Colombia’s National Oil Company in Jardines de Sucumbíos: Blood and Oil

(Translated by Deryn Collins, a CSN Volunteer Translator)

Colombia’s National Oil Company in Jardines de Sucumbíos: Blood and Oil

Friday 19 September 2014 by María Jesús Pinto and Tomás Gisbert

The population of Jardines de Sucumbíos has not remained passive in the face of the humanitarian crisis and being forgotten by the administrative authorities where they live. In 2003 Fundación El Progreso was created to address the serious situation of human rights including the harassment of the civil population by the Armed Forces and the paramilitary groups; the persecution of the community leaders; the continuous fighting; the fumigation of the coca crop without having a replacement program in place and abandonment by the municipal and department authorities. Even the map on the municipal webpage of Ipiales stops abruptly without reaching the limits of Putumayo.

Police Abuses Armed Forces Abuses Right to Life Land Rights Putumayo

“I told the soldiers that they did not come to look after the poor but rather to kill them, and that they come only to care for the oil. We are not going to leave, so send us poison, send us, kill us. But they cannot kill us all: some will remain alive. We will continue the fight but we will not leave here. “
-Words of the Rural Leaders of Jardines de Sucumbíos

On the outskirts of the southern parts of Nariño, on the other side of the Occidental mountain range, there is the village of Jardines de Sucumbíos which forms part of the municipality of Ipiales. The capital city of Ipiales is 17 hours by road from Jardines de Sucumbíos. This alone gives an idea of the absolute abandonment in which this town finds itself.

But cause for the communities’ history of poverty and violence has not been their remoteness, but rather, their location above a sea of petroleum.

Currently, in Jardines de Sucumbíos there are three functioning petroleum extraction wells, property of Ecopetrol. The territory of the village gives continuity to the whole oil containing area of with 109 oil wells in use and production of over 10,500 barrels per day. Through the village passes the Trans-Andean oil pipeline that picks up the crude oil from Putumayo to transport it, crossing the Colombian, from of Villagarzón, Orito and Churuyaco to the port of Tumaco on the Pacific Ocean.

Ecopetrol has been working in the village of Jardines de Sucumbíos with five crude oil wells, three of which are working. The tankers run daily down the only access road to the village which is only repaired to allow the entry and exit of the tractor-trailers loaded with crude oil. When you drive down the road or enter the vicinity, no progress is seen in all these years; nothing is seen of what the extraction of the oil has done for the village. But there is palpable evidence of the violence suffered by the population — violence that in this land of great natural resources is the order of the day.

The last episode of violence against the community was March 17th, when four young people from the village of El Alto Amarradero — Deivi Lopez Ortega, Brayan Yatacué Secué, Jose Antonio Acanemoy y José Yiner Esterilla — were assassinated by soldiers of the Batallón Especial Energético Vial 9 General José Maria Gaitán, under the command of Lt. Coronel Andrés Felipe Arcos Muñoz, member of the Brigade de Selva 27. The army told the media that they were guerrilla members of the FARC-EP killed in an armed attack. The community fiercely rejects this story, given that the four were indigenous and campesinos, active community members, and affiliated with FENSUAGRO. Just as well, it is notoriously known by the community what actually happened this day: the shots heard fired by the community were not an attack but an extrajudicial execution. Unfortunately, the people of this vicinity often suffer shootings and bombings and thus can distinguish the sounds of arms. The inhabitants say that “if they were guerrillas, why did they not capture them alive and bring them to justice?” It has been confirmed that the Army knew who they were, but the extrajudicial executions came in line with the strategy of intimidating the rural indigenous community to force them to leave the territory.

A History of Violence

And it is a violent history, with forced displacements and assassinations, which is long and painful for those living on a frontier, with a strong presence of the Frente 48 de las FARC-EP and the anti-guerrilla battalions of the army. In the first yeas of 2000, they suffered a plague of paramilitary actions, responsible for the displacement of a great part of the inhabitants of the zone, until a bloody combat between the FARC-EP and the paramilitaries of the AUC, who counted on the support of the army so they could escape, ended their presence in the zone. The inhabitants explain that few paramilitaries survived the battle. The stories of the assassinations are rough; since 1998, all kinds of human rights abuses have been carried out by the paramilitaries and the national army in the area.

The population stresses a turning point in 2006. This is when Ecopetrol decided to reactivate production in the oil fields of Jardines Sucumbíos, an area abandoned at the start of the decade of 2000, because of the pressure of constant attack and the presence of guerillas. Because of this, the Batallón Especial Energético y Vial nº 9 “José Maria Gaitán” (BAEEV 9) settled into the vicinity of El Empalme. Los Batallones Especiales Energético y Vial were created as a part of Plan Colombia in 2001 to protect the infrastructure of the mines, attract foreign investment by multinationals and to implement neoliberal extraction politics. Currently, Colombia has 21 mining battalions, 10 of which were created in the last two years, and 80,000 troops, 36 percent of the total troops of the land army.

