Colombian human rights organisations report that the leadership of the SINTRAPETROPUTUMAYO oil workers union and community leaders from around Miraflores have been on the receiving end of threats as a result of their protests to defend labour rights and community rights in Putumayo, one of Colombia’s most conflicted regions.
SINTRAPETROPUTUMAYO has been demanding that the labour rights of oil workers in the region be respected, as well as protesting against environmental violations by Gran Tierra Energy and Emerald Energy, two foreign multinationals that have operations in the department. In August last year the union organised a large demonstration that was violently broken up by police special forces.
More recently Fernando Carvajal, the secretary of the trade union was displaced from the region after being followed by unidentified men riding a high powered motorbike. Since many killings are carried out by motorbike riding killers, the threat was clear. This followed a series of threats received by the trade union.
In February this year Mario Gomez, a local government councillor, was stopped by 10 armed civilians who identified themselves as members of the Black Eagles paramilitary group. They told him they had been contracted by the local authorities to get rid of “guerrilla spokespersons” who were “getting in the way”. The list of people they then showed him included the entire leadership of the SINTRAPETROPUTUMAYO union as well as other local people. Then on May 25th the President of SINTRAPETROPUTUMAYO was threatened in a leaflet which read “we’re tired of your voice and your trade unionists, if you continue your shitty struggle, meetings, marches and talk of protests and strikes we’re going to stop you.”
These threats were reported to the Attorney General’s office as well as to the Vice President Angelino Garzon and the human rights director of the Ministry of Interior. Local authorities were also notified. However, nothing has been done to guarantee the safety of the SINTRAPUTUMAYO leadership.
In Puerto Vega, another area of Putumayo, indigenous and peasant communities have been protesting since the end of 2010 against a proposed motorway and oil pipeline that runs straight through their lands and which was planned without any consultation. The local community proposed that a meeting be held to analyse the project and work out how it would affect the community, but Colombia Energy Consortium, the company planning the works has refused to do this. This violates ILO Convention 169, which states that indigenous and other communities must be consulted before projects that affect them are developed.
On the 24th of May locals found that workers from Colombia Energy had set up an encampment near Miraflores in order to carry out topographic studies prior to beginning works on the road and the pipeline. The local community asked the workers to leave the area, which they agreed to do by 10am the next day. The following morning community representatives went to check that the workers had left, but instead found themselves faced by army soldiers, who told them that if they didn’t agree to the project they would have to be displaced.
On the 8th of June armed civilians arrived at the home of Luis Rodriguez, the president of the neighbourhood association, but finding him away they contented themselves with burning some of his outhouses down. On June 14th an armed man in civilian dress took Mr Rodriguez’s brother and his wife hostage. The man claimed to be a member of the army’s 3rd mobile brigade. After several hours he left, taking documentation and money. Mr Rodriguez's brother, Hermes Rodriguez tried to report the assault, but was stopped by army troops who denied that they had anything to do with the attack. Luis Rodriguez had fled the area the day before after armed men had burned part of his property, joining the ranks of the displaced.
Colombia Energy, being unable to begin work in the area, then tried to begin work at the other end of their planned road and pipeline, but was faced with local protests there as well. However, in the wake of the threats against the community of Miraflores local organisations are worried that the human rights of those opposed to the project will be abused.