Issue #148, August 2008

Electronic Journal & Daily Report COLOMBIA’S HEART OF DARKNESS IN MANHATTAN—AND WASHINGTON by Bill Weinberg, The Nation McCAIN’S BIG OIL TIES —FROM IRAQ TO COLOMBIA by Nikolas Kozloff, NACLA News TOTAL RECALL IN BOLIVIA Divided Nation Faces Historic Vote by… Read moreIssue #148, August 2008


from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On July 8, thousands of Peruvians mobilized for the first day of a 48-hour national agricultural strike, called by the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA) and the Campesino Confederation of Peru to demand the repeal of a decree that makes it easier to sell campesino and indigenous land. The campesino mobilizations were strongest in the regions of Cusco, Puno, Ayachucho, Ucayali, Madre de Dios, Huanuco and Tacna. (Telam, Argentina, July 8; La Jornada, Mexico, July 10) The decree, D.L. 1015, was signed on May 20 by President Alan Garcia; it allows communally owned indigenous and campesino land to be sold to private investors with the vote of a simple majority of communal assembly members. The previous regulation, Law 26 505, required a two-thirds vote of the qualified members of each community in order for communal lands to be sold. (AIDESEP communique, July 8) The new regulations also apply to the approval of mining concessions on communal lands. (LJ, July 10 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

The Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) warns that the new decree is a threat to more than 7,000 communities and hundreds of thousands of families in the Andean and Amazon regions of the country. “For campesino communities in Peru, communal lands are the material basis of life, an ancestral institution, a space of indigenous peoples’ social, economic and cultural identity, where life is organized on the basis of democracy and social justice criteria, and the practice of ancient forms of communal work on the land (minga, ayni),” AIDESEP said in a statement. (AIDESEP communique, July 8)

Campesinos blocked vehicle traffic on the streets of Yurimaguas in Loreto region, in the northern Amazon, and in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon on the border with Brazil and Bolivia. In the Andes, campesinos blocked roads linking the city of Cusco with the cities of Puno and Abancay. The demonstrators also blocked the route of the train that takes tourists from Cusco to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, and dug trenches into the Valle del Ares route to prevent cars, buses and trucks from getting through. In Puno, in the southern Andes, demonstrators blocked urban and rural transport, cutting off the roads linking the region to Arequipa and Cusco.

The second day of the campesino strike, July 9, coincided with a 24-hour national general strike called by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) to protest the Garcia government’s economic policies and support the demands of the campesino and indigenous movements. The government had declared the CGTP’s strike illegal and accused the organizers of being politically motivated. (Telam, July 8) On July 7, the government published a resolution in the official newspaper, El Peruano, authorizing the intervention of the Armed Forces in support of the National Police during the July 8-10 protests. (La Republica, Lima, July 7)

Hundreds of thousands of Peruvians participated in the July 9 combined protest activities: the national strike, the Amazon and agrarian strikes and at least eight specific regional protests. CGTP general secretary Mario Huaman said workers in the retail vendor, textile, agroindustry, transport, crude oil, fishing and education sectors supported the national strike overwhelmingly. Mobilizations were strongest in the southern Andes and in the Amazon. A total of 216 people were reported arrested in incidents around the country, most of them for blocking roads in the southern regions, the country’s poorest area and a stronghold of opponents of Garcia’s government.

Campesinos mobilized and blockaded highways for a second consecutive day on July 9 in the southern regions of Arequipa, Tacna, Moquegua and Puno, joining other labor sectors and social movements. Schools, markets and malls were closed, and city streets were empty. In Arequipa, all traffic into and out of the city was blocked, and women staged a noisy protest by banging on pots and pans. In the city of Juliaca in Puno, stores were shut and there was no urban transport service. In the late morning, thousands of demonstrators marched through the city. In Santa Rosa, a district of Puno’s Melgar province, passengers stranded by a protest roadblock got out of their vehicles and joined the strikers in an impromptu soccer match.

In the central Andean region south and east of Lima, all commerce was shut down in the cities of Cusco and Huancavelica (capitals of the regions of the same names) and in the province of Apurimac in Apurimac region. In Huancavelica, soldiers fired their weapons in the air when some 100 protesters seized the region’s hydroelectric facility, according to Peruvian National Police director Octavio Salazar. (LR, July 10) A group of people trashed the Huancavelica regional offices of the government program “Juntos,” stealing three computers and burning files and documents. “Juntos” is the National Program of Direct Support to the Poorest, a cash assistance program created in April 2005. (LR, July 10; RPP Noticias, July 9)

Cusco was completely paralyzed, with near-total support for the strike: more than 90% of residents skipped work or school. Bus drivers observed the work stoppage and PeruRail again suspended its operations, preventing more than 1,500 tourists from reaching Machu Picchu. Regional organizers estimated that some 100,000 people mobilized in marches and protests in Cusco province (a subdivision of the region, equivalent to a county). (LR, July 10; LJ, July 10) The protests were peaceful; Cusco residents observed an agreement reached days earlier to allow the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings being held in the city July 9-11 to go on without disruption. (Andina Agencia Peruana de Noticias, July 7; LR, July 10)

In Ica region, protesters blocked the Panamerican South highway between kilometers 290 and 295 for six hours before police intervened and broke up the scene using tear gas bombs. The clash left five police agents hurt and 12 wounded. Demonstrators marched to the main plaza in the city of Ica, the regional capital. Traffic was also blocked in the towns of Chincha and Pisco, in Ica region.

