Vorágine article gives historical context to Canadian energy company and the criminalization of social leaders in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

In a newly-published feature article titled Los ‘falsos positivos’ del petróleo (Oil’s false positives), Vorágine provides important historical context for understanding the current criminalization of social leaders in San Luis de Palenque, Casanare, who have spoken against the social and environmental impacts of the Canadian company Frontera Energy.

Text: “Although violence has decreased compared to previous decades, social leaders in the Casanare region still face stigmatization, threats, and judicial persecution. Know the story.”

Key excerpts from the Vorágine article include:

“According to a database built with information from the JEP [Special Jurisdiction for Peace], between 2005 and 2008, the military murdered at least 93 people to present them as guerrillas or paramilitaries in the oil-rich area of the foothills, in villages in 14 municipalities [in the departments of] Casanare and Boyacá.”

“69 of these crimes were committed in the vicinity of the fields exploited until 2010 by the multinational British Petroleum.”

“British Petroleum (now BP) [was] the main international company present in the area [until 2010], the year it left the country and sold its exploitation rights to the oil company Equión, a company made up of the Colombian Ecopetrol and the Canadian Talismán.”

“[In the region of Boyacá and Casanare] inhabitants have been suffering for more than three decades the consequences of the stigma of being labeled as guerrillas and the consequences of demanding decent working conditions from the oil industry in the midst of crimes and abuses by the State.”

“During [a] hearing in [the municipality of] Yopal [on September 20, 2023], on cases of false-positives in the department of Casanare], the military acknowledged that they murdered the victims to win promotions, days off and other ‘prizes’.”

“For Martín Ayala, leader of the Casanare NGO, the Social Corporation for Community Counseling and Training (COSPACC), which has denounced the relationship between the oil industry and the violation of human rights, the persecution of the state by the paramilitaries in that region of the country is evident. ‘They killed several comrades who have denounced abuses, peasant leaders. We have received threats and many of us have had to leave the region. People from the justice system, the military, and politicians had to do with the paramilitaries,’ Ayala explains.”

Photo of PBI-Colombia accompanied COSPACC leader Martin Ayala.

“COSPACC, together with the Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners Foundation (CSPP) and the support of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), were the authors of the report Neither delinquents, nor combatants, on 12 cases of the so-called ‘false positives’ in Casanare, delivered to the JEP.”

“COSPACC [itself was] the victim of violent acts such as the assassination, on April 13, 1995, of Carlos Mesías Arriguí, one of the leaders of the organization who participated in social initiatives to protest the lack of social investment by the British oil company and in a strike that blocked the highway in El Morro in 1994. According to the CINEP [the Center for Research and Popular Education] investigation, ‘Casanare: Exhuming the Genocide’, published in 2009, the Army said after the death that the victim was an ELN [National Liberation Army] guerrilla, a fact that was never proven in court.”

Image of Carlos Mesías Arriguí.

“The extensive deployment of the Army in Casanare, related to the care of the oil infrastructure, included several military units, including a branch of the GAULA [Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty], in addition to others within the XVI Brigade, such as the Ramón Nonato Pérez Battalion (BIRNO), whose headquarters were located near the main logistics center of British Petroleum in Aguazul, and several counterguerrilla battalions that, at the same time, it had several DELTA groups. All this military presence was financed with public money, but also with resources provided by the oil companies themselves.”

“The JEP Order states that both taxpayers’ resources, as well as those that came through agreements between the oil companies and the Army, were used in the commission of these crimes.”

“According to the database built by this journalistic alliance, of the 93 murders identified in the foothills, 43 were committed by BIRNO and 25 by GAULA.”

“These agreements [between oil companies and the Army] have been approved since 1996, and allow mining and energy companies to give money to the Army, the Police, and even the Prosecutor’s Office (in the particular case of Ecopetrol), in exchange for providing security to the company’s facilities and prioritizing investigations related to crimes against its personnel and infrastructure.”

“As documented by Rutas del Conflicto and La Liga Contra el Silencio in 2019, in the investigation ‘Agreements of force and justice’, several social organizations have denounced that this mechanism is a kind of privatization of public security and is related to cases of criminalization of social leaders who have protested against alleged environmental or labor abuses, or due to a lack of social investment by companies.”

“Between March and April 2023, the Army denied several times that it had any record of agreements with British Petroleum, although it clarified that it had signed 216 agreements with various oil companies, 106 with Ecopetrol.”

“The social leaders interviewed pointed out that although violence has decreased compared to what they suffered a couple of decades ago, they continue to be victims of stigmatization, threats against their lives and judicial persecution for their leadership.”

Photo of Miguel Daza with his daughter Mariana.

“This is the case of Miguel Daza, leader of the village of Plan Brisas de Aguazul, who is currently facing a process in the Prosecutor’s Office for conspiracy to commit a crime and rebellion, as documented by the Verdad Abierta portal. The leader and several members of the community have denounced that this is once again a situation in which the oil companies that are currently in the area, such as Ecopetrol and Frontera Energy, have an open influence on the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office with the agreements mentioned above.”

Photo: UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst on a recent PBI-Canada webinar on COP28 and environmental defenders.

Beyond what is documented in this article Los ‘falsos positivos’ del petróleo, UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst noted his concerns about Frontera Energy in this report (on page 9, points 29 and 30) to the UN Human Rights Council.

“In the context of efforts to defend land and environmental rights, at least 202 defenders have been prosecuted since 2012. By way of example, during the Special Rapporteur’s visit, eight leaders from San Luis de Palenque were arrested and accused of collusion to commit an offence, violence against a public servant and obstructing a public road, and two of them with attempted homicide in connection with their participation in and leadership of the social protests between 2016 and 2018 in response to the failure of Canadian public company Frontera Energy to fulfil its obligation to compensate communities affected by environmental damage and to repair damaged roads. These human rights defenders remain deprived of their liberty, three of them in prison and five on house arrest.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned at the apparent connection between Frontera Energy, the army’s 16th brigade and the Attorney General’s Support Office in this criminalization and the possible impact of the agreement between Ecopetrol S.A. and the Attorney General’s Office on the situation. In November 2018, Frontera Energy signed two agreements with the Ministry of Defence for a total of US$ 1,343,106 to secure army protection for its activities. On 4 December 2018, the army and the police accused the aforementioned leaders of being members of “Los Jinetes con Careta”, an illegal armed group whose existence has yet to be recognized by the competent authorities. Furthermore, since 2015, Ecopetrol, the main Colombian hydrocarbon exploitation company, has signed five cooperation agreements with the Attorney General’s Office for a total of US$ 24,698,485 to strengthen the investigative and prosecutorial capacity of the Attorney General’s Support Office to deal – inter alia – with crimes of obstruction of public roads during social protests that affect the functioning of Ecopetrol and/or its associated companies, such as Frontera Energy.”

Prensa Libre Casanare video: Helicopter transfer of those captured for their participation in social protests in the Cubiro Block; November 27, 2018.

Photo: PBI-Canada visits with social leaders in San Luis de Palenque, Casanare, criminalized for their opposition to the Canadian company Frontera Energy; July 1, 2022.

Photo: PBI-Colombia accompanies COSPACC and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) in Casanare to hear testimonies from those who have suffered environmental and social effects of oil companies in Casanare; August 16, 2023.

We continue to follow this with concern.

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