Canadian Extraction in Colombia: The Case of Parex

The following is the English translation of episode 23 of The Ossington Circle. The discussion featured the host Justin Podur, Professor Anna Zalik from York University, activist Manuel Rozental from Pueblos en Camino, and activist Oscar Sampayo from the Environmental and Extractive Studies Group in Magdalena Medio. The discussion focused on the activities of Parex, a Canadian mining company operating in the Colombian region of Magdalena Medio.

Justin: Welcome to the Ossington Circle. This is a special episode, because, well, first it’s in Spanish and second, we have three guests instead of the usual one. The topic today is Colombia and the extractive industry, focusing on the Parex corporation, Parex is a very interesting corporation, with an interesting role in Colombia – I will give the floor to the participants to delve into this topic, We have here Oscar Sampayo, member of the group of extractive and environmental studies of Magdalena Medio. We also have Professor Anna Zalik, professor at York University whose research on extractive industry focuses on the global South. And we have Manuel Rozental, activist with the Pueblos en Camino collective. Manuel has been a guest on this program twice already and probably will return many times in the future. Well, guests, thank you for being here in the circle.

Manuel: Thank you so much Justin, Anna hello, and hello Oscar.

Justin: Okay. Let’s start with Oscar. You are in a research group, investigating the role of extractive industries in Colombia, in Magdalena Medio, tell us a little about the context, the current situation and the role of this company called Parex.

Oscar: Greetings Justin, greetings Manuel, Anna, listeners of the world and America. We are here located in the Magdalena Medio region, in Barrancabermeja, the main port within the coast in Colombia, which recently a multinational upgraded through its auxiliary called Impala, so Barrancabermeja is now largest port that exists today in Latin America. It’s a port of 1.5 km and a half on the river and a depth of 1km.

Barrancabermeja is from 1918, 1910, the main region where oil is extracted and refined. Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Medio is rich in oil, rich in gas and rich in minerals, and in addition Barrancabermeja hosts the Ecopetrol refinery. It refines about 300,000- 350,000 barrels a day. From the territory of the Magdalena Medio is extracted about 200- 210 thousand barrels of oil. Since 1918, we have the presence of multinational companies, extractive companies. We had at the time Tropical Oil Company, which was the local subsidiary of Standard Oil. We had both Standard Oil New York, and Standard Oil New Jersey. We had Shell. In short, we have had the presence of multinationals since 1918 or 1920.

Oil was eventually nationalized – production and refining of oil was nationalized and the creation of Ecopetrol is part of the history of this region. But the multinationals continued to offer the services of extracting oil to Ecopetrol. Ecopetrol has not handled all the production and all the extraction of the oil. It owns the reserve, owns the oil, but all the associated services to be able to extract it have always been contracted with the multinationals.

Justin: Oscar forgive me, but where do the profits of the company go in this scheme?

Oscar: If it is extracted by Ecopetrol it goes to the nation. 90% of Ecopetrol’s profitability goes to the state, to the Colombian state, the country’s public finances, but all the associated services to be able to extract it are offered by multinationals. So Ecopetrol has never been 100% state, the oil is removed Ecoptrol its reserves is owned by Ecopetrol but its associated services, both the maintenance of refining and its extraction in the wells, have always been done by the multinationals. In 2007 Colombia made a public offering of Ecopetrol stock. Ecopetrol went public and 10% of those shares were distributed to the population, some stock packages were created, and 10% of what is now Ecopetrol was sold. In the process, Ecopetrol lost the management of hydrocarbon reserves. In 2007, Ecopetrol becomes a company. The national hydrocarbons agency, which is the office responsible for delivering the oil concepts and awarding the contracts, is created, and Ecopetrol remains as one more company with its assigned blocks but the reserves are now managed by the national hydrocarbons agency. That is a drastic change, a monumental change to what Ecopetrol meant before and after 2007.

Justin: And you can also say that there are implications for the sovereignty of the country over natural resources.

Oscar: We lost that, we lost sovereignty, Justin, we lost the ability to decide. An example: from 1918 to 2007, 600 concessions were given out. Since 2007, we have given out between 6-7000 concessions. We see this national hydrocarbons agency was created just to grant licenses without proper knowledge of the territory, without due rigor to identify the social, economic, and environmental impacts that this type of industry would generate as it is built up over certain territories or over certain environmentally sensitive regions. In the 1960s and 1970s Ecopetrol managed, identified the territory, studied it and granted the licenses. But after the creation of the national hydrocarbons agency, there is a profileration of licensing of oil blocks without due rigorous technical environmental and scientific assessment. The licenses are granted practically in an office in Bogota without identifying and without recognizing the bulk of Colombian territory. That is where the multinational Parex and partners start appearing in the Colombian context.

