What will Petro do in the face of the privatization of the public force?

By Juan Pablo Soler (from Revista Raya) (Spanish)
Photo: Eviction of about 400 peasants affected by Hidroituango /Photo: Ríos Vivos

The review of secret documents of the Ministry of Defense, carried out by Senator Iván Cepeda revealed the millionaire contracts of the public force with public, mixed and private companies of the Colombian mining and energy sector between 2002 and 2014. The partiality and irregularity with which the Police and the National Army may act may be closely related to their financing.

In 2013 in the Vuelta del Bombillo, when crossing the Cauca River, peasant communities affected by Hidroituango made use of their legitimate right to social protest to call attention to their violated rights. They were immediately repressed by the ESMAD, whose agents, without mediating words, used their pepper gas and rubber bullets against the population. They did not care that there were elderly and minors, nor that several of them rolled down the slope and suffered contusions, nor that they did not receive medical attention. The only thing that mattered to them was to open the road so that the company could continue operating.

The following day, nearby Valle de Toledo, the ESMAD turned up while a community meeting was taking place and forcibly loaded 87 people into police trucks. Although mass arrests are illegal, this was not an obstacle for the police to try to break up the peasant demonstration in this way.

On the third day, despite the fact that the community was gathered in a private property, the police broke down the fence and threw down the pots where breakfast was being prepared. This last encounter was the trigger for several inhabitants to leave the area walking towards Medellín, where they were sheltered at the University of Antioquia, leading to a forced displacement that lasted for more than seven months.

Two years later, in November 2015, in a Senatorial Hearing convened by Iván Cepeda, we understood that these and other actions correspond to a systematic exercise derived from the agreements of the public force with different companies.

The review of the secret documents of the Ministry of Defense, carried out by the Senator and his work team (of which no copies or photographs were allowed), revealed the millionaire contracts of the public force with public, mixed and private companies of the Colombian energy mining sector between 2002 and 2014:

Between 1990 and 2014, more than 1,229 secret cooperation contracts were signed for the installation of Special Energy and Road Battalions -BAEEV- and Special Operations Centers for the Protection of Critical and Economic Infrastructure of the State -COPEI-. This figure does not include the operations of recent years derived from the expansion of the extractive frontier or the possible cooperation agreements signed directly by the battalions.

The different agreements recurrently cite that they are to act against terrorist threats that can generate damage to the environment and national security, but what happens when the damage to the environment is generated by the company that finances them? Imagine here a diligent environmental authority that, in order to carry out an environmental inspection, must announce its visit days before to the company and also coordinate it with the public security forces paid by the offending companies. It is not a minor matter, there are more than 68,000 men who are part of these contracts, that is, more than 15% of the total armed forces in 2015.

An aspect that would also be worth analyzing in the face of the energy transition to understand the environmental impacts involved in the operation of these battalions, which involves carbon emissions that never appear in the accounts of the projects labeled as clean energy.

Eviction at the El Quimbo hydroelectric project, owned by Spain’s Endesa.

Furthermore, for peacebuilding with a territorial approach, it is worth rethinking this financing or at least reviewing the contractual objects and establishing clear limitations on actions: in no case can the use of weapons and intimidation be directed against the civilian population, much less against mobilizations that seek to protect collective rights and traditional forms of subsistence in the territories.

An example that allows to understand the complications generated by the privatization of the public force in terms of violation of rights, was given in the prior consultation with the Black communities in the north of Cauca affected by the Salvajina dam, the land where Vice President Francia Márquez was born.

There, EPSA belatedly acknowledged that it had financed the battalion operating in its facilities, but refrained from acknowledging the impacts.

Eviction in El Quimbo: «Here recovering ‘investment trust’, mister!» (Leo Sátira – leosatira.blogspot.com)

The case of the El Quimbo hydroelectric project allows us to appreciate another effect of these alliances, since the base of BAEEV #12 José María Tello, which houses 1,200 soldiers, was built in front of this project in the Amazon Forest Reserve [1].

If, in addition, the above analysis overlaps with that of extrajudicial executions, the situation becomes even more complex. In the case of Antioquia between 2000 and 2006 there were 747 military personnel under investigation who were part of the Coronel Atanasio Girardot, Coronel Jorge Eduardo Sánchez Rodríguez and General Pedro Nel Ospina battalions; in Casanare 146 extrajudicial executions were the responsibility of the 16th Brigade, which has received more than 209,400 million pesos, via cooperation agreements with companies such as: Ecopetrol, BP, Emerald, Equion, Pacific Rubiales, Petrobras and Petrominerales, among others. To this list must we have to add the drama of forced displacements caused by the public forces paid by companies, an issue that is being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office.

The problem is not about the surveillance of energy infrastructures. The problem is that the public force does it through secret contracts signed with extraction and energy companies, a situation where compliance with contractual obligations leads to the violation of human and constitutional rights of communities that mobilize against the affectation of collective rights such as a healthy environment, the right to work, to freedom, to information, etc.

In 2015, Senator Cepeda also denounced in the aforementioned hearing, that at least six transnational companies have their own battalion and part of their private operations are being paid with national resources. This is an issue that should have relevance in the Special Treaty on Business and Human Rights that is currently being discussed at the United Nations to address the responsibility of companies in the face of human rights violations.

Faced with this situation, it is worth asking, what will Petro do in the face of the privatization of the public force? Who will take care of the people if he does not have enough money to establish a cooperation agreement? A total disfigurement of the social rule of law.

Repression in the hydroelectric project El Quimbo, participated by the Spanish Endesa.

[1] Army created an Energy Battalion in Huila to take care of the controversial El Quimbo project. El Tiempo. May 12, 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-5181719

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