Héctor Sánchez is an environmental and human rights defender documenting blatant environmental contamination and affected living conditions due to the oil industry operating in his community. An environmental activist, union leader and president of a local community organization, he served in the military and was displaced twice by the nation’s internal conflict. Now, he’s leading the fight against Ecopetrol, the largest petroleum company in Colombia, which recently took over the Rubiales oil reserve exploration from the Canadian transnational company Pacific Rubiales.
More than half the oil produced in Colombia comes from Meta department, and more than half of that comes from the municipality of Puerto Gaitan. 83.5% of the rural population there lives below the poverty line. Pacific Rubiales invested at least USD $70 million in the Ministry of Defense between 2017-14, leading to the creation of the 15th Special Energy Battalion which provides security to the oil fields and the companies that operate them. Since the nationwide paramilitary demobilization in 2005, there has been a resurgence of “neo-paramilitary” activity in Meta conducted under the names “Bloque Libertadores de Vichada”, and the “Bloque Meta” as well as the nation wide, alleged “Aguilas Negras.” Between 2012-2015 according to official statistics, 640 people were displaced in the municipality of Puerto Gaitan, Meta.
In the course of his activism, Hector has received constant death threats in the form of pamphlets and whatsapp messages allegedly sent by the paramilitary groups. He was imprisoned for ten weeks on false charges brought against him and survived an assassination attempt while in Bogota. Since December 2016, he has received state provided security measures. He also faces five open judicial processes against him, all of which were filed by companies subcontracted by Pacific Rubiales, in particular private security companies. The last threat against Héctor and his family was in June, 2018.