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Bogota's Israel coal exports ban fuelled by Palestinian-Colombian coalition

President Gustavo Petro announced shipments were ending following a campaign by coalition of Palestinian activists, trade unionists and indigenous groups
Colombian President Gustavo Petro waves a national flag as he delivers a speech during a May Day rally in Bogota on 1 May (Raul Arboleda/AFP)
Colombian President Gustavo Petro waves a national flag as he delivers a speech during a May Day rally in Bogota on 1 May (Raul Arboleda/AFP)

An alliance of Palestinian organisations and Colombian trade unionists and indigenous groups has claimed victory after Colombia's President Gustavo Petro announced a halt to the country's coal exports to Israel earlier this month.

Colombia's decree on Saturday said coal shipments to Israel would be suspended until the country obeys the International Court of Justice order to halt its assault on Rafah.

It came after the Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD) wrote to Petro in June, reiterating its calls for a coal export ban by Colombia’s largest coal miners union, Sintracarbon.

“The ongoing genocide, its length and magnitude would not have been possible if the colonising state of Israel had stopped receiving energy sources allowing it to commit one of the most atrocious crimes in history,” it said.

“Governments failing to take action are enabling the annihilation of Palestinians."

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The letter followed months of engagement by Global Energy Embargo, a coalition of Palestinian groups, climate activists and indigenous groups, with Colombian public officials, as part of a burgeoning campaign calling for a “total energy embargo” against Israel.

The coalition is working with an expanding global network of workers and campaign groups to target fuel exports to Israel.

In Colombia, Global Energy Embargo coordinated with Sintracarbon, which issued an initial call to the government for the suspension of “the shipment of Colombian coal, or any other metal or mineral to Israel” in November.

The union highlighted the link between these exports and Israel’s role in providing training and equipment in the 1980s to Colombian paramilitaries responsible for murdering trade unionists.

The coalition has also coordinated with indigenous groups, which have been affected by coal mining and transport in the north of the country, organising a global day of action against the coal energy giant Glencore, which supplies 90 percent of Colombia’s coal exports to Israel, along with Drummond.

Glencore has a long history of human rights violations. Its Cerrejon mines, where it sources coal for export to Israel, have resulted in the displacement of Wayuu and Yukpa indigenous communities and extensive environmental damage.

“Coal sourced from mines owned by Glencore is being extracted at the expense of indigenous communities… exported to a nation implicated in the killing and displacement of innocent civilians in Palestine,” a representative of the Yupka people said.

A knock-on effect

Colombia is Israel’s primary coal supplier, accounting for 60 percent of all the country’s coal imports in 2023, according to S&P Global Commodities at Sea data.

Ynet news has reported that Israel has been quick to seek alternative suppliers and reportedly has “received positive responses from South Africa and Russia”, but will have to pay a higher premium on its coal imports.

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“In the immediate term, they have reserves, so it's not going to lead to energy outages, but it will have an economic impact long term, and joined by others, it will have the effect of impacting their energy production capabilities,” a Global Energy Embargo spokesperson told Middle East Eye.

“If these other countries are taking action, that's going to have a massive knock on effect.”

The coalition is now turning its attention to South Africa, where it will begin to mobilise to halt coal exports after the new government has been formed. 

“We urgently call on South Africa, which provides nine percent of Israel’s coal, to follow Colombia’s lead,” the group said.

It is also looking to stop crude oil exports from Brazil.

Petro’s ban follows Turkey’s decision to halt all trade with Israel last month, and the Maldives' decision to ban Israeli passport holders from entering the country.

In May, Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, announced the severing of diplomatic ties with Israel, aburptly halting historically close military and commercial relations between the two countries.

“If Palestine dies, humanity dies,” he said.

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