PBI-Canada offers overview of Canada-Colombia economic relationship at public forum with Berenice Celeita
On October 30, Association for Research and Social Action (Nomadesc) president Berenice Celeita spoke at the Amnesty International Canada office in Ottawa/Algonquin territory. The Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project has accompanied Nomadesc since 2011 and Berenice Celeita since 1999.
Brent Patterson of Peace Brigades International-Canada offered these comments at the public forum:
In 2021, about 25 Canadian mining companies had operations in Colombia, and of the 69 oil and gas exploration blocks granted by the Duque government between 2019 and 2021, 39 of those blocks went to four Canadian companies.
The figures vary, but the Government of Canada says it has contributed about $40 million through its Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOP) since the 2016 Peace Agreement to support peacebuilding efforts in Colombia.
But notably, between 2012 and 2020, Canada has exported a greater amount, more than $47 million, in “military goods” to Colombia. It has also just announced a $418 million contract – almost half-a-billion dollars – to sell 55 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Colombian army. Those LAVs, the same model that Canada sold to Saudi Arabia, will be manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ontario.
We already know that at least one of the Toronto, Ontario-manufactured INKAS armoured vehicles sold to the National Police in 2014 was used by in July 2021 to stop activists en route to a peoples assembly in Cali during the national strike.
And we know that Mirabel, Quebec-manufactured Bell 407 helicopters sold to the police in 2013-14 were used to surveil national strike protests in Cali in 2019.
Furthermore, briefing notes in July 2022 for then Defence Minister Anita Anand indicate that Canada wants to sell more weapons to Colombia and that it was interested in “opportunities related to a new naval base and military headquarters building”.
CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
Despite opposition from Canadian and Colombian civil society, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement has been in force since August 2011. There is also an agreement to produce an annual report on the human rights impacts of the agreement.
Notably though, this human rights assessment omits investment – significantly in mining and oil and gas – and focuses only on the impacts of tariff reductions.
As such, this report consistently says: “No human rights impacts which could be directly associated with Canada’s tariff reductions.”
Even there with tariff reductions, the Government of Canada does not acknowledge the impacts of increased exports to Colombia and the expansion of the port in Buenaventura that has displaced Afro-Colombian communities.
With respect to investment, Canadian mining companies have USD $1.7 billion in pending investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) claims against Colombia.
And notably, if fracking is prohibited in Colombia, the Calgary, Alberta-based company Parex Resources could launch an additional ISDS challenge given it signed an “exploration and production” contract in September 2014 with the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) for Block VMM-9 in the Magdalena Medio region.
EXPORT DEVELOPMENT CANADA
Since 2012, Export Development Canada has provided $1.4 billion in financing to oil and gas in Colombia. Notably, that support has gone to companies include Parex, Gran Tierra, Canacol and Ecopetrol. Parex received six loans totalling up to $475 million.
Concerns about Parex operations in Colombia have been expressed in relation to the Ibagué aquifer in Tolima, by residents in Cumaral, Meta, and its Aguas Blancas oil field in Simacota, Santander. Canadian oil companies have also been implicated in at least 92 oil spills in Colombia between 2015 and June 2022. Those include Frontera Energy/Pacific Rubiales (56), Gran Tierra (26) and Parex Resources (10).
Export Development Canada now says it will adhere to the Glasgow Statement and that it has ended “new direct financing to international fossil fuel companies”.
However Environmental Defence has raised the concern that the phrasing “international fossil fuel companies” may not close the door on “domestic companies involved in international fossil fuel trade and operations”.
The Government of Canada has also used the word “unabated”, meaning support can still go to fossil fuel companies using carbon capture technology.
While some of this is still unclear, there is still very much the need to be vigilant in the monitoring of EDC support for the extractivist sector in Colombia.
The level of Canadian investment in mining and oil and gas (notably the 39 new exploration blocks), the continued and now increasing sale of Canadian manufactured “military goods”, the corporate rights enshrined in the “free trade” agreement, and the role of Export Development Canada means that we need to continue looking at the intersection points between Canada and human rights violations in Colombia.