The chief of Colombia’s state-run oil company was forced to make a public apology after insulting a university professor by claiming the scholar was below “my own level.”
Ecopetrol chief Juan Carlos Echeverry, Colombia’s former finance minister, made the derogatory remark when he was called to Congress to explain why an environmental license was granted to an oil company that sought to explore fracking possibilities near one of the country’s most treasured ecosystems.
After Professor Oscar Vanegas, an expert in the environmental impact of oil exploration and exploitation, had explained the disastrous impact of fracking exploitation near the springs of the Caño Cristales river in central Colombia, a visibly grumpy Echeverry refused to respond and demanded to speak to somebody “on my own level.”
However, facing mass indignation, President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the license defended by Echeverry the next day.
Echeverry issued his apology after the publication of a letter in which 64 scholars demanded his resignation and Vanegas announced to be pressing criminal charges.
“Some statements that I gave in the Fifth Committee could have been interpreted by the country’s scholars, deans and academia as inappropriate, said Echeverry.
“I apologize, I have been a teacher for 30 years and dean for four and all I have (for teachers) is respect,” said Echeverry.
Despite the expressed remorse, Vanegas said he did not accept the apology and will pursue the matter further with the Prosecutor General, which has the authority to discipline Echeverry, a state official.
The controversy arose during a debate last week over the country’s environmental authority ANLA allowing exploratory fracking activity near one of Colombia’s most unique ecosystems in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park.
At the hearing, Vanegas explained Congress the potential dangers of fracking and the environmental vulnerability in the area where the government allowed a subsidiary of a US oil company to drill 150 holes for fracking exploration.
Echeverry responded saying it is wrong “if any person, just for having a university degree, believes he can confuse entire municipalities and departments, and try to put the brakes on a country in regards to one of the country’s most important resources for its development.”
As if that weren’t derogatory enough, Echeverry said Vargas was “a person with a university degree who comes to tell us that water is wet.”
According to Vanegas, allowing oil exploration in the natural park, the Caño Cristales river would eventually disappear.
The Caño Cristales river is one of Colombia;’s most precious ecosystems and increasingly popular among tourists.
Refuting this claim, the oil chief suggested a comparable search on Google which would prove that “there are more abductions of humans by aliens than dry aquifers by the oil industry.”
Unfortunately, the actual Google search proves exactly the opposite, embarrassing the former minister even further.
The Industrial University of Santander Professor later claimed Echeverry’s remarks were due to the Ecopetrol boss’ inability to substantiate his argument.
“He came in anger because he was not in the capacity to confront a discussion from the technical point of view. He is an economist and he can not argue with technical concepts,” said Vanegas.
The professor told media he refused to accept the apology, considering the comments was a personal attack on his character.
“I will not accept it because he offended me, personally. He did not speak in generic terms of teachers but referred to my quality as a person. Supposedly I had no knowledge or level to talk to him,” Vanegas told La FM radio.
Echeverry “has not apologized to me, but to the teachers’ union. I never heard him utter my name and he has not apologized on expressions for which I will report to the Prosecutor General and the prosecution for libel and slander, as he is accusing me of generating economic panic, which is a crime in Colombia. He has to show me and sustain what macroeconomic variables or what kind of companies have been affected because it is damaging my good name and reputation,” said the professor.
The use of fracking, a drilling technique for extracting deeply buried natural gas deposits has been hotly debated.
The practice was approved by the Colombian government in 2014 in a bid to increase its reserves and sustain the country’s depleting oil wells.