Learn about the threats to the San Silvestre wetlands and its protectors, December 7

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Yuli Velasquez, FEDEPSAN and the National Network of Artisanal Fishermen.

To register for this webinar on Wednesday December 7, please click here.

This past summer, PBI-Canada visited the San Silvestre ciénaga (wetland/swamp) near Barrancabermeja and met with the speakers on this webinar.

They took us out on the wetland in two boats and we witnessed the impacts of Ecopetrol and large-scale agribusiness (buffalos and palm) on the water.

Oswaldo Beltrán, FEDEPESAN.

Juan Camilo Delgado, CREDHOS.

That was on June 30.

Just a few days later on July 5, environmental leader Yuli Velásquez and César Rodríguez (her National Protection Unit/UNP escort), both of whom were on that verification trip, were shot at. Yuli injured her arm when she fell running, César was hit by a bullet in the face.

It was the third armed attacked against Yuli since January 2021. She says: “Every time we report a new pollution problem, it happens.”

Then on July 25, three armed men entered the home of Oswaldo Beltrán (another FEDEPESAN activist who was with us on the wetland on June 30), Liudmila Alemus (a water defender) and their eight-year-old son.

Threats to the wetland

Journalist Lise Josefsen Hermann, also with us on that verification visit on the water, has written the San Silvestre wetland is “affected by two landfills and several industries, including a refinery of the oil company Ecopetrol, the largest company in Colombia.”

El Tiempo has also reported: “Yuli is recognized in her region for denouncing alleged corruption with the resources Ecopetrol and the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Santander invested to clean the swamps, unclog the pipes and make an environmental recovery of all the swamps of Barrancabermeja, especially that of San Silvestre.”

In August 2021, Yuli field a request for an audit of the works carried out under contract 003-00980-2019 signed in December 2019 between the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Santander and the Unión Temporal (UT) San Silvestre. The purpose of that contract had been “to carry out cleaning, collection and disposal of floating plant material and solid waste present inside the San Silvestre swamp and tributaries in the prioritized areas.”

And Semana Sostenible has explained the wetland that supplies drinking water to Barrancabermeja has been contaminated for years by agriculture and livestock (notably thousands of hectares of African palm and large herds of cattle and buffalo), the Ecopetrol oil refinery, and the Esmeralda, Anchicayá and Yerbabuena garbage dumps.

The landfill situated in the village of Patio Bonito in Barrancabermeja was operated by Rediba (but is now operated by the French transnational Veolia).

Responsibility for the attacks

Hermann has noted “the presence of paramilitaries, the Clan del Golfo [AGC] and the ELN guerrilla group” in the area.

Environmental defenders have noted concern about suspected links between Ecopetrol and paramilitary groups.

In June, Otoniel, the captured leader of the AGC, stated that Ecopetrol made monthly contributions of 75 million pesos (about CAD $21,000.) to the Clan del Golfo in exchange for providing security in other parts of the country.

It’s an allegation that Ecopetrol denies.

Webinar, December 7

To learn more directly from these environmental defenders, join our webinar on Wednesday December 7 at 3 pm ET – register here

For more, see this recently released 2-minute Global Witness video.

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