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Protest against fracking

Santander, Colombia Fabian Urquijo (environmental activist) and Jhordan Peninado (from Colombia’s Santander region) received an eerie alert in February.

They were identified in a pamphlet that was shared by the Gulf ClanA paramilitary group warned them that they could be killed if the group did not stop their activism. The pamphlet also included more than 20 other local activists. It was distributed to their neighborhood.

Peinado said that it was a difficult time. We know that these threats are possible, given what we do.

The couple fled Barrancabermeja after fleeing their home, where they were afraid for their lives.

This is not a isolated case. Numerous Colombian activists are more worried about being targeted for their work. Recently released data from Colombias Special Jurisdiction for Peace, JEP, and Corporacion Compromiso reveal a sharp rise of violence and threats against environmental defenders.

Protest against fracking
Puerto Wilches is the scene of protest by demonstrators who are gathering to protest fracking [Inigo Alexander/Al Jazeera]

Santander activists have a lot at stake. The JEP has received more than 40 threats against activists in the region over the past 18 months.

Corporacion Compromiso Reports indicate even higher numbersIt cited 68 threats to environmental defenders at Santander in the first three months 2022, an increase of 70% from 2021, which saw 70 incidents in the entire year.

Colombia is known for being the “The” country. worlds deadliest country for environmental defendersSantanders Magdalena Medio is located in the country’s northern part and has become a major threat center. This area is the heart of Colombia’s petroleum industry. The local town of Puerto Wilches was chosen for the country’s first fracking project. However, it met strong resistance from environmental groups and locals. This opposition has attracted threats from local armed organizations.

Yuvelis Natalia, a 21 year-old environmental activist, According to reports, he was forced to fleePuerto Wilches is now seeking protection in France following an attack on her home last January.

Carlos Andres Santiago, an antifracking activist, said to Al Jazeera that their message was that anyone opposing fracking would get a bullet because they are the law.

A police officer monitors protest
A local NGO has received 68 threats to environmental defenders in Colombia’s Santander region over the past 18-months [Inigo Alexander/Al Jazeera]

Armed groups vie for control

Hundreds of locals protested against the proposed fracking plant in Puerto Wilches, Mexico earlier this month. Al Jazeera was told by activists who participated in the demonstration that one protester was thrown off his motorcycle by assailants after the march and threatened to kill him if he continued to oppose the project.

Sergio Guzman from Colombia Risk Analysis, an international political risk consultancy, stated that environmental leaders in communities are more prominent than others because they keep them from being taken over by illegal groups.

If a criminal organization wants to become the leader of the area it will submit the local social leaders to its will. They become a problem for many organizations if they don’t comply.

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Al Jazeera was informed by representatives of the JEP and local environmental defenders that they believed there was a connection between the paramilitary groups that intimidated them and Ecopetrol, the state-owned company behind the fracking project. The company was subsequently Asserted in having tiesSpecifically, the Gulf Clan. Ecopetrol, for its part, has denied all such allegations. Any violence must be condemned towards environmental defenders.

Many contractors and others connected to them [fracking]A representative from JEP told Al Jazeera that projects had links to illegal organizations under the condition of anonymity. Numerous reports have been provided by organizations that have shown how activists and human rights advocates have been killed for opposing extractive oil project. This is a very serious situation.

Anti-fracking mural
A mural de protest against fracking in El Pedral [Inigo Alexander/Al Jazeera]

In recent years, armed groups such as the National Liberation Army or the Gulf Clan have been gaining an increasing foothold at Magdalena Medio. The 2016 dealColombia’s long-running conflict must be ended.

After the Peace agreementGuzman stated that armed groups have seized many of the power vacuums across the country. Many communities are at risk because the state cannot fulfill its primary security provider role.

This year, at least five pamphlets with threats to environmental defenders were distributed throughout Magdalena Medio. They are all attributed the Gulf Clan. Activists like Urquijo, however, remain committed to their cause despite increased intimidation.

Continue because we would rather live for this struggle than die seeing the lands we love destroyed.

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