Justin: Ah. So this company operates under the new regulations that came after 2007.

Oscar: Yes, sir, exactly. After these types of changes in the management of the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons all these companies begin to appear again. Once again the Oxy Andina Company appears, Exxon appears again, BP appears again. Before they had worked with Ecopetrol under very rigorous conditions. Now no. Now these multinational companies were given 100% control over their concessions. They pay a tiny 8% in royalties.

Canadian capital begins to appear in our territory, specifically in the basin of the Eastern plains. Parex starts in Casanare, starting in El Meta, which is an oil rich region, known in Colombia, because it’s very close to the Rubiales oilfield, which was exploited by the Pacific Rubiales company of this Brazilian man, owner of Avianca, Efromovich.

With Eframovich’s contacts from investment funds from Canada, he set out to develop these basins in Colombia. In this context, this multinational Parex appears.

What worries us is that in 2014 Parex directly entered Magdalena Medio in block VMM9. Tihs block is located in the municipality of Simitarra in Santander. That block is destined for the development of a nonconventional deposit using fracking.

In 2015 we saw in several news outlets – business sections – that Ecopetrol had signed an agreement with this company Parex to develop a field near Barrancabermeja, which is the Aguas Blancas field in the municipality of Simacota. Since then we’ve discovered that Parex has interests in several blocks in Magdalena Medio. We have heard some very worrying facts about Parex in Casanare and El Meta on the eastern plains. At the moment Parex extracts 29 thousand barrels of oil in the block NL34, is where it has its largest production. It extracts around 17,516 thousand barrels in 2016. The plan of this company is to extract 60 thousand barrels by 2022, focusing on the eastern plains and Magdalena Medio.

What concerns us is that Parex has arrived in the territory without any environmental document, no assessment, no meetings or information for the communities where it will do its work. There is no public information about the magnitude of the activities that are going to be performed. We see a certain, revising of the financial, we see a certain latitude of both the Colombian state and institutions not to require the payment of taxes for the exploitation of these resources.

Justin: And these are sensitive ecosystems? What are the environmental impacts, which can be predicted or anticipated?

Oscar: The part of the Magdalena Medio where they are operating is close to two sensitive protected areas: one that is the area of the Serranía de los Yariguies, a beautiful mountain range, with a wealth of fauna and flora impressive in that national park of yariguies. Many migratory birds arrive from the US and Canada to spend the winter. Besides that, it is the source, the mountain range of the yariguíes is the source for the water for around 40 municipalities in Santander. Thanks to the mountains of yariguies we have these marshes, and all this marshy complex, wetlands, lakes, swamps, in the middle cupola that make up about 50 totally beautiful marshes, where you can find the Manati. Where Parex is performing its activities is habitat for the American Jaguar. The jaguar is a sensitive species, environmentally protected and at risk of extinction. Here in Barrancabermeja we watch it, it sleeps 40km from Barrancabermeja, but it sleeps in a habitat full of oil wells, of African palm, that if we do not stop, that American jaguar is going to disappear. They are very sensitive ecosystems, they are ecosystems and very delicate regions with lots of water but also with a lot of oil.

Justin: Will communities also face displacement due to this project?

Oscar: That is the position of development, these extractive projects, have this as a consequence. A concrete case, on a farm, a land owner of 100 hectares, they only buy 3 or 4 hectares, These 4 hectares make an activity so polluting, totally aggressive that ends up affecting the remaining 60, then the peasant has no recourse but to move to seek new conditions. What activities can be imposed next to oil activities? The African palm or the oil palm, then that is the option that the peasant will move to – forced to cultivate oil palm, disturbing and affecting nature, and establishing a monoculture, all for the logic of foreign capital.

Justin: Let us switch now to Prof. Anna Zalik to ask about how these companies work in the world, unless Oscar there is something else you want to add before this.

Oscar: No, so far, I’ll leave it there so that Anna and Manuel continue to expand on this what happens when this type of capital is arriving in a small territory — not only here in Colombia but in the rest of Latin America.

Justin: Anna, you’ve researched the role of these extractive companies. We gave you some time to do a little research specifically about Parex. Can you give us a panoramic view, and some details you discovered about Parex?

Anna: Thanks to all of you. I am learning a lot now through Oscar, about this story. In the research I did to prepare today, I was reviewing works by a historian colleague, Stefano Tijerina, and some work on Canadian imperialism, by Todd Gordon and Jeffrey Webber. I was going through through Stefano’s work concerning Canadian companies and capital and how Canadian firms took advantage of the competition between the empires of US and Great Britain during the twentieth century to enter Colombia. The United States did not want England to have a very significant role in Colombia, and thus Canada could take advantage of that. In that area there are several parallels with Mexico where I have conducted most of my work in Latin America.