In 2001, the BAEEV 9 was created, operating in the high Putumayo, in the municipalities of Orito, Valle del Guamuéz and San Miguel. It was not until 2006 that they reached the village. In this year, Ecopetrol bought some land by tricking a local, telling them they were going to build a new extraction site, but in reality it was to house a military base. The military base of BAEEV 9 in the vicinity of El Empalme, of Jardines de Sucumbíos, was installed next to the Batería Sucumbíos de Ecopetrol and right next door to the primary school and houses in El Empalme. It was Ecopetrol which installed the military base on the land bought by the company, land that remained their property. It was Ecopetrol who decided to install the battalion and decided where it would be located.

It hardly mattered that the presence of a military base affected the local civil population. There was not a consultation of any type. The objective was not to bring security to the population, but rather to protect the facilities and Ecopetrol’s extraction of crude oil. The military base and Ecopetrol, ignoring International Human Rights in armed conflict, took advantage of the presence of the local primary school and the civilian population to protect itself from insurgent attacks, putting the school and civilians in a state of permanent risk.

With the Military base came new assassinations. On the afternoon of the 8th September, 2007 locals Simon Corena, Gentil Yascuarán y Feliciano Obando from the vicinity of El Amarradero and Ranchería, were arbitrarily detained by operatives of the Brigada Móvil 13.The next day the army informed the community that the three guerrillas that were corresponding with these people had died in combat, despite the locals’ detainment and despite the fact that it was not until the day following the detention that locals would have been able to hear the gunshots of the alleged battle.

As was expected, the military base attracted the harassment of the insurgency with attacks and bombings. The harassment has not stopped: in 2013 alone, there were five episodes of harassment and bombings with projectiles and cylinder bombs. Many damaged nearby houses and the school and created a climate of terror and anxiety within the neighbourhoods of Bajo and Alto Empalme. The presence of the military base obliged the primary and agricultural schools to move. The community had to fight to get the schools moved and to distance the children from the front line of the fighting, the objective of the harassment. Finally they had to relocate in the Institución Educativa Rural El Empalme, some hundred meters from the old school, placing together primary and secondary school students. Today, the old primary school is empty with a lot of damage to the walls left by the armed attacks. There is no sound of children’s laughter nor the noise of their games, only the scars of the horror of war. As for the children, moving the school has not been enough: the effect of war is permanently in their minds. “The small children wet themselves when they hear gunfire.” “Here you cannot celebrate fiestas with fireworks, as these noises frighten the children.”

The homes next to the military base have also been affected. All the buildings have holes in the roofs, cracks in the walls, and marks left by the inevitable impact of projectiles and bombs. Many of the neighbors in Empalme have abandoned their homes to escape the harassment without warning, others spend the night in the Alto Empalme, located some hundreds of meters from the military base. Not only have the buildings suffered. The people of Empalme have been injured by the bombings, others still needing hospital treatment for the mental trauma of the bombings and many moved to places far from the base.

The people of the vicinity are conscious that the arrival of the Batallón Especial Energético y Vial nº 9 to the area has resulted in an escalation in the violence. Its main function consists of protecting Ecopetrol´s installations and crude oil extraction. Since the presence of the BAEEV9, what were once occasional attacks are now habitual. The warlike hostilities consist of attacks with explosives, mines by the insurgents, and bombings and gun fire by the Air Force of the Army. In the vicinity of the Fronteras del Amarradero, the count of bombs and gunfire are so many that they have left holes in all of the roofs. Rain enters through the roof and “[domestic] animals suffer terror and psychosis when they hear the wings of the helicopters.”

The need for BAEEV9 to show results has caused the harassment and stigmatization of the inhabitants, with a perverse logic, that on many occasions they have had to listen to the military that says that “if you stay in the territory it is because you are guerrillas.” The signs and arbitrary detentions happen continually. More than 30 people from the village are going through judicial processes, many of them incarcerated without the power to count on legal aid for lack of the necessary resources, others have been sentenced. Many of those denounced have been under false accusations, such as having been paid by the benefits of the “demobilization” of supposed members of the guerrillas.

As they go to their farms and return home the inhabitants of the village also suffer arbitrary detention by the military patrols who are sometimes under the influence of drugs. They have been treated badly, humiliated or threatened by the operatives of the Batallón Energético y Vial 9 who try to obtain information, and are released with the advice that they do not reveal the treatment from which they have suffered.

The troops of the BAEEV 9 involve children in the conflict, giving them money in exchange for information and asking them what their parents spend their time doing, where they go and what they do. There is fear in the population about what may happen to the children, given that the army have already raped a Nasa woman, which was reported at the time. They fear that at any moment, young children and women could be sexually abused or raped. This means that the freedom of day-to-day life is severely restricted, and because of this real fear imposed by the army, communities stay in their houses and do not have daily contact with their neighbors, especially when night falls. There is a “defacto” state of curfew.

