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Canadian Companies in Colombia Linked to Murders, Repression: Oil, Mining Firms Open to Charge of Complicity in Genocide

By Asad Ismi

On May 3, the third edition of my report Profiting from Repression: Canadian Investment in and Trade with Colombia was released by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) in Ottawa. The comprehensive 184-page report links ten Canadian companies in Colombia to the genocide of indigenous Colombians, to complicity in eight murders and one attempted murder, to other significant military/paramilitary repression, to large-scale displacement, and to environmental destruction on a massive scale, as well as to labour union busting, strike-breaking, and worker exploitation.

These corporations are the four oil companies Talisman, Gran Tierra, Pacific Rubiales, and Petrominerales, and the six mining companies Gran Colombia Gold, Eco Oro Minerals, Cosigo Resources, B2Gold, Midasco Capital, and Antioquia Gold. Never before have Canadian companies in Colombia been so destructive. They are now open to criminal charges of genocide, murder, complicity in murder, environmental damage, displacement of indigenous populations, and the violation of labour rights. The 2006 edition of this report had found four Canadian corporations to be linked to military/paramilitary repression in Colombia.

The pernicious practices of these Canadian companies have drawn outrage and vehement opposition from Colombians. Between September 30 and October 4, 2011, 11,500 delegates from all over Colombia met in the city of Cali for the Land, Territories, and Sovereignties Conference. The delegates included farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, “victims of the capitalist developments and state crimes.” In their own words, they came “to defend life and Mother Earth. We confirm that the only option is not the consumerism, the oil addiction, the destruction of nature, and an economy driven by war… Our social movement is the indignant answer of the people in the face of the destruction of nature, the territorial invasion by pillaging multinational companies, [and] the plunder of our natural resources…”

The conference adopted seven mandates, the second of which explicitly condemns four Canadian oil and mining companies (Pacific Rubiales, Gran Colombia Gold, Eco Oro Minerals, and Cosigo Resources) and calls for their expulsion from Colombia: “The Second General Mandate is to guard Mother Earth and acknowledge her rights. Those who do not respect Mother Earth do not deserve her. And those who do not deserve her are the ones who destroy water sources to exploit for gold and oil. This Congress prohibits, by mandate, the multinationals’ exploitation and outrageous oil exploration.

“In consequence, this Congress has declared illegal and non-grata the presence in our territory of Anglo Ashanti, BHP Biliton, Xtrata, Pacific Rubiales, Cosigo Resources, Smurfitt Kappa, Cemex, Medoro Resources (now Gran Colombia Gold), Greystar (now Eco Oro Minerals), and Fenosa Union because of their direct participation in aggression against local communities and territories, and their systematic attempt to undermine the country’s sovereignty. We notify them that, by appealing to our ancestral Afro-descendants and indigenous rights of peoples and Mother Earth to the right to life and peace, and the right to constitutional rules, and according to international law and human rights conventions, we will take the necessary measures to impede their presence, to expel them from the country, and seek the appropriate sanctions.”

Colombia is the Western Hemisphere’s worst human rights offender, and the massive political violence of the Colombian state is driven by economic imperatives. The U.S.-backed Colombian ruling élite is determined to control national economic resources (land, oil, coal and gold, among others) and deny them to the majority of the population. The poverty and inequality generated by this policy has led to a four-decade-long civil war with guerrillas and a “dirty war” waged on civilians.

Three percent of Colombians own over 70% of arable land, while 57% of the poorest farmers survive on less than 3%. The richest 20% of Colombians get about 62% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while the poorest 20% are left with only 2.7%. Colombia is the third most unequal country in Latin America and one of the most unequal globally. Sixty-five percent of Colombians live below the poverty line, and this figure is 82% for the rural population.

The élite’s refusal to redistribute land led to civil war in 1966, when the peasant-based left-wing guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) arose to fight for land rights. FARC’s formation was preceded by that of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which commenced operations in 1965. As of 2010, the FARC had about 18,000 members and the ELN about 3,000. After 1965, the Colombian state targeted not only the guerrillas, but also those civilians it labelled their supporters: that is, anyone calling for economic and social justice. This U.S.-inspired strategy is known as “removing the water from the fish.”

