In July 2013, a 17 person delegation from Canada traveled to Puerto Gaitan, in the department of Meta, Colombia to partake in a People’s Tribunal on the Extractive Industry in Colombia. This delegation included labour leaders, a member of the Québec National Assembly Parliament and community based organizations. PSAC National Aboriginal People’s Circle member, Sister Terrylynn Brant participated in the delegation.
While in Colombia, the delegation heard heart-wrenching testimony from Indigenous communities about how Pacific had displaced them from their ancestral homelands and polluted their local water sources.
The actual oil wells have been dug right besides Indigenous lands. The primary Indigenous communities impacted by the operations of Pacific Rubiales Energy in the Meta department are the Sikuani. Delegates heard testimonies from Indigenous leaders accusing Pacific Rubiales Energy oil operations of creating water scarcity, contaminating community water wells, using security forces to restrict the movement of Indigenous people on their own land and the stigmatization of those opposed to Pacific Rubiales Energy operations as guerrillas.
Workers described inhumane working conditions at Pacific oil fields and discrimination and repression against those who attempted to speak out and improve those conditions. The Colombian oil workers union, USO (Union Sindical Obrera), was invited to represent oil workers contracted by Pacific Rubiales Energy in Puerto Gaitan due to a series of complaints about working conditions, including the following; poor sanitation and toilet facilities at worker oil camps, cramped living quarters, the use of ‘hot beds’ (a system where one bed is shared by multiple workers using shifts), insufficient access to clean water, employment insecurity due to the use of 28 day contracts and uncompensated labour.
In response, Pacific Rubiales Energy fired 90% of the workers affiliated with USO and used the threat of unemployment to suppress any support for, or activity by, the union. Since 2011, the dispute between the company, its workers and the local population has resulted in numerous labour and human rights violations.
A full report of the Hearings is available, in English on the Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie website.