The Unacceptable Environmental Cost Of Colombia's Endless War

After the FARC intercepted a convoy of trucks transporting crude oil in Colombia's state of Putumayo, in July 2014.
After the FARC intercepted a convoy of trucks transporting crude oil in Colombia's state of Putumayo, in July 2014.


BOGOTÁ â€" Colombia's more than half-century old civil war has been, if nothing else, an environmental calamity.

Besides causing tens of thousands of deaths and forcing millions from their homes, the protracted fighting between state forces, left-wing guerrilla forces and right-wing gangs has led to massive amounts of crude oil being poured into the country's rivers, streams and wetlands.

Data released by the oil industry suggests that over the past 30 years, some 4 million barrels of crude have been dumped in Colombia. That's 10 times the amount the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker released off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

Unlike the Exxon Valdez disaster, considered the second worst oil spill in history, the crude dumped in Colombia wasn't a single catastrophe, but something that has been repeated, little by little, over decades. The spills, furthermore, involve narrow waterways of the tropical rainforest, an environment that is arguably more vulnerable than the vast ocean.

The environmental impact of this senseless conflict should make us reflect as a society. Oil pouring into rivers and wetlands and their surrounding ecosystems, and the massive fish and animal deaths this provokes, is bad enough. More appalling still are incidents like the one that took place June 22, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attacked the Transandino pipeline, causing a massive spill into the Mira river, near Ecuador's frontier, that impacts the livelihoods of natives living in this area and on water supplies to local towns.

The FARC say they have instructed their men not to touch waterways? Poppycock. Words can barely convey one's outrage at the attack. Nevertheless, overall reactions have been less intense than they should be. As often happens, outrage is tempered by a relative lack of information. People are also prone to being misled toward a political agenda instead of focusing on the harm done to nature and people.

Enormous efforts are being made right now to clean up the the Mira. But only so much can really be done in these cases. People don't like to admit it, but the effects of such disasters will be felt far into the future.

One cannot accept our national heritage being exposed this way, in line with tactical needs. When we hear people speak of taking nature out of the conflict, the intention is not to make the conflict more humane or "ecological," but to simply put an end to this military rationale. Because this conflict is not just leaving a legacy of deforestation across millions of hectares. It is also killing rivers and tributaries.

How many decades or centuries will it take for rivers like Mira or Catatumbo to recover their ecological attributes and be safe again for local inhabitants? No doubt the social and environmental effects of this conflict will long outlast the war.

The FARC"s political clumsiness and utter contempt for the fragility of the social and natural environments, which the pope has already described as inseparable, is blatant. Again, words can barely express one's anger.

All we can really hope for now that the peace talks currently underway in Havana, Cuba can progress regardless. Because only peace can stop the continuous destruction and mitigate its effects, at least where the harm can be undone.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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