Revolutionary Worker #1175, November 17, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
The Caño Limón pipeline originates in the oilfields of Arauca province in eastern Colombia and snakes 500 miles through jungle and mountain terrain to the port city of Coveñas. The pipeline carries 100,000 barrels of oil a day for Occidental Petroleum Corp. based in Los Angeles.
Thousands of soldiers from the Colombian army are assigned specifically to guard this pipeline against attacks by armed anti-government groups. This month, U.S. Special Forces officers began counterinsurgency training with these Colombian troops--so they can better protect the flow of oil through the Occidental pipeline.
In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration kicked off a major escalation of U.S. military aid to the Colombian government in the name of fighting a "war on drugs." Bush has continued this stepped-up flow of Yankee guns and "advisers" to Colombia.
But the Special Forces training of the Colombian troops guarding the oil pipe-line is part of a major change in U.S. intervention in this country. Now, the U.S. is openly involved in the Colombian government and military's bloody counterinsurgency war.
The Bush administration says that Colombia is one of the fronts in its worldwide "war on terror." And protecting and expanding important sources of oil for the "home front" is a key part of the picture of U.S. intervention in Colombia.
"Lt. Felipe Zúniga and his counterinsurgency troops slog through the wet fields and patches of jungle [in Savena, Arauca]. Their mission has nothing to do with drugs--until now, the defining issue in Colombia for American policymakers --but instead with protecting a pipeline that carries crude to an oil-hungry America... In a significant shift in American policy, U.S. Special Forces will arrive in Colombia to begin training Lieutenant Zúniga and his 35-man squad in the finer arts of counterinsurgency."
from New York Times , Oct. 4, 2002
Zúniga is part of the 18th Brigade of the Colombian army. Five of the six battalions in the 6,000-troop 18th Brigade are deployed as a pipeline protection force. The troops wear patches on their uniforms depicting an oil-drilling rig.
The Bush administration plans to conduct counterinsurgency training for thousands more Colombian troops over the next couple of years. And the U.S. will also send more combat helicopters and other military equipment to bolster the Colombian army's ability to fight the FARC and ELN, the two largest armed anti-government forces.
The sharp rise in U.S. military intervention in Colombia began during the Clinton administration, which initiated Plan Colombia--a huge $1.3 billion military aid package aimed at pumping up Colombia's notoriously brutal and corrupt military. Under Clinton, Colombia became the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid, after Israel and Egypt.
Plan Colombia sent U.S. military "advisers" to train and supervise three counter- insurgency battalions of the Colombian army for a large-scale offensive in the southern part of the country. The biggest part of the military aid package was earmarked for the delivery of 60 high-tech attack helicopters.
The U.S. government claimed that the goal of this massive military aid was to stop the flow of cocaine. Colombia is currently the source of much of the world's coca, the raw material for cocaine. And the mission of the southern offensive was advertised as the elimination of coca fields.
But the southern region of the country is where FARC has long wielded a lot of strength and influence. The central government has shaky control of large parts of this region and other areas around the country. The offensive by the Colombian military, backed and directed by the U.S., aimed right into this area.
The "war on drugs" was only a cover: Plan Colombia has been an aggressive move by the U.S. to back up the reactionary Colombian regime and transform the situation in Colombia by ratcheting up the counterinsurgency war.
With the Bush team in the White House, the U.S. has largely set aside the "war on drugs" cover and has begun openly targeting the insurgent guerrilla forces. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently declared that "the FARC [is] the most dangerous international terrorist group based in the Western Hemisphere." He accused FARC of being "engaged in a campaign of terror against Colombians and U.S. citizens."
The U.S. Special Forces trainers arriving in Colombia this month are part of a $94 million program approved by the U.S. Congress this year for pipeline protection. Overall, the U.S. is sending more than $500 million this year to shore up the Colombian regime, and the Bush administration plans to up that figure next year.
Hundreds of U.S. military "advisers" are currently in Colombia. And there are also hundreds of "private military contractors"--mercenaries--from the U.S. who work for the U.S. and Colombian militaries.
In August of this year, a new right-wing government headed by Álavaro Uribe took power in Colombia. Uribe has aligned himself closely with Bush's international "war on terror" and the U.S. shift to a more open strategy of counterinsurgency in Colombia. He declared his intention to eliminate the guerrilla groups and has instituted many highly repressive laws and decrees--including declaring Arauca province one of the security zones where military commanders can carry out searches at will, impose curfews, and take over powers from the local government.
For the U.S. imperialists, a major factor in Colombia's strategic importance is oil.
Already, Colombia is the seventh largest supplier of imported oil for the U.S. The oil produced in Colombia is regarded by the petroleum industry as high-quality--easy to refine and therefore highly profitable. And much of the potential oil and gas reserves in the country remain untapped or unexplored.
The foreign-owned oil fields and pipelines have often been targets of the FARC and ELN--and Occidental and other U.S. oil and energy corporations have been loudly complaining about millions of dollars in losses from the guerrilla attacks. The New York Times reported that "Washington's shift to counterinsurgency has been warmly welcomed by energy companies, which have been pressing for the change for several years." An Occidental spokesman told the Times, "Given the fact that there is a significant amount of oil there, and the sheer mass of oil that remains under-explored, there is considerable optimism."
But the U.S. imperialist interests in Colombia go beyond oil company profits. The U.S. government is seeking to diversify the sources of imported oil in order to lessen the effects of disruption of oil flow from a particular region. In particular, U.S. policymakers want to secure and increase the production of oil in what they consider their "back yard"--Latin America.
The Andean countries of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador together produce more than two million barrels of oil a day for the U.S.--about 20 percent of oil imported by the U.S. And the U.S. sees "pacifying" Colombia as central to securing this whole region. Bush's hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Uribe is part of a broader Andean Regional Initiative to the pro-U.S. regimes in the region.
The Occidental spokesman told the Times, "You see the potential danger of an entire Andean region being destabilized by the problems in Colombia."
The U.S. imperialists' moves to ratchet up backing of the Colombian government and military can only lead to even greater suffering for the masses of people in Colombia. While U.S. corporations pump oil out of the country--and a small elite in Colombia amass wealth from their association with the imperialists- -ordinary Colombians are hit hard by poverty, dislocation, and repressive laws.
While U.S. officials talk about "war on terrorism," the U.S.-backed Colombian military is stepping up reactionary violence against the people. Aside from directly carrying out atrocities against the people, the official military has close ties with the right-wing paramilitary forces. Often working for big landlords, the paramilitaries carry out assassinations of activists and massacres of ordinary peasants. The U.S. finds it useful to have a death-squad network operating somewhat independently of Colombia's regular military forces.
The U.S. intervention in Colombia aims to remake Colombia into a country where the resources, land, and labor can be more profitably exploited by foreign corporations. Where the countryside and urban shantytowns no longer breed resistance and rebellion. Where the people are even more firmly under the control of oppressors and at the mercy of official and unofficial government killers. And this is part of an even grander plan of the U.S. imperialists to "pacify" all of Latin America in order to more tightly dominate and exploit the resources and the people.
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