time reports: “Petro wants to end the U.S.-backed war on drugs in Colombia that has seen billions of dollars in security spending.” Petro has promised: “I am not going to waste resources on weapons and bombs.”
On May 19, the previous Colombian government, through the Ministry of Defense, approved the purchase of 50 London, Ontario-based General Dynamics Land Systems-manufactured Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs). It’s unclear the current status of that sale and the impact Petro’s peace agenda will have on it.
2- “Bilateral trade”
Free trade and port expansion
As Sidhu notes above, Canada and Colombia had more than $2.3 billion in bilateral trade in 2021. Furthermore, the port in Buenaventura, Colombia accounts for about 60 per cent of all Colombian imports and exports by sea.
Time reports: “The economic relationship between the two countries is also set to change—Petro has pledged to reframe the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement to better protect domestic agriculture.”
It’s possible that Petro may also seek to renegotiate the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement that came into force on August 15, 2011.
One of the key issues from Canadian civil society could be the inclusion of the agreement’s foreign investment chapter in the annual human rights review. At present, the review only looks at the impacts of tariff reductions.
Photo: On July 4, PBI-Canada along with PBI-Colombia accompanied NOMADESC and a Canadian labour delegation met with the Black Communities Process (PCN) at their office in Buenaventura and heard about displacement, forced disappearances, “free trade” and a forest-related carbon offset scheme.
3- “Fighting climate change”
Oil and gas exploration contracts
Semana reports: “Undoubtedly, the new Minister of Environment, Susana Muhamad, will face multiple challenges around the Colombian territory. On different occasions, she has stated that her main objectives are to curb deforestation, protect the lives of environmental leaders, and push the country into the energy transition.”
And Reuters reports: “Some in the industry believe Petro will not be able to slow [oil and gas] 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.).
Tweet from Claudio Ramirez, the Canadian trade commissioner in Colombia.
Photo: On June 29, PBI-Canada travelled with PBI-Colombia accompanied CREDHOS to Bajo Simacota and saw the environmental impacts of the Parex Resources Aguas Blancas gas/oil field on the community and its water.
Furthermore, Time notes that Petro has “vowed to end new fracking projects.”
Notably, 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.
Toronto-based Sintana Energy Inc. owns a 30% stake in the block where the Platero project would be conducted.
And Valora Analitik has reported: “[The CEO of Calgary-based Canacol Energy Charle] Gamba also referred to the [fracking] pilot [projects] already approved in the country because ‘at the beginning of April 2021, the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) announced the approval of the ExxonMobil staged pilot project in Platero. This is in addition to the ANH’s approval of Ecopetrol’s Kalé pilot project in December 2020. The corporation considers these approvals to be positive steps toward realizing the commercial potential of Colombia’s unconventional shale oil field and specifically for the prospective resources we have through our position in the Middle Magdalena Valley basin.’”
Photo: On June 28, PBI-Canada met with PBI-Colombia accompanied CREDHOS and social leaders in Puerto Wilches and heard their determination to stop fracking and to defend life, water and territory.
Reuters reports: “Colombia must base its conservation targets on international agreements that push for annual deforestation of 100,000 hectares or less by 2025, incoming Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said on [August 3].”
It’s possible that Muhamad will be in Montreal for the COP15 biodiversity summit this coming December 5-17.
Agence France-Presse has reported: “A central pillar of the planned nature pact [that could be finalized at the Montreal summit] is to conserve at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.”
In August 2021, 49 organizations warned: “While protecting at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030 is on its face a worthy goal of responding to biodiversity loss, the Framework’s focus on ‘protected areas’ will likely continue to lead to human rights abuses across the globe.”
One of the signatories, the Swift Foundation, says: “How it’s working right now is a militarized form of conservation. You have guards with guns, people imposing fines, building fences and kicking people out of their traditional lands. And if communities react in defense they are perceived as anti-conservation.”
Photo: On July 3, PBI-Canada along with PBI-Colombia accompanied NOMADESC and a Canadian labour delegation heard from the Afro-Colombian community of Bahia Malaga about the threat of “conservation” to ancestral and collective rights.
Protection of human rights defenders
Companies with ties to paramilitary groups
On May 9, Al Jazeera reported: “Local environmental defenders [in the Magdalena Medio region] and a representative of the JEP [Special Jurisdiction for Peace] 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.”
That article adds: “The company has been accused of having ties with the Gulf Clan [AGC] specifically.”
Photo: On June 30, PBI-Canada along with PBI-Colombia accompanied CREDHOS visited the San Silvestre wetland in the Magdalena Medio region with Federation of Santander Fishers for Tourism and Environment (FEDEPESAN) president Yuli Velásquez. Days later, on July 5, there was an armed attack against her.
When Yuli participated in a PBI-Canada webinar on April 29, 2021, she said: “We are working hard to stop fracking. Pollution will impact future generations. As fisherpeople we are impacted by water pollution. We can’t allow corporations and contractors to come in and affect the well-being of our communities.”
She added: “We have faced various threats and assassination attempts, but we will continue working and contributing to the protection of the environment.”
On July 25, the Canadian Embassy met with Yuli during a visit to Barrancabermeja. Following that meeting, the Embassy tweeted: “We must protect the leaders and guarantee free and safe movement in the territories.”
Criminalization of social leaders
PBI-Canada also met with the community of San Luis de Palenque on July 1. Eight social leaders have been criminalized for their protests against the social and environmental impacts of Calgary-based Frontera Energy’s Cubiro Block oil operations. The social leaders will be back in court in October.
PBI-Canada continues to follow their case which is supported by two PBI-Colombia accompanied organizations, the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and the Social Corporation for Community Advice and Training (COSPACC).
“I’m sorry to be so blunt”
With $8 billion invested in oil and gas, Colombia is the second largest location for Canadian Energy Assets Abroad (CEAA). Twenty-eight Canadian mining companies also hold assets in Colombia totalling $1.406 billion.
On a PBI-Canada organized webinar this past May, CREDHOS accompanied Afro-Colombian environmental defender Yuvelis Natalia Morales (now living in France because of her security situation) made this comment about Canada: “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.”
PBI-Canada will continue to monitor Canada-Colombia relations and the safety of human rights defenders in the emerging context of the Petro presidency.