Mexico after the revolution, nationalized the oil industry, and this was a very significant moment historically, which frustrated the very powerful oil companies of England and USA, which were Shell, Standard Oil (The Mexican subsidiaries were El Aguila –Shell_ and the Huasteca Oil Company – Standard Oil of Pennsylvania).

Colombia is passing through a stage with several parallels with Mexico. So Oscar explained after 2007 in Colombia, Canadian companies are benefiting from the process of privatization of the oil industry. In trying to better understand what Canadian companies are doing in Mexico, I have gone in to look at the financing through a Canadian government export promotion agency (the Export Development Corporation or EDC), a type of credit agency that seeks to promote Canadian industry in the southern countries. Because also before it was difficult for the countries of the south to finance controversial projects with companies like Shell. What I have seen is the way that Parex is doing, entering into transactions that are compiled on the EDC’s website, and I see a lot of financing of Parex, of Ecopetrol, la Gran Tierra, which is another Canadian company working in Colombia. So the EDC’s public filings are supposed to be a way for civil society organizations to find information, to see if the necessary environmental assessments have been done. What I’ve seen is that according to the EDC’s regulations for financing, the environmental assessments that should be there, are not available on the web.

Justin: So the company hasn’t met the environmental assessment requirements for financing.

Anna: It is a bit unclear in the sense that the EDC states that businesses must make these documents public if they fit into certain categories of social and environmental impact and petroleum extraction certainly fits under these categories. The EDC has categories A and B, but one can’t find any Colombian project in Category B on the EDC’s site. And the EDC says if it isn’t on our site, it must be published by the company somewhere else. But it is not on Parex’s site either. No social or environmental impact studies. (Some ofthis arises from the category of ‘financing’ which EDC uses instead of project in many cases and which requires less reporting. But presumably all of the ‘financed’ activities are associated with a project undertaken by Parex. As such, Parex is expected to report on these activities.

Oscar: Justin and Anna, sorry to interrupt. The method that you were commenting on Anna, is that when we have sat in at Parex operations in Colombia, they say that because they are partners of Ecopetrol they have no obligation to present these documents.

When they came to do work at Aguas Blancas near Barrancabermeja, we asked for the environmental assessment, where they are obliged to account for the totality of fauna and flora that was there in these four territories. To date 2017, June 26, we do not have those documents and they have not been delivered to the community, but they have already drilled 5 to 6 wells. We also ask ourselves that, how a company can operate without any environmental assessment in Colombia or if it is operating through an environmental assessment delivered to a third party – which in this case is Ecopetrol.

Anna: I imagine you know this issue very well, Oscar. Justin maybe with today’s discussion we can start this process and do the type of campaign to start some kind of pressure. They obviously don’t want people to know because they fear any kind of public pressure or accountability. The problem is also that Parex has projects that are not developed with in partnership with Ecopetrol. It has projects in Casanare, and other places where Parex does not have Ecopetrol as a partner. Even in these projects they are not disseminating the data, so there is certainly no excuse, saying it’s Ecopetrol who must show that data. It is a similar strategy (that international, including Canadian) companies use in Mexico with PeMex, they are going to say that all responsibility Is PeMex. This is how they work in any country in the South: they always put the responsibility on the government or hide behind the state oil companies. I think we should call the EDC to demand that this data be made public.

Justin: I have another question for you Anna. Here in Canada, when a company wants to do an extractive activity there is a requirement to consult for example with indigenous communities. When a Canadian company operates, for example in Colombia, does it have this obligation to consult with indigenous communities if it is indigenous territory?

Anna: I’d like to say yes, but actually, no. In Canada through judicial decisions, we now have what is called, the duty to consult. It is not free, prior informed consent, which is what should be required under the UN declaration on indigenous rights and the ILO. There is, however, in Canada at least the duty to consult (and accommodate) which indigenous communities can use to make (some legal) demands against companies. When Canadian companies operate in other countries they don’t have such obligations.

Justin: Anna, do you have anything else? Or do you or Oscar have questions for each other? Or can we continue with Manuel?

Anna: Let’s continue with Manuel and see.

Justin: Okay, Manuel. It was your idea to do the program, to investigate the activities of this company at the Canadian and Colombian level. I don’t know if you want to deepen this idea or give another view of the context.

Manuel: Yes, thank you Justin, Anna and Oscar. As Anna said, I’m learning a lot, from this exchange and have learned from Justin over the years; Anna, I have heard about some of your work in Mexico where I have been living until very recently, and Oscar and his environmental studies group (GEAM) are exemplary people in a very difficult context.