In Lima, the strike’s main impact was a reduction in public transportation and the blocking of traffic by hundreds of workers marching from different points of the capital to a rally in the central Plaza 2 de Mayo. The government deployed soldiers to assist police in keeping control of streets, airports and strategic services such as water and electricity.

In the Andean region northeast of Lima, commerce was shut down in the cities of Huanuco (capital of Huanuco region) and Huaraz (capital of Ancash region). More than 40,000 people marched through the streets of Huaraz, demanding the resignation of regional president (governor) Cesar Alvarez.

In the city of Trujillo, capital of La Libertad region on Peru’s northern coast, students, workers and professors from the National University of Trujillo burned tires near the university campus. Later some 12,000 people marched through the city. Blockades and demonstrations also took place farther north in the coastal city of Chiclayo, capital of Lambayeque region.

In the region of Tumbes, bordering with Ecuador on the northern coast, more than 5,000 members of the Association of the Board of Users of the Special Trade Treatment Zone of San Pedro de Tacna, a coalition of 45 associations of small business owners, mobilized to demand that import taxes be reduced from 8% to 4% and that more merchandise be allowed to enter the country. Also in Tumbes, a clash broke out between construction workers trying to seize the Tumbes bridge and police agents determined to stop them. Police used tear gas bombs against the crowd; from the demonstrators’ side, bottles, rocks and sticks were thrown at police.

The northern Amazon city of Iquitos, capital of Loreto region, was paralyzed as thousands of protesters converged in a march that covered more than 20 blocks. Participants included indigenous communities, labor unions, social movements and political parties.

The biggest conflict took place in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon, where the campesino strike had begun on July 7 to protest Decree 1015. In Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital, demonstrators marched to the offices of the regional government to demand that regional governor Santos Kaway Komor participate in the mobilization. But the governor was not present, and the crowd grew angry. Police intervened with tear gas bombs, triggering a fire that quickly consumed the building.

In the resulting fray, at least 21 police agents were reported injured by rocks and arrows, and firefighters were allegedly blocked from reaching the scene. An unspecified number of local residents were also injured. As gas tanks inside the government building exploded, the crowd fled in panic; thieves then looted the offices, and robbed a cash machine at a Banco de la Nacion branch down the block. Correspondents for the Lima daily La Republica said the fire was started by members of the Native Federation of Madre de Dios. But in the afternoon, the regional Defense Front held a press conference denying that demonstrators were responsible for the fire and the vandalism, blaming it instead on infiltrators, possibly sent by the government. Luis Zegarra, leader of the Defense Front, told La Republica that after three days of striking, local residents felt indignant because the regional government appeared to be ignoring their demands. Still, he said, “the people of Madre de Dios are peaceful.” (LR, July 10; LJ, July 10 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

The strike was called to protest the high cost of living and the government’s failure to keep its promises. Peru has experienced a nearly 10% economic growth rate recently, but that growth has come with what Huaman called an “incessant rise in the cost of living.” Workers are demanding an overall salary increase to compensate for the inflation, and want the government to change “the neoliberal economic policy that attacks the interests of the poorest people.” The recent economic growth has been concentrated in the capital and coast regions, while the Amazon and Andes regions have been left behind.

The strike also served to channel the discontent of specific sectors and regions. In Ayacucho, the Front to Defend the People’s Interests marched to demand the expulsion, on sovereignty grounds, of 200 US soldiers who have been stationed in the area since June, allegedly carrying out civic activities. (LJ, July 10 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)


This story first appeared July 13 in Weekly News Update on the Americas.

See also:

by April Howard, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, January 2007

From our Daily Report:

Peru general strike: land struggle or “conspiracy”?
WW4 Report, July 11, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Walden Bello, Foreign Policy in Focus

While drafting the so-called Bali Roadmap during the UN conference on climate change last December, delegates faced a painful choice. They could specifically mention the necessity of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and face the possibility of a US walkout from the negotiations. Or they could drop all mention of targets to keep Washington in the negotiations—and risk the United States fatally obstructing the process of coming up with a tough regime of mandatory emissions cuts that would have to be in place by the UN’s climate meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The delegates went with the latter and appeased Washington by not mentioning any targets. After the declaration on climate issued by the G8 summit a few days ago in Hokkaido, Japan, it is clear that the delegates in Bali made a strategic mistake. The G8’s endorsement of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050, which they have presented as a major step forward, is actually, as the South African government put it, a “regression from what is required to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change.”

In fact, “regression” is too polite. The G8 position is a giant step backward. It may have effectively undermined the prospects for an effective global climate strategy for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that is expected to be finalized at the crucial UN meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Deconstructing the G8 Position
Given the massive confusion that the G8 climate communique has created globally, it is worthwhile to deconstruct the position in detail. The 25-40% reduction from 1990 emission levels by 2020 that could have been adopted in Bali grew out of a developing consensus. Based on the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this consensus holds that preventing global mean temperature from rising above the critical threshold of 2 degrees centigrade in the 21st century will require radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 80-90% by 2050. The 25-40% reductions were an intermediate target on the path to achieving this goal. The G8 “commitment” of about half this final target is grossly inadequate.

