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Oil and coal Extraction in the Indigenous Motilon Bari Territory, Colombia

The abundance of natural resources on the Motilon Bari peoples' territory and the intentions from multinationals and from the Colombian national government to exploit them makes impossible for the Bari to prevent these outsiders' ravages.


Catacumbo is considered the ancestral territory of 23 Motilno Bari indigenous communities. They live in the forests on the border with Venezuela, an area rich in biodiversity and characterized by the presence of minerals, oil, wood and water resources. Their population, after suffering dramatic drops, started to increase again and attained up to 3.000 peoples, living in the two reserves demarcated in 1981 and 1988. The repeated attempts to exploit their resources continually exposed the Motilon Bari people to incursions by multinational corporations, especially in the municipalities of Tibu and Tarra, rendering vulnerable their territory and livelihoods. Local residents opposed these incursions, demanding respect for their individual and collective rights and the conservation of their land. In the 1900s, oil companies such as COLPET (Colombia Petroleum Company) and SAGOC (South American Gulf Oil Company) entered the region, followed by Ecopetrol in recent times. In 2014, the area delineated by the three rivers Catatumbo, Oro and Martillo have been granted seven concessions for the exploitation of coal mines. 270 million barrels of crude are also planned to be extracted.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Oil and coal Extraction in the Indigenous Motilon Bari Territory, Colombia
State or province:North Santander
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Water
Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:2002
Company names or state enterprises:Ecopetrol Corporate Group from Colombia
Colombia Petroleum Company (COLPET) from Colombia
South American Gulf Oil Company (SAGOC) from Colombia
Colpet from United States of America - Exploited in the 1930s the concession Barco
Petrotesting Colombia S.A. from Colombia
Relevant government actors:Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos (ANH) - Colombia, National Authority of Indigenous Governments (ONIC), Ministry for the Environment , Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:ONIC - Colombia, ASOBAR - Colombia, ASCAMAT - Colombia, CISCA - Colombia
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Air pollution, Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Project cancelled
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:In 2006 the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the indigenous communities, forcing Ecopetrol to suspend oil exploration on Bari territory.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Decree 1760 of June 26, 2003

105th Resolution of December, 1981. Recognizes the Catatumbo Barí National Park.

102nd Resolution of November 26th, 1988. Recognizes the Forest Reserve.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Vision de los pueblos indigenas y sus organizaciones frente a la politica petrolera del pais. ONIC, 2005

Asuntos Indigenas 2-3/2006 Pueblos Indigenas e Hidrocarburos. IWGIA, 2006
[click to view]

El alto costo del petroleo barato. Movimiento por los bosques, 2000
[click to view]

Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos - Sesion Colombia, Cúcuta, Norte de Santander Junio 13 y 14 de 2008, CASO: PUEBLO INDIGENA MOTILON BARI
[click to view]

Presentacion del encuentro entre indigenas y campesinos, August 2007
[click to view]

Economia y politica petrolera. Carlos Guillermo Alvarez, 2000
[click to view]

Ishtana, el territorio tradicional Bari, Informe final sobre territorio tradicional del Pueblo Indígena Bari, Región del Catatumbo, Norte de Santander, Carlos Augusto Salazar J., 2005
[click to view]

Las empresas petroleras: las nuevas socias de las Naciones Unidas, Oilwatch, 2002
[click to view]

Indian Country Today Media Network Archives
[click to view]

ASOCBARI, Pueblo Indigena Bari
[click to view]

Vale más el Pueblo Barí, Que el Carbón, 03/11/2014
[click to view]

Transnational coal and oil companies violate inidgenous rights in Northeast Colombia, Colombia Support Network, 16/06/2008
[click to view]

Colombia: The Motilon Bari Indigenous Peoples rise up for their rights against oil interests, WRM's bulletin Nº 106, May 2006
[click to view]

Oil and mining devastate Bari People, Indian Law Resource Center
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Cultura Motilon Bari, 2011
[click to view]

A range of maps by ASOCBARI showing the evolution of their territory over time
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:453
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