Yesterday morning ESMAD attacked one hundred peasants who blocked a bridge in southern Caqueta so they could not move the truck of Chinese oil company Emerald Energy. That clash between riot police and farmers who oppose oil project is a double warning bell for the government.
For one thing, because it brings the headache in which he became the Government the resistance of the people of Piedras, in Tolima, against AngloGold Ashanti and reissued because the pitfalls that had the mining and energy locomotive when interact with local communities.
And secondly, because it anticipates one of the biggest dilemmas that will have the government of President Juan Manuel Santos in the years ahead: it needs the resources of the mining industry to fund the implementation of any peace agreements but, at the same time, to the extent that social mobilization grow it probably will turn more and more against this sector.
Since 4 May, a hundred peasants of various villages in the municipality of Valparaiso, two hours from Florence, were planted on the bridge over the creek La Cacho, allowing the passage of cars but cerrándoselo vehicles Emerald Energy.
That way, they named the ‘Bridge Resistance’ is on the way to the villages of Florida where the company which is part of the Chinese group Sinochem – do you plan to dig a stratigraphic well that allows you to understand if the area has the same potential as their fields in San Vicente del Caguan (currently temporarily closed by the fall in oil prices).
Opposed to the idea of an oil project, according to them by poor environmental experiences in nearby towns such as San José del Fragua, farmers organized themselves and formed what they called the Commission for Life Water.
“We have no clarity on what the damage that oil development can bring to the region and the monkey, but the Government has refused to listen, much less, consider what we say. We are a nonentity, “says Jose Antonio Saldarriaga, one of the leaders of the peasants who have been organized since Emerald came to socialize the oil block-part project that El Nogal concessioned in 2012 a year ago.
By ‘the monkey’ Saldarriaga refers to another of the flags of farmers bridge the conservation of nice monkey Caqueta, a small primate reddish hair that was discovered in 2010 in the jungles of the department and it is listed as’ in critical situation ‘ (the most severe) by the Red Book of endangered species of IUCN.
Since last week it was rumored that the national government would send ESMAD to unlock the track, so the governor Miraist Marta Liliana Agudelo called Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo and explained that Saturday would be a meeting with all parties to dialogue. He declined to make any decisions until later.
All breathed calmer. That day agreed and outlined a document with the points on which they agreed and disagreed farmers, the Government, Corpoamazonía (the Amazon CAR), the University of Amazonia and the Diocese of Florence. They agreed to ask that the subject not be resolved by force and that a moratorium be made in the exploration of Emerald until there was clarity.
So he grabbed him by the Governor-in even- surprise arrival of some 150 riot police from Bogota early Tuesday.
Less than two hours later they had already dismantled the camp, held the peasants on a farm and cleared the way so they could spend the Chinese oil machines, which according to the government for now only seeks to repair the road as part of the social investment made in the area.
For farmers, this response was not convincing.
“We wanted to read the agreement, but said the commander who had 50 days at the encampment and that was illegal. They are not interested any claim of us farmers, “says Cesar Garcia, one of the leaders of this farming community that came displaced by paramilitaries in 2002 and only returned in 2010.
“If the authorities of the municipality and the department had an agreement with us not to use force, and even going to be talking with the government in three days in Bogota, we thought they were going to wait a bit. But this was overwhelming, “says Saldarriaga.
The balance, according to farmers, was three seriously injured. Juan Chavez, a peasant leader, was hit in the head and, after vomiting blood, was taken to a hospital in Florence. Two others ended in the health center of Valparaiso: Christopher Saldarriaga son of Jose Antonio wounded in the head and arm and Ana Pantévez with a bruised arm.
Two people were arrested and later released. Gregorio Perez 60, one of the leaders of the blockade, came out around noon. And Carlos Paez, who was filming the scene and who confiscated the camera, was released in the evening.
All this led them to organize a demonstration in front of City Hall yesterday and again today, showing that the emergence of ESMAD, far from resolving the issue, is fermenting further.
The conflict escalated in Valparaiso over a year and exploded in less than two months. Two months in which, in spite of multiple signals and warnings, no how to avoid it.
Social bomb that is due in large part to that, as told La Silla in a documentary about the Doima case – there is no room for dialogue between the government, business sectors such as mining and hydrocarbons and local communities, where they can talk their concerns and prevent the tension escalates until pathways made or referendums, as in Piedras (Tolima) or Tauramena (Casanare).