I would like two things: First to give listeners the context about where Oscar is. The Magdalena Medio is a region that has been affected since the beginning of the Spanish Conquest by a particular strategy of conquest: terror. In the Magdalena Medio, war, the different forms of violence, have been used from the outset seeking the extinction of the Indigenous Yarigui who resisted the Spanish. That same strategy of terror and extinction remains the emphasis of conquest today.

The second, that maybe Oscar can comment later and that would be very important, is to give listeners background in case they don’t know Colombia. And it is precisely that the first great oil concession of Colombia was made in that region and the extractive management of oil resources has everything to do with that first oil concession: the Mares concession. That region of the Magdalena Medio and particularly the city of Barrancabermeja are also the heart of Ecopetrol, the Colombian petroleum company, the state oil company in Colombia. After Mares and after the Magdalena Medio there are other discoveries, but extractivism of oil, conquest and its history start from this region, so that both the changing patterns of extractivism and the conquest as of resistance, of the different forms of resistance, have a long and fundamental history precisely in this region where Parex enters, in an illegal, abusive, authoritarian way with the complicity of the national hydrocarbon agency (ANH) of the Colombian state. This region is a microcosm of the history of the conquest not only of Colombia. It goes further, it is a model, a living story that perpetuates itself on how the conquest to extract wealth has been: the extractivist conquest for the accumulation of global capital. This is a question, for that open and ongoing story that I leave to Oscar but I think I can comment on something briefly. Something that seems very important to me to understand about the territory where Parex and its extractivism now imposes itself. What is happening is not new to the region.

What is new is that people like Oscar and the GEAM who are trying to defend territories, resources, and even demanding compliance with regulations through legal channels, are people who are particularly at risk. For Oscar to speak as he is speaking now is dangerous to do so even after the signing of peace agreements (between the FARC and the state), it’s terribly risky, for one reason: to a large extent, peace agreements are signed – we know – to allow greater dispossession and greater extractivism in territories of the Magdalena Medio. There, where we see the presence of the FARC, the Colombian state signed the peace accords, the FARC are concentrated and demobilized. Now two groups are expanding their presence throughout the country: 1. paramilitaries and death squads with different names, and 2, openly, the huge extractive and infrastructure projects at the service of transnational corporations. That is to say, the peace agreements in Colombia are not understood if the extractive megaprojects are not put in perspective. It is this fundamental point that I wanted to expose in terms of context. These are the two first things I wanted to say. It is in this context that I wanted to set up this conversation, to show what the environmental group (GEAM) and Óscar have discovered in Magdalena Medio: the way Parex is entering a territory to do fracking, cause environmental disasters and go beyond the law and the ethical obligations that obviously do not matter here for the Canadian transnational oil company.

What is happening here, in the Magdalena Medio, fits in a larger context that I would like to comment on and I will do it quickly. Here is a problem and a challenge for the people of Canada and the people of Colombia, and it is the problem of destruction of nature, of the destruction of an ecosystem. To be able to destroy nature and ecosystems and to accumulate with the extraction of petroleum one has to do something, that they are doing at the moment, and you have to count on what they are counting at the moment, and that is exactly what we are trying to break with this type of communications: the innocence, the unconsciousness and the disinformation of the people. If people were informed and aware, such abuses and crimes would not occur. So there is a strategy in many areas to prevent people from understanding what Oscar and Anna have already talked about.

Today, I can be in my home, in my territory, live as a community, in my territory, and today, a transnational corporation, particularly a Canadian oil or mining company, throughout the Americas, may have made a agreement with government authorities (in this case of Colombia), violating the law, to enter my territory, my very house, without the people realizing. Enter my house and destroy my ecosystem, expel me from my territory. People will not have the knowledge to defend themselves and if they try to defend themselves, they will suffer legal attacks, media attacks, intimidation, legal accusations, persecution of different groups and even the application of terror and death.

Global power today is transnational corporations and in particular transnational extractivist corporations everywhere. That is the fundamental social actor. That social actor has supplanted the people, the citizenry, before the state. Today the role of states is not the defense of human rights, because the subject, the legal person, whose rights the state has to defend, are transnational corporations. No longer the people. That is why it is the same in every country where there are extractive projects by transnational corporations: the same as in Colombia. However, the discourse in both Canada and Colombia, with great differences and specificities, the discourse of states and the legal framework, apparently defends territories, ecosystems and people, both in Canada and in Colombia. While in practice, the role of the Canadian State, EDC and other entities cited as the role of the Colombian state openly and covertly is to protect the interests of transnational corporations. Behind this there is corruption. Behind this there is a violation of the law, but above all there is a lot of money, and the money from transnational corporations and their profits count more than any other priority. That’s what people are not clear about.

