Santander, Colombia – Environmental activists Fabian Urquijo and Jhordan Peinado, who hail from Colombia’s Santander area, acquired an eerie warning in February.
They have been named in a pamphlet shared by the Gulf Clan paramilitary group, warning that they might be killed if they didn’t surrender their activism. Greater than 20 different native activists have been additionally named within the pamphlet, which was distributed all through their neighbourhood.
“It was a tough second,” Peinado advised Al Jazeera. “Given what we do, we’re conscious that these threats occur – particularly in a rustic the place main social and environmental struggles create many issues.”
The pair have since fled their hometown of Barrancabermeja, fearing for his or her lives.
And that is not at all an remoted case: Many Colombian activists are more and more fearful that they may very well be focused for his or her work, as latest knowledge from Colombia’s Particular Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and Corporacion Compromiso, an area NGO, reveal a pointy improve in threats and violence in the direction of environmental defenders.
The stakes for activists in Santander are particularly excessive. Over the previous 18 months, the JEP recorded greater than 4 dozen threats in opposition to activists throughout the area.
Corporacion Compromiso reported even larger numbers, citing 68 threats in the direction of environmental defenders in Santander within the opening three months of 2022 alone – a big improve from 2021, when it documented a complete of 70 incidents in the entire yr.
Colombia is named the world’s deadliest nation for environmental defenders, and Santander’s Magdalena Medio area, situated within the nation’s north, has develop into a hub for a lot of threats. The world includes the center of Colombia’s petroleum business, and the native city of Puerto Wilches has been chosen for the nation’s first fracking mission, assembly robust resistance from locals and environmental teams. This opposition, in flip, has drawn threats from native armed teams.
Yuvelis Natalia Morales, a 21-year-old environmental activist, was reportedly pressured to flee Puerto Wilches and search safety in France after intruders got here to her dwelling final yr and put a gun to her head.
Carlos Andres Santiago, an anti-fracking activist, advised Al Jazeera: “Their message is principally that whoever opposes fracking will get a bullet, as a result of they’re the legislation right here.”
Armed teams vying for management
Earlier this month, lots of of locals gathered in Puerto Wilches to protest in opposition to the proposed fracking mission. Activists who took half within the demonstration advised Al Jazeera that after their march, assailants threw one protester off his motorbike and warned he can be killed if he continued opposing the mission.
“Environmental leaders stand out in communities, as they stop them from being essentially taken maintain of by unlawful teams,” Sergio Guzman, the director of Colombia Danger Evaluation, a political danger consultancy, advised Al Jazeera.
“If there’s a legal group that wishes to ascertain itself because the chief of the realm, it submits the native social leaders to their will. If they don’t comply, they develop into an impediment for a lot of of those organisations.”
Native environmental defenders and a consultant of the JEP advised Al Jazeera that they suspected a connection between the paramilitary teams intimidating them and the state-owned Ecopetrol, which is behind the fracking mission. The corporate has been accused of getting ties with the Gulf Clan particularly. For its half, Ecopetrol has denied all such allegations and publicly denounced any violence in the direction of environmental defenders.
“Many contractors and people related to those [fracking] initiatives have hyperlinks to unlawful teams,” a JEP consultant advised Al Jazeera on situation of anonymity. “We’ve acquired quite a few studies from organisations which have documented how activists and human rights defenders have been killed prior to now for his or her opposition to extractive oil initiatives. The state of affairs could be very critical.”
Armed teams, such because the Nationwide Liberation Military and the Gulf Clan, have gained an rising foothold in Magdalena Medio lately, following the 2016 deal to finish Colombia’s long-running battle.
“After the peace settlement … armed teams have taken maintain of lots of the vacuums of energy all through all the nation,” Guzman mentioned. “This has put many communities in danger, as a result of the state is unable to fulfill its position as a main safety supplier.”
At the very least 5 totally different pamphlets issuing threats to environmental defenders have been distributed throughout Magdalena Medio this yr, all attributed to the Gulf Clan. However regardless of the heightened intimidation, activists comparable to Urquijo stay dedicated to their trigger.
“We’ll proceed, as a result of we choose to reside championing this battle than to die and see the lands we love destroyed.”