The permanent presence of the BAEEV9 has made access to the vicinity and farms difficult, with restricted hours and fear of moving around at night. The operatives of the battalion who are stationed in the farms have obliged the locals to stay shut in their ranches without being able to leave for two or three days and up to 20 days trapped on one occasion. The soldiers take without payment of any kind the inhabitants’ goods, like chickens, pigs or the fruit the inhabitants have grown; they break down the fences and contaminate the fisheries. If the crops are lost when the militaries are constantly on the fields, people are left with only what they have on their own small piece of land. Furthermore, the seismic explorations that Ecopetrol carries out in the search for new wells has dried up water wells and other water sources, making it difficult to access this element that is vital for human and animal consumption. All of this is in line the army’s and company’s strategy to leave the population without the food and resources to survive so that they eventually abandon the area.

No one can tranquilly pass through the agricultural lands. The insurgents have continued to plant mines where the army may pass, in many cases close to the cultivated land. The inhabitants of the village know “where the army goes and [they] cannot cross these areas because the army and the insurgents lay mines.” Locals have learned not to leave the pathways and to only enter their houses when they are sure no mines have been laid. Even these precautions have not prevented civilian causalities caused by mines; one local has died and a community leader lost an eye when a mine exploded. The harassment and fear of the population are constant.
The army uses the schools to protect itself, entering without permission, as much in the school in Brisas del Rumiyaco as in the IER El Empalme, even though these are 500 meters from the Military base. Recently, mines have been placed around the IER El Empalme and close to the houses which are near to the Military base.
As a result of the current paramilitary offensive, the glyphosate fumigations and the strong military presence in the village, the forced displacement has reduced the number of inhabitants from 5,000 in the years of 2000 to a little less than 2,800 in 2012.

Abandonment and Resistance

The population of Jardines de Sucumbíos has not been passive in the face of this grave humanitarian crisis and the negligence of administrative authorities. In 2003, the Fundación El Progreso was founded to address the grave situation of human rights in the zone because of the harassment to the civil population by the army and the paramilitaries: the continued war, the fumigation of the coca crops with no replacement program, and the abandonment by the municipal and departmental authorities. Even the map on the municipal webpage of Ipiales stops abruptly without reaching the limits of Putumayo.

Fundación El Progreso is an organization that unites all inhabitants, with no difference to ethnicity nor condition, and which is affiliated at the national level with FENSUAGRO. The united groups are the 13 local councils, the five Indian reservations (Pastos, Nasa, Awá, Kofán) and the three Afro-community groups. Although they have not designed their own political agenda, they have advanced combining mobilization with negotiation.

In October 2009 the inhabitants stopped the production of the three wells for 15 days to attract the attention of the authorities. This prevented the extraction of the crude oil, while ordering investment in education, health and roads and the annexment from the department of Putumayo. The stoppage concluded with the signing of the 2009 agreement with the municipal of Ipiales, with the threat of new stoppages if the agreement was not honored and the peaceful occupation of the Asamblea Departamental in Pasto, to force the realization of more inversion in the zone and the designation of Jardines de Sucumbíos as a village of the municipal of Ipiales. In June 2012 a strike by teachers and students, refusing to pay for transport, turned into a strike by the community in general which forced new agreements. In October of the same year the community cut off the removal of the crude oil for 12 days until an agreement was signed with the mayor of Ipiales and Ecopetrol which, according to the agreement, “would continue with social investment.” In 2012, the community, through the Fundación el Progreso, elaborated a Plan de Desarrollo Integral for Jardines de Sucumbíos.

However, even with the agreements and the investment by the community to mobilize, the threats and violence continue in the village. The inhabitants are conscious, as they say themselves, “they want the area unoccupied for the resources,” “the government does not want to finish the guerillas, it does not want to stop the coca, they want to come here to drill wells and this is why they have sent the army.” We were told “why make agricultural plans in the territory, it is better to negotiate that we are given a house in Orito or Ipiales.” The deeds confirm these affirmations. Ecopetrol reopened three wells that existed in 2006, and started a huge military presence in the zone to protect their own interests with the creation of the Base Militar del Batallón Especial Energético y Vial nº 9. Ecopetrol bought and ceded to the military land for its base. The military presence has not been in the public interest nor has it protected the civilian population. Instead, it has stigmatized them, harassed them, and used them as a human shield. It has even assassinated some of the people. The army has continued to provoke forced displacement and it has acted in favor of private security and the private interests of Ecopetrol. The three functioning wells have a production of close to 230 barrels a day. The company has plans to find 62 more places and it is sure of the existence of oil in 36 of these, meaning production could reach 1,500 barrels a day. Seeing the human price that 230 barrels have cost the inhabitants of the Jardines de Sucumbíos, the question is how much more blood will be necessary for Ecopetrol to take 1,500 barrels of oil daily.

This article forms part of an on-going investigation carried out by
María Jesús Pinto y Tomás Gisbert about the Batallones Energético Viales and their co-existence with the extraction companies.

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