If you open the Parex website, and investigate, one can begin to discover inconsistencies, but above all you discover a page prepared for investors. It is a page that promises to extract increasing amounts of oil and increasing profits for those who put their money into these extractive projects of Parex. This is how Parex is promoted. So, one sees in the page easily the plans for how they are going to get more oil, how the people that invest in Parex will make more money and that is the function of Parex: to attract more money of investors in search of profits, to remove the Magdalena Medio’s oil. But what we have just heard is that the oil that profits investors and Parex is at the cost of destruction.

The second thing we see on the page is necessarily false propaganda of the guarantee of the protection of the environment and of “social responsibility” with the communities. Things that have no basis in reality. Both Parex and other Canadian oil and mining extractive transnationals do exactly the same thing, promise money to some and guarantee it in words that will not harm the environment or the communities. What they promise, they also promise to communities in Colombia and many people do not know the impacts of fracking. They do not know what an extractive transnational corporation is doing without prior consultation and with the risk that is run. That is a fundamental point and Parex is no exception. On the contrary, it exemplifies the behavior and interests of transnational corporations of its type.

The essential point to make in this conversation, is that people in Canada, as Anna said, if people in Canada learn that a corporation that has its headquarters there is committing irregularities, is not transparently proposing information for the sale to the public of investment opportunities, covering up what is actually knowingly doing, the damage fracking is doing in different places in Colombia. That all this is being done with the support of the Canadian government. Because the people of Canada do not know. The people have been deceived or do not want to know what in their government and the corporations based in that country are doing in mining and extractivism, in the Parex case and in many other cases of many extractive corporations and throughout the continent and beyond.

And also, every time the citizenry has become aware, breaking the siege of lies and deceit, of propaganda, demanding that its government and corporations comply, each time they wake up to defend nature, territory, dignity and compliance with the laws that remain, the impact of coherent actions is greater when there are actions in Canada for the benefit of the peoples and of these territories, than when people act alone in the countries and territories affected, persons or groups representing the defense of peoples and territories. In solitude locally, they end up being repressed, judicialized, imprisoned or isolated for the extractive project to develop. This is the fundamental issue.

The other point I want to make, and it is very large and very generalized, I will set the example this way: From the beginning of the conquest of this continent, from the misnamed “discovery”, Portugal and Spain, they claimed for themselves the Americas and half the world. They met each other on the return of Columbus to Portugal with evidence of the existence of this continent, to divide the world with the mediation of the Pope and the Catholic Church. The Pope divides the planet in agreement with the kings of Spain and Portugal in Tordecillas. Half for the Portuguese and the other half for the Spanish. That is why the map of South America has half the continent as Brazil and the other half the Spanish speaking countries. That madness, at a time when they did not even know the territories, did not know which peoples lived there, condemned to the inexistence and the service of economic gain for Portuguese and Spanish this entire continent, and condemned to slavery and extinction the peoples of this continent. It is ancient history, recognized and ignored, but it is precisely what I want to highlight here. At this time, transnational corporations have divided the world as did Spain and Portugal in Tordecillas. They fight between them to stay with territories, and Petrosur fights with Petro Andina, and other oil and mining companies fight to hold their territories and riches. But that’s an internal fight, between corporations. On this side, the peoples and territories have no defense. They are dividing the planet without knowing it to take away riches and territories, but with a difference. Today is a planet that is almost completely occupied. There is nowhere else to go. If capitalism wants to extract more oil later, there is no later and there is no more planet. We are reaching the limit of the planet.

These extractive projects like those of Parex are the final threat of destruction of the planet, against which capital has to eliminate the surplus population, eliminate the corporate competition and the resistance that the biggest capitalists face to stay with everything and everything leave all the wealth, in particular, energy and water wealth, in very few hands and very few corporations. Why do I say this? I do not say it to put it in an interesting theory. I say this because in practice, the Parex case, puts forth something very clear: If Parex continues with the fracking; if it has converted the National Agency of Hydrocarbons of Colombia, that was created just to deliver Colombian ecosystems and resources to the transnationals in exchange for the destruction of these same; if this is done and we do not take action in Canada and Colombia to prevent it, we agree that the last reserves of life, water, oxygen, oil and energy sources, minerals and biodiversity disappear and be destroyed by the greed of a few with all power.

Parex is unable to see the destructive consequences of lying to the people and the destructive consequences of performing extractivism, do not see it, do not understand it, because its norm, its necessity is to make the most amount of gain in the least amount of time.

