As the world remains embroiled in a triple environmental, social, and economic crisis, the Colombian government has embarked on an ambitious plan to boost natural resource extraction. While the government is presenting its plan as a solution to these crises, unbridled exploitation of natural resources is actually one of the principal causes, particularly in the Colombian context. Meanwhile, Colombia’s social movements are struggling to establish a just and lasting peace that can put an end to the social, political, and armed conflict that has engulfed the country for more than 50 years. Social movements are proposing concrete ideas to address the structural causes that fuel the conflict – land use and natural resource exploitation being at the top of the list. They are also putting forth alternative development models.
The lack of enforcement of Colombia’s already lax labour laws is putting working class communities at risk while megaprojects in the mining and energy sector are encroaching on the lands used by small farmers and indigenous communities. National and international legal mechanisms have thus far failed to protect the rights of both rural and urban communities from these threats. Furthermore, environmental legislation is not equipped to guarantee a healthy environment in the face of projects of such an ambitious scale. State and national governments are thus putting the food security of millions of people at risk by favouring foreign direct investment at the expense of projects and policies put forth by local communities themselves.
By pursuing bilateral free trade agreements, the Colombian government is eroding its own national sovereignty. These agreements are accompanied by policies that leave millions in poverty and further feed the social and armed conflict. The government and the multinational companies that operate in Colombia are thus directly involved in a war that they stand to benefit from. Having signed the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) in 2011, the Canadian government signalled its intent to promote greater Canadian involvement in Colombia despite the fact that the underlying causes that still fuel Colombia’s 50-year civil war are far from being resolved. Colombia is still recognised as one of the most dangerous places in the world for human rights defenders. Data from the SIADDHH, a Colombian watchdog group that keeps track of human rights violations, shows that attacks on human rights defenders have gone up by 49% in the past year. A total of 69 human rights defenders were murdered in 2012, the highest number of such murders in a decade 1. Of particular concern for Canadians is that the preliminary conclusions of the Alternative Report on the impacts of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement 2 indicate that Canadian foreign direct investment has contributed to this deteriorating situation. Toronto-based Pacific Rubiales Energy is one such example.