Colombia and oil

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Sep 15 07:35:56 MDT 2002

LA Times, September 15, 2002

Blood Spills to Keep Oil Wealth Flowing
Colombia: Violence explodes in province where army, under U.S. pressure,
focuses on protecting an Occidental pipeline.


ARAUCA, Colombia -- Under pressure from Los Angeles-based Occidental
Petroleum and the U.S. government, the Colombian military has redeployed
its forces to protect a key oil pipeline, leading to an explosion of
violence in the undefended countryside.

The army has reassigned the majority of its troops in this war-torn
province to patrol the pipeline, which is jointly owned by Occidental
and the Colombian state oil company. Leftist guerrillas battling the
government shut down production for a total of eight months in 2001, but
this year the number of attacks on the pipeline has plunged.

Civilians in Arauca, the province that surrounds the pipeline, have paid
the price. In the absence of any sustained military presence since late
last year, Colombia's violent right-wing paramilitary squads quickly
moved in, unleashing a campaign of murder and terror with impunity.

Hundreds of politicians, journalists, businessmen and ordinary residents
have been kidnapped and killed in the "dirty war." Brutal combat between
the paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas has forced thousands to flee
their homes. Scores of people have simply disappeared.

Arauca is now the most violent province in one of the most violent
countries in the world.

"Here, there is fire on all sides," said a man who was fleeing recent
fighting in the countryside, using his tractor to pull a wagon piled
high with household goods to Arauca, the provincial capital.

The spiraling chaos comes just as the U.S. begins its first tentative
steps toward playing a more direct role in Colombia's bewildering
internal conflict.

Until now, U.S. aid has been limited to fighting drug trafficking. But
as early as next month, the first U.S. instructors will arrive to launch
a controversial training program to help Colombian soldiers better
protect the pipeline. The U.S. is also planning to send helicopters and
improve intelligence sharing with the Colombian army.

Critics charge that the plan forces U.S. taxpayers to provide security
for a private company, Occidental. And human rights groups say the local
Colombian army unit, the 18th Brigade, has aided the paramilitary
advance, meaning that U.S. trainers may become complicit in human rights

"If you bring in more troops, this conflict is only going to get worse,"
said Enrique Pertuz, the executive director of a local human rights
group. "If your enemy tries to overcome you with more arms and soldiers,
you respond in kind. There are going to be more killings, more
massacres, more repression."


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