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Community Members from the Municipality of Puerto Gaitan, Meta Demonstrate Outside Pacific Rubiales Energy Headquarters in Bogota

by PASC

Community Members from the Municipality of Puerto Gaitan, Meta Demonstrate Outside Pacific Rubiales Energy Headquarters in Bogota
Community Members from the Municipality of Puerto Gaitan, Meta Demonstrate Outside Pacific Rubiales Energy Headquarters in Bogota
Community Members from the Municipality of Puerto Gaitan, Meta Demonstrate Outside Pacific Rubiales Energy Headquarters in Bogota

In the early hours of May 12, 2014, community members from various towns from the municipality of Puerto Gaitan, Meta arrived to Bogota to install the “Encampment for Territory, Life, and Resistance” in front of the Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE) Headquarters. The 100 participants of this encampment are calling for a suspension of all contracts with the multinational Pacific Rubiales in the region, an end to petroleum exploitation at CPE-6, protection of the environment, water, and life, protection of labor rights and access to decent work, economic and social development in the region, and protection of human rights. These demands come after 3 years of conflict between Pacific Rubiales and its workers and the community members of the municipality Puerto Gaitan.

This conflict emerged in 2011 when workers announced the installment of a Permanent Worker's Assembly to address the issues faced by workers and community members. At this time the majority of the workers at PRE were sub-contracted, which allowed for temporary contracts and an ability for PRE to avoid liability under labor laws. Their inhumane and precarious working conditions motivated many to mobilize. At the same time, community members were beginning to voice their concern over the environmental impacts of PRE's operations in the region such as water contamination and depletion of water reserves. The marches and mobilizations in Puerto Gaitan were met with severe repression by police forces and even the military. The repression persisted in the form of union busting when Pacific Rubiales fired 500 employees suspected of union activity, union leaders received death threats from paramilitary elements, and when Pacific Rubiales broke the agreement with Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) and made an agreement with the company union UTEN.

The conflict with Pacific Rubiales has continued especially as more and more communities are affected by the expansion of their operations and the environmental impacts. At the demonstration, the some 100 participants all have their own reasons for participating. USO members whose labor rights are still in jeopardy with PRE are present in solidarity with the community members and also to remind PRE that USO is still active and resisting. Community members state that they are extremely concerned by the environmental destruction as a result of water expropriation by PRE, and after the recent drought and death of thousands of animals in Casanare due to oil exploitation, many fear that Meta is next. Some of the community members who have been vocal in speaking out against the environmental destruction caused by PRE, claimed that they are now facing threats from paramilitary elements in order to silence them.

One of the newest threats to residents of Puerto Gaitan has to do with the “Land Restitution Law,” Santos flagship program which aims to return land to victims of the conflict, and heavily funded by the Canadian government. In addition the general skepticism about the likelihood of this being accomplished, due to the current rate its moving at now, a new suspicious element has emerged which is that in Meta the focus on land restitution has been on land surrounding oil and energy projects despite a supposed focus on land that is “secure and favorable for agricultural development.” New land conflicts have emerged between residents who have been living there and and people who are returning to this land through land restitution and then selling the land to multinationals.

Despite the challenging conditions faced by the workers and the residents of Puerto Gaitan, this week they stand united and strong to tell the government and Pacific Rubiales that Pacific is NOT Colombia and can not continue its destructive practices in the region.


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