Several other considerations highlight the dangers of the Washington-driven formula. First, the G8 proposes a global cut, not one that would be undertaken only by the industrialized or “Annex One” countries. As such, big polluters like the United States can actually free-ride on the rest of the world.

Second, the cut has no clear baseline. When making the announcement, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda initially said the cut was from 1990 levels. Then he had to take back that statement and subsequently mentioned the higher levels of 2000 as the baseline.

Third, this declaration of intent is not binding, and the G8 have given no indication that they want to bring their “pledge” fully under the UN climate negotiations framework that would bind its signatories. Indeed, the G8 announcement reinforces the G8 as a site for climate action that rivals the UN process and effectively subverts it. Not surprisingly, the G8 declaration emerged as part of a parallel process known as the “Major Economies Meeting.” The Major Economies Meeting is a US initiative to wrest decision-making on climate from the UN framework and process.

Anti-Climate United Front
The G8 climate communiqué demonstrates that not only Washington but the other powerful economies of the world are opposed to effective climate action. And without the rich country governments committing themselves to obligatory radical cuts in carbon dioxide levels, it will be impossible to convince China, India, and other rapidly industrializing economies to agree to subject themselves to a mandatory regime in the near future.

With Washington’s posture so retrograde, the policies of other developed country governments appear in a more positive light. But this is an illusion. While Washington has been the most visible obstacle to achieving effective action on climate, the obstructionist role of the other advanced industrial countries has not been insignificant. Japan and Canada, for instance, have retreated from their previous support for a regime of mandatory reductions and saved Washington from total isolation in the negotiations.

The European Union, while it continues to support a mandatory regime, does not appear to be willing to support the cuts of up to 80-90% by 2050 that are necessary to prevent irreversible large-scale climate change. In terms of its approach to reducing carbon emissions, the EU, like the United States, has increasingly given a central role to the corporate-friendly market approach of carbon trading. On the critical issue of providing the South with assistance for technology and adaptation, the EU, again like United States, prefers to channel the relatively little money it has so far been willing to commit not through institutional mechanisms set up under UN auspices but through those established by the World Bank, such as the Bank’s Climate Investment Funds. The reason is simple: the North controls the World Bank.

Most importantly, like the United States and Japan, the European governments continue to hang on to the position that economic growth can be “decoupled” from energy use. In other words, they think they can maintain current European consumption levels and only have to achieve the more efficient use of energy and replace oil with other energy sources. Thus, the EU has preferred to lull Europeans with panaceas. Brussels has championed biofuels, though its enthusiasm has been dampened somewhat by the increasingly evident negative impact of biofuels on global agricultural production. It has also increasingly come out in support of hard energy alternatives, such as mega-dams and carbon sequestration and storage technology, and has also reopened the discussion on nuclear energy.

A Painless Transition?
The focus on techno-fixes is not limited to the political and economic elites of the North but is shared by key members of its intellectual elite. I’m not talking about people like the Danish climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg but influential opinion-makers like Jeffrey Sachs, who has attempted to transform himself from the author of economic shock therapy in Eastern Europe to a progressive partisan of the struggles to end poverty and to fight global warming. In his latest book Common Wealth, Sachs’ message is that technology can make the transition to a clean Green world a relatively painless one, with no major lifestyle change in the North and no change in the high-growth development paradigm in the South. “Rather than focusing, as some environmentalists do, on reducing the income and consumption of the rich world,” he asserts, “we should focus much more on raising the…sustainability of the world’s technologies.”

For Sachs, the key technology is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), “which will allow the world to continue to use low cost fossil fuels such as coal in a manner that does not wreck the climate.” With what can only be described as childlike techno-enthusiasm, Sachs says, “air capture would allow humanity to reverse a previous rise of CO2 by capturing and sequestering more carbon dioxide than is being emitted in any period! Put differently, the best that can be achieved at a power plant is to stop new emissions. With air capture, we could put into reverse what we’ve done up to this point.” That this technology is at least 20 years away from being a practical technology and comes with unknown risks does not enter Sachs’ sci-fi scenario.

Capitalism and the Climate Crisis
Herman Daly, the renowned environmentalist, calls this attitude—that environmental action stops when it begins to impinge on the economy—”growthmania.” Growthmania, however, goes beyond being a psychological fix. It is a cultivated ideological predisposition that serves as a protective shield for global capitalism. Capitalism is an expansive mode of production, and it can only reproduce itself by continually transforming living nature into dead commodities. This is essentially what growth is all about. This is why ever-increasing consumption is so central to the engine of profitability that drives capitalism.

The G8—the directorate of global capitalism—is trying hard to avoid just such radical controls on growth, consumption, profits, and the market that a viable strategy to stave off the looming climate catastrophe will necessitate. Voluntary cuts, technofixes, and carbon trading are desperate efforts to prevent the inevitable. Just like the US economy during World War II, it will take planned economies with severely regulated markets and profits, strictly controlled consumption, and equitably shared sacrifice to win the war against climate change.


A columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, Walden Bello is also senior analyst at the Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines.

This story first appeared July 15 in Foreign Policy in Focus.


Major Economies Process on Energy Security and Climate Change
US State Department

Climate Investment Funds, World Bank…

See also:

by Brain Tokar, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, February 2008

From our Daily Report:

Al Gore’s pseudo-ecology strikes again
WW4 Report, July 17, 2008

Bush to biosphere: drop dead
WW4 Report, July 15, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Divided Nation Faces Historic Vote

by Ben Dangl, Toward Freedom

In early July in Sicaya, Cochabamba, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that if he wins the August 10 recall vote on his presidency, “I’ll have two and half years left.” But if he loses the vote, “I’ll have to go back to the Chapare” to farm coca again. Though the recall vote is likely to favor Morales, it’s unclear if it will resolve many of the divided nation’s conflicts.

This upcoming recall vote on the president, vice president and eight of nine departmental governors is to take place at a time of historic change for the country. Half way through a five-year term in office, Morales is applying social programs aimed at fighting poverty and inequality, and developing positive relationships with Latin America’s leftist leaders. At the same time, a series of regional disputes in Bolivia over departmental autonomy, the new constitution and wealth from the partially-nationalized gas industry, continue to put the country’s stability at risk.

Since May 4, autonomy referendums have been approved by voters in the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando and Chuquisaca. These votes were organized by the country’s right-wing politicians and business elite to perpetuate neoliberal policies, resist the redistribution of land and natural gas wealth, and weaken the Morales government. Though the right points to these victories at the ballot box as proof of their mandate, the referendums are not legally recognized by the Bolivian Electoral Court, the Organization of American States, the European Union, President Morales or other major leaders throughout the region.

In addition, all of the referendums were marked by high levels of voter intimidation and abstention—Morales urged his supporters to abstain from voting. In Pando, for example, the combined number of “no” votes and abstentions was 16,303, while the “yes” votes totaled only 12,671. In other departments, Morales supporters were kidnapped, tortured and beaten by right-wing thugs in an attempt to suppress the anti-autonomy vote.

In spite of the questionable legitimacy of these referendums, the votes illustrate the growing polarization in the country. In another setback to the Morales administration, opposition prefect Savina Cuéllar, was elected in Chuquisaca on June 29. She was running against Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) candidate Walter Valda in a vote that took place in tandem with a successful autonomy referendum. However, the opposition’s apparent momentum is likely to be put in check by the August 10 recall vote.

In an attempt to break up a political impasse in December 2007, and in response to demands from the opposition, Morales proposed the recall bill which was passed on May 8, 2008 by the opposition-controlled Senate. The recall bill states that if the president, vice president and governors do not receive both a higher percentage of votes and actual number of votes in the recall referendum than what they received in the 2005 election, they will lose their position. Therefore, it’s possible to win the necessary percentage of votes but lose the necessary number of votes, thus losing the recall vote. If Morales and vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera lose, they have to hold new elections within 90-120 days, in which they themselves are likely to be strong candidates. If the governors lose, they are to be replaced by interim governors of Morales’ choosing until the next election. The recall vote on the governors will take place in eight out of the nine provinces; Chuquisaca won’t participate as CuĂ©llar was just recently elected governor there.

The results of the recall vote could vary widely. Polls indicate that Morales and Linera will win; they will likely be bolstered by new voters in rural areas voting for the first time after a massive voter registration drive led by the government. Morales is also likely to benefit from the fact that many voters and social organizations, in spite of any criticisms they have of his administration, will likely back him in a vote in which the alternative is essentially the right wing. As an analysis article on the Bolivian news publication BolPress explained, “[V]arious popular organizations have initiated a campaign to ratify Morales and kick out the oppositional governors, not because they consider that the actual leader [Morales] is managing the government well, it’s because the oligarchy’s return to power would imply an end to the possibility of transformation within the socio-economic structures of the country.”

Though the recall vote may invigorate Morales’ mandate, and perhaps weaken the right, it’s unlikely to resolve many of the disputes tearing the political landscape apart. The question of whether the executive and legislative powers will be based in Sucre or La Paz remains a regional controversy. The new draft of the constitution, passed in December 2007 by an assembly boycotted by opposition parties, still awaits approval in a national referendum which the opposition-controlled Senate is blocking.

Some opposition governors and their supporters will likely not respect the results of the recall vote, or even participate in it at all. Vice president Linera recently told reporters that “They will probably boycott some regions, those where they know will lose. I believe they are laying the grounds for some sort of boycott on August 10 to create conflicts.” It is also not entirely clear if the recall vote will proceed at all. Magistrate Silvia Salame, the only judge currently serving on Bolivia’s Constitutional Tribunal Court, has called on the National Electoral Court to postpone the recall vote until challenges to the vote’s legality are considered. Government officials in the Morales administration said they would ignore her decision because the Tribunal requires three votes, not one, to make a decision. In response, Bolivian Electoral Court President JosĂ© Luis Exeni stated the recall vote would proceed as planned.