As a result, since 1985, more than 70,000 Colombians (3,000-4,000 a year) have been killed in a horrific escalation of political violence. The Colombian military and its paramilitary allies have been responsible for the overwhelming majority of these killings. Many paramilitary death squads have been created by the Colombian military. About four million Colombians (approximately 650 people a day) have been internally displaced by the violence — the second highest displacement rate in the world after Sudan. Tens of thousands of Colombians have been tortured, kidnapped, and “disappeared.”

The primary targets of state death squads are poor peasant farmers, trade unionists, community leaders, political and social activists, and human rights defenders. Colombia remains the most dangerous country for trade unionists and the place where more are killed (mostly by paramilitaries) than in the rest of the world combined. During 1999-2009, 63% of unionists’ murders globally occurred in Colombia, and 51 union members were killed there in 2011.

Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world after Israel and Egypt. According to The Washington Post, “For more than a decade, under three administrations, Colombia has been Washington’s closest friend in Latin America and the biggest recipient of military and economic assistance — $6 billion during 2002-2010.” Thus the Colombian state is a U.S.-supported criminal regime responsible for killing tens of thousands of its citizens and displacing millions of them with impunity.

Canadian investment in Colombia is close to $2 billion from 42 corporations, and Canadian companies in the country are more economically powerful than ever before: they partly own and run Colombia’s largest oil pipeline (Talisman), and they are its leading private oil producer (Pacific Rubiales) and its biggest gold mining company (Gran Colombia Gold). With such significant power, the ten Canadian corporations in Colombia’s oil and mining sectors examined in my report have become highly destructive and are wreaking social disaster in the country on a scale never previously achieved by Canadian companies.

The murder of Indigenous leaders and the threatened extinction of native nations in Colombia was linked by Rodolfo Stavenhagen when he was the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples. Stavenhagen stated about Colombia: “Many indigenous communities report selective killings of their leaders, spokespersons and traditional authorities. Such killings appear to form part of a strategy to decapitate and confuse the indigenous communities, and they certainly hasten their social and cultural disintegration. These are truly acts of genocide and ethnocide against indigenous peoples.”

The Canadian oil company Gran Tierra is accused by the Inga indigenous people of killing their prominent leader, Edilberto Imbachi Mutumbajoy, while he was involved in talks with the company concerning its operations in Inga-populated areas. This is certainly an act of genocide according to the UN’s Stavenhagen. This is all the more true when we take into account the fact that Colombia’s indigenous people are in danger of extinction, according to their national organization, National Authority for Indigenous Government (ONIC), partly due to oil and mining company operations. Some indigenous groups have a mere 50 members left and Killing leaders of such small groups can destroy the collective especially as leadership can take generations to develop.

ONIC identifies oil and mining projects to be one of the major contributing factors to the extinction of indigenous Colombians. As ONIC states: all of the country’s 102 Indigenous nations “are at risk of disappearing” — that is, “at risk of physical and cultural extinction” due to “the internal armed conflict, poverty, and discrimination, state abandonment, and the imposition of an external development model in indigenous territories.”

ONIC includes corporate oil and mining projects as part of the external development model. Thus all Canadian oil and mining companies in Colombia whose operations impinge on native territory are contributing to the genocide of indigenous people, according to ONIC.

Pablo Rodriguez, an Inga leader in exile in Canada, shares ONIC’s concerns about the dire effects of oil operations on his people. “The Inga population is only 35,000”, he says, “and they could be all wiped out in ten years if oil companies like Gran Tierra can do whatever they want on our lands.”

The Inga People accused Gran Tierra of killing Imbachi in a public statement issued by the community on August 21, 2009 in the town of Puerto Guzman in Putumayo: The statement was titled: “Edilberto Imbachi Mutumbajoy Pueblo Inga Permanent Commission Coordinator of Puerto Guzman, Murdered August 2, 2009 by order of the Gran Tierra Energy Colombia Company.”

The statement explained: “As part of the ‘prior consultation’ process [carried out between the community, the company, and the Colombian government], one of the key issues was [the safety] and security of our community and its leaders. However, neither the company nor the Ministry of the Interior and Justice paid attention and ignored our repeated requests in this regard.

“We directly expressed our concern to the representative of the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH in Spanish — the official agency in charge of the oil sector) that our leaders were in danger and that the Gran Tierra Colombia Energy Company had at its disposal paramilitaries, guerrillas, criminals, and members of state security forces to remove us from the scene, but the ANH chose instead to defend the company.

