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 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future