While debates over the recall vote go on, controversy continues to surround how to best use Bolivia’s gas and oil wealth. Right-wing governors and civic leaders in Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando are demanding more funding from the profits of the oil and gas industry, which was partially nationalized by the Morales administration on May 1, 2006. Opposition leaders denounce that the Morales government redirected $166 million dollars from oil and gas tax revenue into a new pension plan that currently gives $315 dollars per year to Bolivians over 60 years old. Right-wing governors have threatened to go on a hunger strike on August 4 in protest of the policy. Yet what the opposition doesn’t acknowledge in their pleas is that their departments now receive many times more funding from the gas industry this year than they did in 2005 thanks to the Morales administration’s nationalization policies and renegotiations with private and foreign gas companies.

Meanwhile, Washington’s influence in the coca-producing Chapare region of Bolivia is waning, and Morales is strengthening his own relations with other Latin American leaders as he presses forward with progressive economic and development policies.

On June 24, coca growers in Bolivia’s Chapare region decided to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In the Chapare USAID has, among other activities, historically tried to weaken the impact and political power of coca unions. The Morales administration has also accused USAID of working to undermine the current government and strengthen the right-wing opposition. On July 14, Morales, a former coca farmer himself, said, “USAID is managing a lot of money that’s being used to confuse the population, they want to divide and create problems…”

At the same time, regional support for the Morales administration’s policies is on the rise. Venezuela and Cuba have sent doctors and teachers to rural areas in Bolivia. Cuba is building dozens of hospitals in the country, and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said his nation would continue to support the expansion of Bolivia’s gas industry: 73% of Bolivian gas now goes to Brazil. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recently announced his government will give $883 million dollars in aid to improve and expand the output of Bolivia’s oil and gas industry. Thanks in part to increased revenue from the gas industry, Morales said that $1.8 million dollars would be contributed to the development of 21 potable water projects in Santa Cruz.

Lula and Chávez recently pledged to collectively contribute $530 million to help with the development of highways linking La Paz, Beni and Pando. The collaboration supports Morales in his efforts against pro-autonomy governors. Chávez said of the highway plan, “We’re against those who want to tear Bolivia apart.”

Back in Sicaya, where Morales said he would return to coca farming if he lost the recall vote, the president stated that now “the vote serves not only to name authorities, but also to revoke their mandate. We are talking about expanding democracy.” Yet recent history shows that democracy in Bolivia can manifest itself in unpredictable ways.


Benjamin Dangl is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia,” (AK Press, 2007).

This story first appeared July 23 on Toward Freedom.

See also:

Santa Cruz Votes for Autonomy
by Ben Dangl, Upside Down World
World War 4 Report, June 2008

From our Daily Report:

Evo charges: US plans bases in Peru
WW4 Report, July 6, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Nikolas Kozloff, NACLA News

When you consider John McCain’s ties to Big Oil, the GOP candidate’s claim to be a political maverick taking on special interests is nothing short of absurd. According to Progressive Media USA, a Washington, DC-based non-profit, the Arizona Senator has benefited handily from the oil sector. Indeed, McCain has netted at least $700,000 from the oil and gas industry since 1989.

In Congress, he has worked tirelessly to advance the interests of the oil industry. For example, McCain’s tax plan gives the top five oil companies $3.8 billion a year in tax breaks. McCain meanwhile has voted against reducing dependence on foreign oil, has twice rejected windfall profits tax for Big Oil, and has voted against taxing oil companies to provide a $100 rebate to consumers. If that were not enough, McCain also made a risky political decision recently to back new offshore oil drilling in the US.

McCain, Iraq and Chevron
Moreover, oil companies that have contributed to McCain have benefited greatly in terms of their foreign operations. One might cite the case of Chevron, for example, which has donated to McCain’s cloak-and-dagger International Republican Institute (IRI). Though the Arizona Senator seldom talks about it, he has gotten much of his foreign policy experience working with the operation. Since 1993, McCain has served as chair of the outfit, which is funded by the US government and private money. The group, which receives tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, claims to promote democracy worldwide.

The hottest country in which IRI currently operates is Iraq. According to the IRI’s own web site, since the summer of 2003 the organization “has conducted a multi-faceted program aimed at promoting the development of democracy in Iraq. Toward this end, IRI works with political parties, indigenous civil society groups, and elected and other government officials. In support of these efforts, IRI also conducts numerous public opinion research projects and assists its Iraqi partners in the production of radio and television ads and programs.”

Prior to 2003, McCain was one of the biggest proponents of invading Iraq. Now that US forces are installed in the Middle Eastern nation, McCain wants the occupation to continue indefinitely, even for “a thousand” or “a million years.” Upon closer scrutiny, it is clear that oil companies have benefited from McCain’s hawkish Iraq policy. Though George Bush has scoffed at suggestions that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with oil, recent press reports give some credence to such claims.

In April of this year, Chevron announced that it was involved in discussions with the Iraqi Oil Ministry to increase production in an important oil field in southern Iraq. The discussions were aimed at finalizing a two-year deal, or technical support agreement, to boost production at the West Qurna Stage 1 oil field near Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city. Since McCain solidified his position as the GOP’s nominee, Chevron Chairman David O’Reilly gave $28,500 to the GOP. Meanwhile lobbyist Wayne Berman, McCain’s national finance co-chairman, counts Chevron as one of his principal clients.

