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Community leaders arrested after protesting Canadian oil company in Colombia

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San Luis de Palenque, Colombia. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Frontera Energy is a Toronto-based oil company that has operations near the community of San Luis de Palenque in Colombia, which is located about 450 kilometres northeast of Bogota.

El Espectador has reported that Frontera operates 106 oil wells in the area. The company's Cubiro Block reportedly produces on average 3,600 barrels of oil per day.

Michel Forst, the UN's special sapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, has noted that "social protests [took place] 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."

More specifically, the community had demanded that Frontera "invest an environmental compensation for the value of one per cent of its investment for the collection of water that is carried out for the oil activity; repair of the roads that have deteriorated due to the constant passage of heavy vehicles; and the payment of the debts acquired by Frontera Energy during the last years with more than 80 people from the community who provided their transportation, food and lodging services."

Prensa Libre has reported that Frontera Energy viewed these demands as "excessive."

Forst highlights, "In November 2018, Frontera Energy signed two agreements with the Ministry of Defence for a total of U.S. $1,343,106 to secure army protection for its activities."

Franklin Castañeda of the Committee in Solidarity of Political Prisoners (CSPP) says, "A few days after signing the first contract worth more than $1 million, a representative of this company filed charges and testified against the leaders of the protests."

El Espectador further reports, "On November 27, 2018, at 2:45 a.m., an operation of 200 men, between members of the police and the National Army, who landed in two helicopters, captured them in San Luis de Palenque."

Forst notes that on December 4, 2018, the army and the police accused the aforementioned leaders of being members of an illegal armed group.

The community leaders face the criminal charges of conspiracy to commit a crime, assault, attempted homicide of an officer and blocking public roads.

Three of the community leaders remain in prison and five are under house arrest while they await their trial more than 15 months after their arrest.

In September 2019, the CSPP and the Social Corporation for Community Counseling and Training (COSPACC) told the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in Geneva, Switzerland "how Frontera Energy has influenced the investigation process against the social leaders who protested against it."

With respect to the agreements with the Ministry of Defence, Frontera Energy has commented, "These agreements are recognized by the Constitutional Court to provide support in the security and protection of private activities, as they are activities of general interest and of public utility."

The Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project has accompanied the CSPP since 1998 and COSPACC since 2009.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website. You can also follow PBI on Twitter.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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