From that side, from accumulation by destruction, as Héctor Mondragón calls it, they are. On this side is Oscar, is the population affected, there are the Canadians who decide to open their eyes and we are all and all conscious or unconscious, because the life of this planet and ours as humanity is at stake.

That is the intention to make known these facts: we must demand from Parex transparency, the Canadian government transparency, the people of Calgary, Alberta of Canada who has the capacity to be made aware that these are crimes. Crimes committed in complicity with governments like Colombia and other governments of the continent and crimes that threaten to destroy the life of the entire planet. The Lakota Sioux in the United States rose up against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the whole world found out becausee of their efforts. We in Canada and Colombia have to stop these projects that will also affect the own children of the owners of the Parex Corporation and the senior government officials. We have to stop profit at the cost of death, self destruction.

My last sentence is this: in this context the government of Colombia, pressured by Canadian transnationals and others, modified its mining code to give the country to mining extractivism years ago. The Canadian government, as listeners heard Anna explain, generates structures to legally, politically and economically favor the illegal extractivism of transnational corporations, but the whole illegal framework leaves the responsibility to the governments of the affected countries. So Colombia creates, for example, the National Hydrocarbons Agency, whose purpose is to prevent Ecopetrol from having control over reserves. In other words, as Oscar said, the specific intention behind the creation of the National Hydrocarbons Agency is to give riches and territories to transnational corporations that can destroy territories and peoples without any consequences and without political obstacles. That’s what it’s all about. So here is a complicity. Let us summarize: when greed is sacred, stealing is law. But that kills us and destroys the territories. Defending the territories of the Magdalena Medio and the rest of the country of the fracking and defending them from Parex, is to defend life in both Canada and Colombia, and this case is one of those who put on the table the complicities of who govern us, of the transnationals and the need for consciousness among the people.

Justin: Thank you Manuel. Oscar, maybe you want to elaborate on the specific context of the Magdalena Medio that Manuel mentioned.

Oscar: In Barrancabermeja, exactly in the El Centro district, was discovered the second oilfield in Colombia. The first was the Tubara well in 1883, with an important production of hydrocarbons, and the second well was Infantas II. The story of that well is something particular, that well was given to Joaquin Bohórquez, a man who began in 1904 to frequent the territory and realized the presence of chapapote. Chapapote was the viscous substance, it was oil, but the chapapote guided the Yarigui to the oil. On the corregimiento El Centro, very close to the Infantas Creek, there was presence of chapapote and it was above sea level. This Mr. Joaquin Bohórquez didn’t have the capital to develop his oilfield so he negotiates with a man named Roberto de Mares, we are talking about 1908-1910. This Mr. de Mares, equally is not able to do the job of developing it so he sells his titles, goes to the United States, New York, Houston and get some investors, brings a few Americans to the territory and so begins the Tropical Oil Company.

The Tropical Oil Company drill this well Infantas II on November 27, 1918. In 2018 it will celebrated 100 years. So in 1918 begins all that is known in the development of oil and the extractive industry of what is Colombia today. The Tropical Oil Company, then, is a company of the Standard Oil Company or Mr. Rockefeller. Because of the antitrust situation in the US, the Tropical Oil Company becomes the owner of Standard Oil New Jersey. And after that, somewhere in 1948-50, presumably before giving it to Ecopetrol, Canadian capital appears, seizing or buying from Standard Oil New Jersey these positions at El Centro. So Canadian capital is not recent in Colombia.

It’s a very interesting thing, it’s a lot of historical material from here in Barranca, including at the Glenbow museum ( In that museum there is a lot of anthropological and historical material about how these companies like the Tropical Oil Company murdered the Yarigui. It was allowed, as a sort of norm, of ordinances, that indigenous people could be murdered. Then the indigenous yariguies are exterminated by the implantation of these extractive projects also in the territory.

Some time later, in 1964, in a territory very near here in Barrancabermeja, the creation of a movement to demand a change in the economic and social situations of the country.

When extraction began at the Mares oil field, the maximum peak of the extraction was 40 thousand barrels. Production was supposedly nationalized or becomes Ecopetrol in 1954. Between 1954 and 2008 that production is reduced to only 4 thousand barrels per day, from 54 thousand that were taken in 1954 to 4 thousand that were taken in 2007. In 2007 the Mares concession is given to Oxy, other capitals there of Houston and elsewhere in the US. And today that field, La Cira, of the El Centro block, is extracting about 38 thousand barrels per day.

We have seen through history, how the different administrations of Ecopetrol are harmful to it. Their practices cause the deterioration of mature fields. They call them unproductive and give them to third parties who then revive them. This is how the Magdalena Medio is divided, it is taken up by companies like Exxon, Oxy, Shell, and also Canadian capitals that have been present in Colombia or watching it since 1918 and were in the territory until 1960. They avoided the conflict in Colombia and now they have begun to return to finish the work they started in the early decades of the last century.

