Colombia: will ‘peace’ escalate resource wars?

Colombian authorities are clearly hoping that a return to stability following the peace pact with the FARC rebels will mean more international investment, and especially for the resource sector. But hydro-electric, fracking and mineral projects across the country are already meeting with peasant resistance—prompting state security forces to respond with repression. In the Rio Cauca Canyon of Antioquia department, the feared National Police militarized anti-riot force ESMAD has initiated the forcible eviction of campesinos who have refused relocation to make way for the floodplain of the massive Hidroituango dam project. Ironically, commuity leaders opposed to relocation in the municipalities of Sabanalarga and Ituango have reportedly been threatened by personnel in the employ of Refocosta, the firm contracted by the Medellín Public Utility to oversee environmental mitigation in the project. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 12) Ituango municipality has especially been the scene of a recent resurgence of paramilitary violence that has left hundreds of residents displaced.

Ominously, the Antiouqui Forest Observatory (OBA) reports that only 35% of the forests that covered much of the department a decade ago still stands today. OBA protests that authorities have approved the cutting of 4.500 hectares of tropical forest on lands slated to be inundated by the Hidroituango project. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 12)

Fracking advances —with repression
The Alliance for a Fracking-Free Colombia is urgently mobilizing to halt the imminent start of hydraulic fracturing operations at the PicoPlata 1 site in San Martín, Cesar department. The project, being developed by ConocoPhillips, is the first fracking site in Colombia to win official approval—over the protests of local residents, who have repeatedly blocked the access roads, and been dispersed by the ESMAD. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 8)

At the community of San Luis de Palenque, Casanare department, residents have also repeatedly blocked access roads to halt the exploration activities of Frontera Energy—and similarly been met with with repression from ESMAD. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 27)

Various communities in Cimitarra municipality, Santander department, have complained that their lands have been damaged and polluted by the operations of parastatl EcoPetrol, and accuse the company of carrying out illegal, unpermitted fracking at its local Campo Opón. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 26)

Municipalities stand up to mineral cartel
Colombian municipalities that have held "consultas" to reject mineral operations on their territory are meeting with push-back in the country's media. Organizers of the consulta in Cajamarca, Tolima, publicly repudiated reports that the municipality is facing bankruptcy in the wake of its vote to reject the planned mega-operation of Anglo Gold Ashanti. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 26)

Mining is especially seen as a threat to the páramos, or alpine wetlands which protect watersheds that downstream communities depend on. In a worrisome sign of ecological decline in the páramos, the habitat's distinctive shrub species, the frailejones, are dying due to infection by parasites across the Colombian Andes. The frailejones are critical to holding down soil in the wetlands and protecting the watersheds. (Semana, Feb. 19)