In fact, the only driver to create those spaces which called Avanza and started in the oil towns of Casanare- was nipped in the bud in a change of ministers as soon threw its first results. A year ago it was revived, but with a lower profile.
This lack of spaces for dialogue has led to relationships with communities protesting, like Valparaiso, end up being one more give and take preventive and cyclical which often messy.
In this corner of southern Caqueta talks they have not failed, but with few results. In fact, meetings and letters left over.
The May 29 farmers gathered in the Diocese of Florence with Deputy Interior Minister Carlos Ferro, a group that also included the governor and his Secretary of Government, the commanders of the police and army, representatives of the company and the Colombian Petroleum Association.
From that meeting came the commitment to make a table of dialogue between the company and the communities, which met four days but could not overcome the obstacle blocking the bridge. The farmers asked the government a week to evaluate the concession contract with Emerald, but according to two people familiar with the process-he refused and said it was his legal duty to ensure that the company could explore a block which had already signed a contract.
There began an exchange of letters between many. Francisco Jose Lloreda, former minister who now leads the Colombian Petroleum Association, asked the government to intervene because the proposed Emerald “has the approval of the communities directly adjacent to the site [but] a group of people who no way represent the community’s area of influence have blocked the bridge. ”
The attorney said that the blockade was illegal and criminally punishable. The bishop of Florence, Jesus Omar Mejia replied that the case showed “the consequences of the ineffectiveness of the institutions responsible for economic management – Environmental” and asked him to accompany the dialogue.
Green Senator Claudia Lopez, who introduced a bill that would create a ‘municipal environmental councils’ that would involve communities, wrote to Santos and three of his ministers insisting “open a space for dialogue (…) in which they present the scope of the project, listen, discuss and citizen concerns are resolved. ” The Ministry of Environment Gabriel Vallejo replied that it was not their responsibility , but the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (Anla).
The liberal representative Harry Gonzalez, which has also met with the peasants managed to schedule a meeting with all Thursday in the office of Christ minister, but was surprised by the entrance of Esmad.
The government insists that there are opportunities for dialogue, but that the community did not want to use them.
“We’ve been to all instances of dialogue, but there are a closed position and will not admit reasons,” he told La Silla Deputy Interior Minister Carlos Ferro.
They made three proposals which, according to Ferro, the community would not accept: lift the blockade on the bridge, an audit with the University of the Amazon on the business practices of Emerald and do some research on environmental issues. And he insisted that it is a company with such good levels of environmental management even have to Gerardo Viña, who was Sector Manager of the Ministry of Environment in the first government of Alvaro Uribe, as manager of planning. (La Silla tried unsuccessfully to contact Emerald Energy).
Beyond the ‘case Valparaiso’, mostly in Caqueta-peasants, politicians, academics and social actors insist that the department has a “special characteristics” that require oil policy is different.
“The bottom line is that discussion of Caqueta must have a differentiated policy because it is different exploit hydrocarbons in an area of great biodiversity,” says Congressman Harry Caqueta Gonzalez, who accompanied the peasants of Valparaiso weekend. “We have an environmental problem, thanks to the model of ranching and coca, and you are the most deforested region of the country and the second on the continent after the Paraguayan Chaco. And Track is a contradiction.”
Gonzalez was also the author of the idea, in the Development Plan Santos II, that Caquetá back part of the departments of the Amazon and not the ‘South Central’ with the Huila and Tolima (as it was in 2010) a geographical argument being used to defend the region needs a different system.
His view is shared in many sectors, from the business to the Church, through the political class and peasants. All are asking the government a debate on the development model for the Amazon region and, above all, a level playing different -and more exigentes- to exploit oil in the jungle.
“You must leave a new regulation in the Amazon that includes the Caquetá because there are very fragile environmental conditions and heritage. The fact that there is awarded oil blocks at odds with what Santos promised in UN especially protect the Amazon ecosystem. There is a contradiction between what is said and done, “says Eduardo Moya, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Florence.
For now, the next round will be this Thursday in the office of Christ. There are farmers, Marta Liliana Agudelo Governor, Congressman Harry Gonzalez, President of the Chamber of Commerce and the bishop of Florence to discuss the ‘case Valparaiso’ and, in general, of its oil troubles.
“We do not take part in this conflict, but [the peasants of Valparaiso] claim something from the Interior see right: that the terms of reference with which the blocks are allocated in Caqueta be revised” says the governor in charge Sandra Milena Rodriguez, who asked them to lift the blockade but also require a space for dialogue. “We are all asking for it. We are speaking the same language. ”
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