Justin: I want to go back to Canada. Anna, 10 or 15 years ago I discovered this book that was published in the 70’s: The genocide machine in Canada (Davis and Zakis, Black Rose Books 1973), and it deals with mining companies in Northern Canada and the idea is that Canada specifically developed an extractive model because extracting in the north is expensive and the idea is to extract as much as possible in the least time and leave communities destroyed, and they presented this picture of a Canadian model of extraction that has been exported to Latin America, Africa and other parts of the world, that this type of extraction imposed on indigenous communities of Canada and exported to the world. Anna, I know you’ve studied this type of extraction and studied fracking, so maybe you can comment on this idea.

Anna: You were the one who told me about the book, by the way. To your question: there are several practices that had to do with the discrimination and violence against indigenous communities that started in Canada. South Africa’s apartheid pracices were modeled on the Canadian reserve system. It is a story of settlers and imperialists and these major companies. There are several facets, but many large trading companies, for example, British and Dutch, were important in these processes of imperialism.

There is one thing I would like to comment, about what Manuel said. I completely agree with what he said about extractivism and the system in which all capitals are linked in a process of displacing people to seize resources in a way that has serious consequences throughout the world. But to try to be optimistic, I know that the companies are afraid of people finding out about these things. I have seen commentary by people who have observed the oil price drop that have made it impossible to sustain jobs in the oil sands. It is a small part of the story and I know that companies are leaving the oil sands in pursuit of offshore oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in the deep ocean, at a very significant level and the explanation for that is because intercession has already been made in these deep deposits and even with fracking it remains viable to produce, since the investments are already made. But one of the reasons for this is because people have organized to confrnt the extractive industry in land areas and industry has responded by going out to sea to avoid social conflict on the ground. Many people have been murdered by the extractive industry, by private armies and national armies used in their service, but I also want to recognize that people’s organization and strategies have forced the companies to change their strategies too. So the people have to keep on top of this, in that sense it is like a game of “whack-a-mole”, as a friend of mine put it. I am not sure how to say that in Spanish.

Justin: Haha, that game, Manuel, you know the game where the moles pop up and you have to hit each one as it comes up?

Manuel: The idea of this game is exactly the idea behind what the Zapatistas call ‘la hydra capitalista’, or the Hydra, which has many heads.

Justin: Yes, yes.

Anna, Ah, yes. So activists against pipelines in Canada have this experience. They launch a pipeline, people mobilize against it, industry stops it and starts another one. I don’t want to make the claim that we are wiping out capitalism with this kind of social mobilization because we will need something much deeper, but what I would like to point out is that through a mobilization or better starting here to work together with people in Colombia who have already faced a lot of risk and threat to their lives in their work as I imagine Oscar has, that we should start to insist that what is happening be made public, and I think we can have an impact. There is a way to have an impact, that we can have some successes through collective action, we can have successes here and there.

Justin: That is the point that I take from what you’re saying Anna: the defense of the earth, can succeed, it is possible to succeed, in spite of the power of this machine.

Anna: We are going to have to defend the areas of the seas, those that are outside of territorial waters because they are already trying to go there.

Justin: Yes but you can look at it like this … if we can push them to the sea maybe we can push them to interstellar space. Oscar, Manuel, you want to say something … Oscar we started with you, if you want to finish something.

Oscar: No, thank you Justin, thank you also Manuel and obviously to Prof. Anna, for this space, and the idea is to continue weaving, to see there in Toronto or in Calgary, the situation of this company Parex, and as discussed by Prof. Anna, the lack of environmental documents required for Parex, as it operates alone, here in several blocks. It should have to provide documentation for those projects, which are demanded by both the government of Canada and the stock exchanges. The projections for Magdalena Medio in 2020 are for extraction of far too much oil, coal, too much gas, and we need to be able to stop that, because the sacrifice will be high, different animals, different living beings will be harmed, and we, the inhabitants of this region, rich in water, abundant in water, are going to be displaced so that water can be used to frack hydrocarbons. We cannot continue in that logic, to enrich a few as Manuel said. And the idea is that Anna, that we can arrive with this voice, and provide evidence that a series of investments are being made with many inconsistencies and being imposed against the interests of the communities, the law and the rules. That cannot be allowed today.

Justin: Yes, we’ll start with this program, we’ll translate it into English, and we’ll put it wherever we can, and we’ll continue with this, we’ll try to make a campaign about it. Manuel you have the last word to conclude.