Colombia’s Oil Profile
Another war-torn country attracting McCain’s attention is Colombia. In early July, McCain took valuable time out of his presidential campaign to visit the Andean nation. Catching a fast ride on a Colombian drug interdiction boat near Cartagena, McCain praised the government for prosecuting the drug war and making “substantial and positive” progress on human rights. Contrasting himself to his presidential opponent Barack Obama, McCain endorsed the pending trade deal with the South American country.

For the most part, the US media ignores Colombia. When it does cover the Andean nation, it tends to focus on drug-related issues and cocaine production. As a result, the US public doesn’t know that Colombia is also a huge oil producer and that the US has important economic interests in this part of the world. US officials would like to guarantee a safe and steady supply of crude from neighboring countries like Venezuela and Colombia, thus lessening dependence on Middle East providers. Today, Colombia is the United States’ 12th largest foreign oil supplier (and third largest in South America after Venezuela and Ecuador) and ships 150,000 barrels of oil per day to the American market.

According to Oil and Gas Journal, Colombia had 1.45 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves in 2007, the fifth-largest in South America. The bulk of Colombia’s crude oil production occurs in the Andes foothills and the eastern Amazonian jungles. However, vast unexplored and potentially hydrocarbon-rich territories remain in the country, which shares many of the geological features of oil-rich neighbor Venezuela.

Since 1999, Colombia’s government has undertaken extraordinary measures to make the investment climate more attractive to foreign oil companies (in this sense, Colombia differs from other South American countries which have adopted a more nationalistic oil policy). The authorities for example have allowed petroleum corporations to own 100 percent stakes in oil ventures. The government has also established a lower, sliding-scale royalty rate on oil projects, mandated longer exploration licenses and forced the state-owned oil company Ecopetrol to compete with private operators. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the measures “have contributed to creating one of the most attractive oil investment regimes in the world.”

McCain’s Colombia Ties
One firm attracted by the generous new financial terms has been Chevron, the same company that contributed to McCain’s campaigns and the IRI and which has benefited handsomely from the opening up of Iraqi fields. In association with Ecopetrol, Chevron operates the Ballena and Riohacha natural gas fields in the Guajira province of northeastern Colombia. Chevron’s total daily average production in 2007 was 469 million cubic feet of gas per day.

But McCain’s Colombia ties go much deeper than this.

As Sam Stein noted on the Huffington Post, McCain’s “position as an independent arbitrator on Colombia—a country often criticized for its labor and human rights practices—is undermined by a bevy of advisers who have earned large amounts either lobbying for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, or representing corporations that do business with that country.”

To get a sense of the scope of McCain’s conflict of interest on Colombia one need look no farther than Charlie Black, a senior adviser to the Arizona senator. A successful 60-year-old Washington lobbyist, Black is a notorious figure within the GOP. Over the course of his career he has gained a reputation as a ruthless operator with a merciless instinct for exposing an opponent’s flaws.

Black, who enjoyed stints as campaign operator for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, got to know John McCain in the late 1970s when the future Arizona senator worked as the Navy’s liaison to the Senate. In 1996, the pair became close while working on Senator Phil Gramm’s failed presidential bid. Today, Black is a frequent McCain campaign surrogate on television. On the trail he sits in a big swivel chair at the front of the “Straight Talk Express,” joining in McCain’s rolling news conferences.

Black’s Washington, DC public relations firm BKSH has developed a reputation for taking on foreign clients who display scant regard for human rights. In 1998, Black agreed to represent Occidental Petroleum (or Oxy), an energy company based in Los Angeles, California. At the time, the GOP spin master was surely aware of Occidental’s sordid past. In Colombia, the company had already acquired a reputation for its brutal and militaristic policies.

Charlie Black and Santo Domingo Massacre
The same year Black took on Occidental, the company was embroiled in controversy when the Colombian Air Force dropped cluster bombs on Santo Domingo, a village near an Occidental pipeline, killing 18 innocent civilians. Human rights groups and Colombian government officials said the bombing was a mistake that occurred because three employees of a Florida-based aerial security company employed by Occidental to monitor guerrilla movements had provided incorrect coordinates to Colombian military pilots.

The US employees of the security company dropped out of sight and Colombian government efforts to have them handed over for questioning and perhaps trial proved fruitless. Frustrated by the security company’s stonewalling, human rights groups filed suit in California in 2003 and 2004 against Occidental. Occidental still denies any responsibility for the bombing of Santo Domingo, and has claimed that it “has not and does not provide lethal aid to Colombia’s armed forces.”

Such affairs were apparently of little concern to Black, who lobbied Congress, the State Department, and the White House on Occidental’s behalf regarding “general energy issues” and “general trade issues” involving Colombia. McCain’s PR man also fought to win foreign assistance to Colombia and to block an economic embargo against the South American country.

Occidental and the U’wa
The Santo Domingo massacre was certainly a black mark on Occidental’s record. However, there were yet more controversies in store for the company.

Under an agreement with the Colombian government, Oxy acquired the right to explore for oil in the country’s northeast. Unfortunately, in granting Oxy its exploration permit, the government ignored a constitutional requirement that native peoples within the area be consulted first. Oxy quickly became embroiled in conflict with the indigenous U’wa, whose territory was nestled in the misty forests of northeast Colombia near the border with Venezuela.

As company geologists and engineers moved in to build roads through the indigenous reservation, so too did the Colombian army, which installed two military bases in the vicinity. It wasn’t long before the military began to harass local residents.

Known as a proud, strongly rooted people, the U’wa repeatedly denounced Occidental’s oil operation. The U’wa argued that oil exploration would threaten their people, damage the land, fill their territory with alien workers and destroy the world they knew. At one point the approximately 5,000 U’wa even threatened to commit collective suicide by leaping from a cliff unless the oil company stopped operations on their territory.

Tensions were ratcheted up when, in February 2000, Oxy began construction on its Gibraltar 1 drill site. Some 2,700 U’wa Indians, local farmers, students, and union members immediately attempted to stop Oxy’s construction. When indigenous peoples sought to prevent trucks from reaching the construction site, riot police used tear gas to break up a road blockade. Three U’wa children were drowned in a fast-flowing river as the U’wa fled the attack.

Two months later, when Oxy began to move heavy equipment and materials into the area, the U’wa again blocked local roads. While the protesters permitted other traffic to pass, they laid their bodies in front of Occidental trucks. In June, the government sent in riot police and soldiers; 28 demonstrators were subsequently injured and 33 arrested. Believing that the area might contain up to 1.5 billion barrels of oil, Occidental shortly thereafter began test drilling on U’wa ancestral lands.

Promoting Oil Development through Militarization
Even as tensions escalated within the U’wa reserve, McCain adviser Black was unperturbed. According to Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, a human rights group that works on behalf of Colombian indigenous groups opposed to oil drilling, Black was “very active” while Congress was debating a $1.3 billion military assistance package to Colombia that became law in 2000. “We’d be making the rounds in Congress,” Soltani said, “and Oxy would be there making the rounds, too.”

Why would Black also be so interested in trying to secure military funding for Colombia? As Oxy’s oil operations expanded, acquiring military support proved increasingly vital for the company. Oxy was part owner of the Caño LimĂłn-Coveñas oil pipeline. The Caño LimĂłn pipeline leads from Arauca to the Caribbean coast and crosses through the U’wa’ traditional lands. Not surprisingly, Oxy’s activities quickly attracted the attention of left-wing guerrillas who repeatedly blew up the pipeline. The attacks caused more than $500 million in losses to the company between December 1999 and December 2000.

The U’wa had long feared that oil exploration would bring bloodshed and conflict within their ancestral lands.

And as it turned out, the Indians were right.

Soon enough, Colombia’s wider civil conflict began to spill over into U’wa traditional territory. In March 1999, three U’wa supporters from the United States—Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawotok, and Laheehae Gay—were kidnapped and killed by FARC guerrillas in the department of Arauca.

While it’s unclear whether Oxy had any direct involvement in the killings, the company is known to have had links to the guerrillas. In testimony given before a Congressional subcommittee, Lawrence Meriage, Oxy’s vice president for communication and public affairs, acknowledged that Occidental personnel regularly paid off guerrillas in exchange for being left alone.

Meriage also claimed during the hearing that one benefit of Occidental operations in the U’wa region had been the increased presence of government troops. Indeed, Oxy paid a fee to the Colombian government on every barrel of oil produced. Meriage said that Occidental supported increased US military assistance to Colombia, and even urged the United States to expand its military operations in Colombia

In an effort to expand military funding to Colombia, the company spent nearly $4 million lobbying Congress in Washington. The investment paid off when the US government agreed to provide military aid, equipment and training to the 18th Brigade in Arauca, a unit which had been involved in grave human rights violations including attacks against trade unions and other members of civil society.

In May 2002, following a massive outcry by environmental groups, Oxy finally announced that it would return its controversial oil block to the Colombian government. Nevertheless, the company continued to operate in Colombia. Currently, the oil firm occupies the Caño-Limón oil field located in the Llanos Basin in the northeastern part of the country. The company also holds a 35 percent interest in the Caricare field and has signed a production agreement with Ecopetrol to operate the La Cira-Infantas field in central Colombia.

Although Oxy’s Caño-LimĂłn field has yielded hundreds of million dollars annually in profits, the pipeline has been an ongoing target for guerrilla forces. In 2007, Occidental again found itself in the midst of a human-rights mess. This time, the company was accused in congressional testimony of being “complicit”—with several other major corporations—in the murder of three labor leaders.

Hopelessly Compromised on Colombia
Despite these ominous developments, Black continued his lobbying efforts over at BKSH. Over the long haul the PR man’s loyalty to Occidental proved enormously lucrative, with Black netting $1.6 million in fees for BKSH from 2001 to 2007. Occidental was surely pleased with Black’s work: in 2003, Congress approved a special appropriation of nearly $100 million for the protection of oil pipelines in Colombia.

McCain’s aides have repeatedly argued that the senator’s presidential campaign does not have direct connections to companies represented by such advisers as Black. The Arizona senator’s handlers assert that McCain should not be held accountable for any company misdeeds nor should the public presume that McCain is unduly influenced by corporate interests.