“Taking into consideration that our leader had already made the company responsible for any violent action against his life because of its negative comments and actions that aimed at removing him from his position. On August 21, 2009…a meeting scheduled by the Inga community took place…in Puerto Guzman in order to make decisions regarding this incident (the murder of Edilberto Imbachi Mutumbajoy) that has saddened our people. The following unanimous decisions were taken by community members who attended:

“A definite end to dialogue with the Gran Tierra Colombia Energy Company and an end to its petroleum activity in our territory. To end any discussions related to hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities with any corporation, until the intellectual (Gran Tierra Colombia Energy Company) and material authors responsible for the murder of respected Putumayo Inga leader, Edilberto Imbachi Mutumbajoy, are condemned. We reject the militarization of our territories for the purpose of exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.”

It is highly disturbing that an indigenous people in Colombia are accusing a Canadian company of killing one of their prominent leaders. This is a new and deadly low point for Canadian companies in Colombia, which appear to be increasingly ruthless in their pursuit of the country’s mineral wealth.

Not only is Gran Tierra accused by the Inga of killing Edilberto Imbachi, but also of forcing the displacement of his brother, Edelmiro Imbachi Mutumbajoy, another Inga leader. Edelmiro was the Pueblo Inga Permanent Commission Legal Advisor. According to Pablo Rodriguez, the Inga leader in exile in Canada who continues to work with the Indigenous nation, “Gran Tierra is responsible for forcing Edelmiro to leave Putumayo. The company paid either paramilitaries, the army, or guerrillas to threaten Edelmiro so he had to run. Edelmiro told me, ‘My life is in danger, I have to leave’”.

Pablo Rodriguez explains that Gran Tierra has never engaged in meaningful negotiations with the Inga concerning drilling for oil on their land. “Negotiations are difficult”, says Rodriguez, “because the company only wants to give us a few pennies to explore for oil on our land. In this sense, they are engaged in land grabbing. Edilberto Imbachi wanted to discuss a 35-year plan of compensation for the Inga with Gran Tierra because that is the length of time the company says it wants to stay in Colombia. But Gran Tierra refused to discuss a fair, comprehensive settlement with Edilberto.”

Additionally, the Canadian mining company Cosigo Resources is accused of killing five more indigenous leaders in the department of Cauca. This accusation comes from Jose Goyes, himself an indigenous leader who at the time was a member of the political commission of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), a major indigenous organization in the department. Two Canadian companies are thus accused of killing six Colombian indigenous leaders, which makes their contribution to the extinction of native Colombians rather substantial.

Moreover, Cosigo Resources has been implicated in the torture of Goyes by paramilitaries, death threats to Goyes and other indigenous leaders also by paramilitaries, and a program of mass displacement of indigenous people to clear land coveted by mining companies. Also Cosigo is trying to stop an indigenous association in the Colombian Amazon, known as the Association of Indigenous Communities of Yaigojé Apaporis (ACIYA) from creating a national park in order to protect its land and culture. The company’s efforts in this regard are endangering the indigenous people’s “very existence.”

Other ways in which Canadian oil and mining companies are hastening the demise of endangered native Colombians include:

(1) Paramilitaries burned down the houses of indigenous people who were opposed to the construction of the Rubiales-Monterrey pipeline, which is a project of the Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales. It appears that Pacific Rubiales is collaborating with paramilitaries in Colombia that are clearing the way for its operations by destroying the houses of native Colombians opposed to them.

(2) The Canadian mining company Gran Colombia Gold planning the displacement of 8,000 people from the town of Marmato — the entire population — in order to set up an open-pit mine. Close to 17% of this population is indigenous and has lived in Marmato for 474 years. The Executive Committee of the Regional Indigenous Council for Caldas (CRIDEC), the main indigenous group in Marmato, called the mine and proposed displacement “ethnocide.”

The information presented above opens the four Canadian companies Gran Tierra, Cosigo Resources, Pacific Rubiales and Gran Colombia Gold up to the charge of being complicit in the genocide of native Colombians.


Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, June 2012

Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He is author of the radio documentary The Latin American Revolution which has been aired on 40 radio stations in the U.S., Canada and Europe reaching about 33 million people. The documentary can be heard on this website (under the “audio” category). He is also the author of the anthology with the same title which can be ordered from the CCPA. This article is the 13th in a series on the Latin American Revolution.