Article by PBI-Canada

On February 18, the PBI-Colombia accompanied organization CREDHOS tweeted: “Meeting with executives of @AguasdeBarranc1, Sinaltrainal, environmental leaders and #Credhos. Analyzing the contamination situation of the #Cienaga #SanSilvestre and the quality of the water that Barranqueños consume.”

Aguas de Barrancabermeja is a Colombian state-owned utility that provides potable water and wastewater services for the residents of Barrancabermeja (Barranqueños). SINALTRAINAL is a trade union, the National Union of Food Industry Workers.

And Cienaga San Silvestre is the San Silvestre wetland/ecosystem, the source of freshwater to nearly 300,000 inhabitants of Magdalena Medio, including Barrancabermeja.

Semana Sostenible has reported: “The Santander Regional Autonomous Corporation (CAS) authorized, between September 2013 and July 2014, the environmental licenses for the construction of two garbage dumps (Anchicayá and Yerbabuena).”

Dr. Yesid Blanco has written: “In my work as both an environmentalist and a physician I have drawn attention to mercury contamination of the city’s water supply associated with a sanitary landfill that threatens a protected wetland, and I have actively opposed fracking in the region in light of the threat it poses to the water supply, among other reasons.”

That landfill, situated in the village of Patio Bonito in Barrancabermeja, was operated by Rediba (but is now operated by the French transnational Veolia).

Blanco adds: “I participated actively in a campaign to remove the mayor of Barrancabermeja for failing to act to protect the public health and the environment, earning me the wrath of certain local political and economic elites.”

Dr. Blanco was forced into exile in November 2018.

On January 20 of this year, shots were fired at the home of environmental defender Yuli Andrea Velázquez of the Federation of Environmental and Tourist Artisanal Fishermen of the Department of Santander (FEDEPESAN) and the Association of Fishermen of the Swamp of San Silvestre (APESCASAN).

After that attack, El Tiempo reported: “Yuli is recognized in her region for denouncing an alleged corruption with the resources that the [state-owned oil] company Ecopetrol [that operates a refinery in Barrancabermeja] and the Santander Regional Autonomous Corporation (CAS) invest to clean the wetland, unclog the pipes and make an environmental recovery of all the wetlands of Barrancabermeja, especially that of San Silvestre.”

Velázquez believes the motives behind the attack she suffered may be related to her defense of the wetland and the allegations of corruption she has made.

She says: “In the year 2018 that I linked to work with APESCASAN I began to identify the impacts we had in the Ciénaga, the problem with Aguas de Barranca and the health filling of the municipality, which throws its waste into a pipe.”

In March 2019, El Espectador reported that fishers have denounced fish mortality in the San Silvestre spout that they attribute to the Sogamoso dam. Mongabay has also reported that fishers have expressed concern about the nearby Llanito wetland due to the dam.

In November 2019, CREDHOS president Ivan Madero along with Julia Figueroa and Andrea Nocove from the CCALCP legal collective stopped at the Brookfield office in Toronto during a PBI-organized advocacy tour.