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Colombia: Ten injured as riot police break strike at Calgary owned oil company

Protests against Gran Tierra Resources met with repression as Parliament prepares to sign Free Trade Agreement

by Dawn Paley

A photo of an ESMAD squadron in Colombia
A photo of an ESMAD squadron in Colombia

At least 10 people were wounded yesterday when riot police (ESMAD) attempted to break up a strike at a Canadian owned oil facility in southern Colombia.

"Yesterday, Wednesday June 9, [riot police] clashed with demonstrators in Villagarzón, with gases and rubber bullets, wounding more than 10 people," reads a press release from the United Workers Central of Colombia (CUT).

"Since April 19 of the present year, mobilizations, blockades and meetings took place, seeking to establish a dialogue with representatives of the multinationals, but they received no attention at all," explains the release.

One of the multinationals in question is Calgary based Gran Tierra Energy, a firm which produces approximately 14,000 barrels of oil per day, and controls 753,376 net acres of territory in Putumayo. Oil drilling is taking place in the territories of the Cofán peoples, many of whom have been displaced as part of a concerted strategy to make the lands they occupy available for mega projects.

"The ASOPETROVILLA union and the community had been asking that complementary works including transport, cafeterias, locating drilling wells, security watch, and civil works be contracted to local people," reads a press release from the office of Senator Jorge Robledo.

The region is highly militarized, exceptional even in a country like Colombia. 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 US army. 

Yesterday's aggession is another sign that oil is fuelling a bloody a war on the people, who have been murdered and displaced by various armed actors, as well as through other instruments of the US’s Plan Colombia, including aeriel fumigation.

Putumayo is one of Colombia's most conflicted zones, thanks in part to what is sometimes referred to as a resource curse. An estimated one in ten residents of the department is an internally displaced person. Eighty percent of the people in Putumayo live in poverty.

Other Canadian firms active in the Putumayo region include Calgary’s Petrobank, with 14 exploration blocks covering a total of 1.6 million acres in the department. Calgary’s Parex Resources Inc., formerly Petro Andina, is also active in Putumayo.

Yesterday's violence comes as the Canadian parliament prepares to present the Canada-Colombia Free trade agremeent for it's third reading in the House of Commons. Liberals and Conservatives have indicated strong support for the deal.

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dawn (dawn paley)
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Journalist, co-founder VMC, ex-editor & board member with Media Co-op. Author, Drug War Capitalism.

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