Manuel: There is no last word! But I would like to comment on two things, in terms of what to do, how fantastic this amount of information in this short time and with people who know the subject as much as Anna and Oscar.

I would propose two tasks in initial campaign terms from what was said.

One: We have to demand documents and compliance with environmental regulations starting with Canada, that is to say we have to ask questions in Canada and I think, it seems to me that what we hear, to make that demand in Canada, however preliminarily, will allow us to begin to make this type of demand among different environmental groups, and social projects and movements in Colombia. Then we move on the side of compliance and non-compliance with norms and nonexistent information or contradictions. This is very important in the framework of this extractive project, directing ourselves to investors, which is what Parex would care about, and the Government of Canada in terms of the irregularities being committed. Under this scope to ask questions, and that the questions reach the people of Canada within the framework of what Oscar already told us, what is happening with Parex in the Magdalena Medio.

The other thing is precisely is to emphasize the need to save the Magdalena Medio from destruction. The Yariguí, never submitted to the conquest, never stopped resisting and for that reason they faced extermination, that is to say, they had the dignity of not accepting a project that threatened its territory and in doing so they preferred to die than to undergo this type of project. We have to build around the idea of defending the Magdalena Medio, its wealth and beauty that are being attacked now.

The second: I totally agree with Anna in that optimism, that’s precisely why I point out what I pointed out, look … we have just completed a seminar with two people from Guatemala, a researcher on the whole war in Guatemala and an outstanding Indigenous activist, Isabel Solis, who is telling us how people in Guatemala are now defeating extractivism all over the country. The problem is that they are not sufficiently aware of how many different groups and communities are doing it across the country and have not linked up but they are doing it despite repression and despite the mafias.

A mayor of Panama was telling us of both contradictions and struggle, the extraordinary capacity of resistance of the people and in his words: the resistance is actually more powerful than the aggression. The problem is that it is hidden, it doesn’t registers and does not coordinate. But that is another reason for optimism.

And in Peru, we know that the Ayacucho people have been able to stop mining extractivism, they have done it. The struggles are there.

Mapuche women, despite the aggression, monocultures and extractivism, are guarding seeds and strengthening their territory, the problem they have is coordination and awareness to make it possible for people to resist together.

The director of OCMAL, Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina, told us exactly what you told us Anna, which, for example, big projects like Barrick Gold, Pascua Lama, between the Argentine-Chilean mountain range are projects that are have become so costly, because of the struggle of the people, they have been practically abandoned at least temporarily.

There is resistance to a project of oil extraction off the coast of Brazil.

And that the social cost has grown that although there are hydra and other heads appear, what if has been demonstrated is that when the peoples rise to consciousness from the territories and have backing, then the transnationals although they do not admit it, are being defeated.

The last example that I want to give is the most important. Emiliano Teran, I recommend reading his exceptional book, La Fantasma de la Gran Venezuela. Without that research, one does not understand what is in Venezuela, does not understand what happened in Libya, what is happening now, nor understand Syria, nor Ukraine. What does he say in that very serious and optimistic political and historical investigation? He says in essence is that there is a triad, first the oil, second the state as administrator of the oil that is delivered to the transnationals, and third, the people, descendants of those extractive industries.

That triad is the history of Venezuela. When a situation like this arrives in which the oil sands of the Orinoco, which impose an unprecedented environmental destruction, a destruction of indigenous communities and culture without precedent and in the context of falling prices of oil and high extraction and environmental costs of these methods of tar sands and fracking, etc. are leading to a deep crisis in the extractive industry, and in that context will be the crisis of Venezuela, which leads to a context and a situation that if Venezuela continues to depend on oil, whether progressive government or right-wing government, the only possibility is the destruction of that country, its regions and its cultures.

People today are understanding it, when you can not get toilet paper, you can not drink coffee, you can not bake because there is no flour, people are planting, exchanging seeds, protecting the water, fighting – despite what the media tell us — not to fall as Syria has fallen into a situation of war that only serves capital. They are trying desperately to prevent that war in Venezuela. Now Venezuela is physically very close to the Magdalena Medio that Oscar is talking about, and it is absolutely necessary to understand it to understand what we’re talking about here. So I’m optimistic here as Anna, and I think that you can only be optimistic if we understand and face aggression. Because from the villages and territories it can be defeated. The biggest problem we have is awareness and action and that is why I believe that these kinds of exchanges are wonderful and hopefully the beginning of a task that continues so I am very grateful to all of you.

Justin: Yes, we will keep in touch and maybe do a part 2 in a few months to see where we are. Many thanks Manuel, Anna Zalik, Óscar Sampayo, many thanks for being here, friends.

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction.