Obama’s War for Oil in Colombia

by DANIEL KOVALIK

This past summer, President Obama announced that he had signed an agreement with Colombia to grant the U.S. military access to 7 military bases in Colombia. As the UK’s Guardian newspaper announced at the time, “[t]he proposed 10-year lease will give the US access to at least seven Colombian bases – three air force, two naval and two army – stretching from the Pacific to the Caribbean.” And, these bases would accommodate up to 800 military and 600 civilian contractors of the United States. As the Guardian explained, this announcement caused outrage in neighboring Latin American nations and “damaged Barack Obama’s attempt to mend relations with the region.”

This announcement also angered human and labor rights advocates in both the U.S. and Colombia as the U.S. was now solidifying a cozier military alliance with by far the worst labor and human rights abuser in the Western Hemisphere. The human rights nightmare in Colombia, fueled by billions of dollars of U.S. military assistance, includes the forced internal displacement of nearly 4 million civilians – the second largest internally displaced population in the world (Sudan holding the number one position); the extraordinary killing of over 2700 union members since 1986 (by far the greatest number in the world), with 35 being killed in 2009 alone; and the extrajudicial killing of around 2,000 civilians by the Colombian military since President Uribe took office in 2002.

As for the extra-judicial killings by the Colombian military, these were carried out as part of the “false positive” scandal – a controversy involving the military murdering civilians and then dressing them up to look like guerillas in order to increase their body count numbers, thereby guaranteeing further U.S. aid. That scandal deepened earlier this month when 31 Colombian soldiers awaiting trial for their role in the killings were released from prison because of the Colombian government’s failure to indict them in a timely fashion.

While the U.S. has claimed for years that it is fighting a drug war in Colombia, though having to sheepishly admit year after year that its ostensible efforts have not yielded any decrease whatsoever in the amount of coca grown in Colombia or cocaine exported to the U.S., the real reason for the war has always been the control of Colombia’s rich oil resources. Indeed, at a Congressional hearing in 2000, entitled “Drugs and Social Policy in Colombia” – a hearing to debate the relative merits of Clinton’s new Plan Colombia, pursuant to which the U.S. has sent billions of dollars of military assistance to Colombia – one of the key witnesses invited to testify in support of this policy was none other than Lawrence Meriage, the Vice-President of Occidental Petroleum. Not surprisingly, Mr. Meriage had nothing to say about drugs or social policy in Colombia, but a lot to say about the need for military assistance to protect his oil pipelines.

Now, according to a January 19, 2010 Bloomberg article, “The Export-Import Bank of the United States [a U.S. government agency] announced Jan. 19 its approval of a $1 billion preliminary commitment to help finance the sale of goods and services from various U.S. exporters to Ecopetrol S.A., Colombia’s national oil company.” It should be noted that Ecopetrol is a business partner with L.A.-based Occidental Petroleum.

Citing an industry expert, the Bloomberg article goes on to explain that “Ecopetrol is being aggressive in exploration and production,” and that, with the help of the financing from the Export-Import Bank, “Ecopetrol will almost double to 1 million barrels daily by 2015 as the company drills more wells in Colombia and neighboring South American nations.”

As a November 12, 2009 press release from the human rights group Amazon Watch explained, Ecopetrol is currently engaged in oil exploration on the sacred land of the U’wa indigenous peoples and against their wishes. A spokesperson for the U’Wa explained that, as is invariably the case, with Ecopetrol’s exploration and drilling comes the Colombian military, as well as paramilitaries, to protect Ecopetrol’s operations.

As Ecopetrol’s own website indicates, it is also involved in oil exploration in Peru and Brazil. As for Peru, Survival International, a UK-based human rights group advocating for the rights of threatened indigenous tribes, warned last year that Ecopetrol’s exploration of the Peruvian Amazon jungle threatens hitherto uncontacted indigenous tribes whose very existence will be jeopardized by these operations. As Survival International explained, these uncontacted tribes are “exceedingly vulnerable to any contact with outsiders because of their lack of immunity to disease.” Prior contacts between companies and uncontacted tribes have resulted in the mortality of 50% of the tribe.

While the current U.S. Administration seems bent on deepening its fatal ties to Colombia in the interest of oil, there is still an opportunity to derail this policy. Pursuant to the statute which created and regulates the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the President of the U.S. (who, by a 1979 Executive Order, delegated such authority to the Secretary of State) may, after consultation with the House and Senate Committees on Banking, determine that an application for credit should be denied by the Bank if the extension of credit "clearly and importantly" impacts U.S. "policy in such areas as international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, environmental protection and human rights." 12 U.S.C. Sec. 635(2)(b)(1)(B).

Clearly, the prelimimary decision to extend credit to Ecopetrol adversely impacts human rights and the environment and should be overturned as a result. A movement to halt this extension of credit on these grounds would be a worthy effort for the U.S. peace and solidarity groups. Similarly, there is still a chance to impede the U.S.’s decision to access 7 new military bases in Colombia. With the Administration reeling from the election results in Massachusetts last week, now is the time to try to shame it into reversing course on its predictably devastating policy in Colombia and the rest of Latin America.

DANIEL KOVALIK is a labor and human rights lawyer working in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire