For more than half a century, Latin America has been a testing ground for American imperialism and its policies of economic shock therapy, resource extraction and covert paramilitary funding. From historic US involvement in military coups in Chile and Guatemala to its arming of narcotraffickers in the Amazonian rainforest, American interests continue to exert a significant influence in the region despite moves toward greater protectionism in places like Venezuela and Brazil.
But it is the United States’ northern neighbor that has become the unlikely public focus for widespread abuses and continued exploitation in South America.
Operating well below the radar of mainstream news media, some of Canada’s largest energy firms – in parity with US-backed national governments – are operating with impunity in Colombia, a nation already afflicted by a nearly 50-year civil war.
Unwelcome to most in the region, corporations like Pacific Rubiales Energy (TSX: PRE), which produces more than 40 percent of crude oil in Colombia, have run roughshod over organized labor, indigenous communities and the environment. It has become directly implicated in surreptitious union-busting activities and even assassinations that threaten an already fragile social fabric. Yet despite reportedly pervasive ecological damage and attacks against workers and basic human rights, such large enterprises repeatedly have ignored the provisions of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – an August 2011 document that at least nominally supports freedom of association and the right to collective negotiation.
In a seminal piece of research titled “Profiting from Repression: Canadian Investment in and Trade with Colombia,” award-winning writer and international affairs expert Asad Ismi provides a 240-page breakdown of corporatist neocolonialism in South America. The report “links ten Canadian companies in Colombia to the genocide of indigenous Colombians, to complicity in eight murders and one attempted murder, to other significant military/paramilitary repression [and] to labour union-busting, strike-breaking and worker exploitation.” To date, it is the only document of its kind.
A major focus of Ismi’s work are primary Canadian oil producers Colombia-Pacific Rubiales, Gran Tierra, Talisman and Petrominerales – and other mining outfits such as Gran Colombia Gold, Eco Oro Minerals and Cosigo Resources. These companies have, at one time or another, been found in violation of basic human rights or as perpetrators of structural violence related to hyper-capitalist resource extraction.
Ismi’s research outlines the interconnectedness of the Colombian state and its various paramilitary outfits but importantly emphasizes the impact of foreign capital on the Colombian economy. Between the United States and Canada, the report states, nearly $10 billion is injected into the country annually. Coincidentally, the majority of that investment reaches the same economic sectors “where state and paramilitary repression is the greatest” – mining and petroleum.
The Canadian and US governments consider Colombia among the most attractive climates for investment in the Global South. By supporting President Juan Manuel Santos’ privatization programs – which include, by their very nature, the violent repression of a majority of the population that opposes them – both states are complicit in anti-union practices that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of vocal dissenters.