Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie

Witness Before Standing Committee on International Trade : Canadian petroleum Company and Human Rights in Colombia

25 May 2010

40th PARLIAMENT, 3rd SESSION.Standing Committee on International Trade
EVIDENCE # 1600, Tuesday, May 25, 2010

 

Ms. Dawn Paley (Journalist, As an Individual):

Thank you for inviting me here this afternoon.

My name is Dawn Paley and I'm a journalist based in Vancouver. I've travelled to Colombia twice, for a total of about three months, and I've spent a great deal of time researching Canada's relationship with Colombia from here.

Most of my time in Colombia was spent in northern Cauca, which is unfortunately again in the news because of Sunday's assassination of Alex Quintero, a man who had been accompanying survivors of the 2001 Naya massacre. This massacre saw 120 civilians slaughtered by paramilitaries. Some were killed by chain saws. Quintero was targeted because of his memory and because of his work trying to bring some kind of justice to families and survivors of the Naya massacre.

 I know Colombians like Quintero who have been turned into victims of the war in Colombia. I know how they are systematically ignored; how they have their rights, freedoms, and basic necessities removed; and finally, how they have their lands and their lives removed from them so that corporations and others can reap the benefits. It is thus out of great sadness that I testify before you here today.

 I'd like to clarify first that I think this agreement would be more accurately referred to as a preferential trade and investment protection agreement between Canada and Colombia.

 I want to open by quoting Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who said, “The links between trade liberalization and growth are far weaker than liberalization advocates claim.” I think it is important to bring up Stiglitz because some members of this committee have accused witnesses and other MPs of having an anti-trade ideology. I wish to counter that in fact their position in favour of an agreement between Canada and Colombia is an equally ideological position--a so-called pro-trade ideology. But regardless of the strength of some committee members' ideological commitment to a free trade agreement, it is not possible for them to ignore the ethical implications of signing such an agreement with a criminal regime like the one in Colombia.

At a presentation in March 2005, Christian Côté, from International Trade Canada, pointed out to his audience that there exists pressure from the natural resource community for government to improve the investment climate for target countries. I think that pressure has led us to where we are today, with some members of this committee pushing a free trade agreement on behalf of the natural resource sector and dressing it up as if it were for the benefit of your average Canadians or Colombians.

 Committee members here are obviously aware of the push from the Canadian oil and gas sector to ratify this agreement. Lobbyists from Nexen Incorporated, Petrobank Energy and Resources Incorporated, and Talisman Energy Incorporated have met with Canadian government officials to lobby for this deal.

When Armando Zamora, from Colombia's National Hydrocarbons Agency, went on an international tour to promote oil and gas investment in Colombia, Toronto was his first stop. He told the Globe and Mail that they started in Toronto because that was where the decisions to invest in the country were made.

  I'd like to give an example of this, which is Gran Tierra Energy Incorporated. This firm produces approximately 14,000 barrels of oil per day in the southern region of the Department of Putumayo. The Calgary-based company controls 753,376 net acres of territory in Putumayo. Calgary's Petrobank has 14 exploration blocks covering a total of 1.6 million acres in Putumayo. Also from Calgary, Parex Resources Incorporated, formerly Petro Andina, is also active in Putumayo.

Oil drilling there is in the land of the Cofán peoples, who have been displaced as part of a concerted strategy to make the lands they occupy available for mega-projects. In 2006 there were 4,500 soldiers guarding oil facilities in Putumayo, as well as two extra brigades and one special brigade trained by the U.S. army. This oil is fueling bloody conflicts between the state, paramilitaries, and guerrillas. But it is also a war on the people, who are subject to terror and displaced by all armed actors, as well as through other instruments of the U.S.'s Plan Colombia, including aerial fumigation.

 The victims are civilians, particularly indigenous peoples. In a classic case of the resource curse, an estimated 80% of the 250,000 people in Putumayo live below the poverty line. According to a report by the Colombian Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement, 30,000 people--more than one in ten living in Putumayo, where these companies are based--have been forcibly displaced.

 According to another study of the region, there is little to no civilian state presence in Putumayo. Instead, guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, and the Colombian army, acting with U.S. assistance, control the territory.

The operations of these oil companies are most often not unionized, and these companies--not necessarily the particular Canadian companies--have a history of collaborating in the past. We know, for example, about BP collaborating with paramilitary forces and the Colombian army in order to maintain operations.

 Arguing that this agreement will benefit the bottom lines of Calgary-based oil companies is separate from arguing that this agreement will actually improve the lives of ordinary Canadians or ordinary Colombians through so-called free trade. I think if we presented this agreement to Canadians as one designed in large part to benefit Calgary's oil and gas elites at such a great social and environmental cost in Colombia, ordinary Canadians would be revolted.

 Although this agreement might satisfy powerful constituents, especially in the eight Calgary ridings today held by the Conservative Party, it is only by ignoring and discarding the voices of the victims of terror that the Canadian Parliament could promote a free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.

 

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Dawn Paley

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