Granted, McCain may claim that there is a degree of separation between Charlie Black and himself. There are several problems with this argument however.

To begin with McCain appointed Black to his position, which speaks volumes about McCain’s political priorities. In the second place, the Senator has a personal connection to Oxy through Ray Irani, Occidental’s chief executive. In 2008, Irani doled out $2,800 to McCain’s presidential campaign and a full $25,000 to the Republican National Committee. Irani could easily afford the donation: in 2007 he was the tenth highest paid CEO in the United States, raking in a whopping $34.2 million from Occidental.

Throughout his political career, McCain has protected Big Oil on Capitol Hill. The Arizona Senator has eagerly accepted Chevron and Occidental money to ensure his own success. The oil lobby, which is surely hoping for a McCain win come November, can count on its man to ensure a healthy “investment climate” in Iraq and Colombia. If anyone happens to interfere with petroleum investment, warrior President McCain can be relied upon to back up US oil operations with the full might and resources of the US military.


Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008).

This story first appeared July 8 on NACLA News.


McCain Source, Progressive Media USA

Colombia page, Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy

McCain Heads to Colombia, Already Tied to Country by Lobbyists
by Sam Stein, Huffington Post, July 1

“A Million Years in Iraq”—President McCain’s Dangerous Recruiting Poster for Insurgents
by Jon Soltz, Huffington Post, Jan. 4

BKSH & Associates

International Republican Institute

Destabilizing Haiti
New York Times editorial on the IRI, Feb. 3, 2006

United Steelworkers press release on Occidental Petroleum complicity with human rights abuses in Colombia
July 22, 2008

See also:

from Weekly News Update on the Americas
World War 4 Report, July 2008

From our Daily Report:

FCC probe of Haiti telcom deal hits McCain backer
WW4 Report, July 29, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Bill Weinberg, The Nation

Colombian paramilitary commander Diego “Don Berna” Fernando Murillo—ex-boss of MedellĂ­n’s feared Cacique Nutibara Bloc—was arraigned in federal court in Manhattan last month on cocaine charges that could land him in prison for thirty years. He is one of fourteen top commanders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) who had turned themselves in to serve reduced sentences in Colombia under the supposed demobilization plan and were summarily extradited to the United States in May. The Colombian government, justifying this violation of the terms of their surrender, charges that they had not lived up to their commitment to compensate victims and sever links to crime networks.

The US State Department has designated the AUC a terrorist group. But the US charges against Don Berna and his confederates all concern cocaine, not violence. Rights watchers fear their extradition will mean little chance of justice for their victims. Survivors have filed hundreds of complaints against each of the paramilitary blocs the fourteen led.

Although media reports have not noted it, Don Berna was linked to one particularly horrific crime—not against rival narco-lords or left-wing guerillas but against peasant pacifists who had declared their jungle village in the war-torn Urabá region a “peace community.” Since 1997, San JosĂ© de ApartadĂł, in one of several such citizen initiatives in Colombia, has maintained a policy of non-collaboration with any of the armed actors in the country’s war—the army, paras or guerillas. For this stance, the village has been repeatedly targeted for bloody reprisals, chiefly from the paras.

In February 2005, eight San José residents, including community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra and three children, were killed in the outlying fields. The village was subsequently occupied by the army and the residents forced to take refuge in a camp they have dubbed San Josécito (Little San José).

This year fifteen army troops were arrested in connection with the massacre. In May, just before Don Berna was extradited, the highest-ranking of them, Captain Guillermo Gordillo, started to cooperate with prosecutors, confessing that the massacre was carried out as a joint operation by the army’s 17th Brigade and the Don’s local Heroes de Tolova paramilitary bloc. Gordillo added that his superiors knew of the massacre and were involved in its planning.

SOA Watch, the group that monitors the US Army’s School of the Americas (now officially the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), reports that the commander of the 17th Brigade received training at the SOA. General HĂ©ctor Jaime Fandiño RincĂłn attended the Small-Unit Infantry Tactics course in 1976. In December 2004 he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

The United States has provided the Colombian government with more than $6 billion in mostly military aid since the Plan Colombia initiative was launched in 2000. In 2009, total US aid to Colombia will top $750 million. Despite the AUC “demobilization,” which took effect in 2005, the “remobilzed” Black Eagles paramilitary network remains active across Colombia—and has assassinated more leaders of the San JosĂ© peace community. Rights watchers continue to charge collaboration between paras and the army—this despite the “para-politics” scandal that has shaken the government of President Alvaro Uribe, with several leading politicians in jail awaiting trial on charges of paramilitary collaboration.

More than fourteen members of Colombia’s Congress, most from Uribe’s coalition, have been jailed and await trial for suspected links to the paramilitary network. Another sixty current or former legislators, including Uribe’s cousin and thirty-year political ally Mario Uribe, are under investigation for having collaborated with the AUC’s de facto control of much of Colombia’s countryside. Jorge Noguera, former chief of Colombia’s secret police, was arrested last year on charges of providing the AUC with information that led to several slayings.

In October, Sandra Suarez, Uribe’s special envoy in Washington to usher the pending free trade agreement through Congress, stepped down, stating in her resignation letter that she’d failed her government and that the agreement is dead. Although her letter didn’t explicitly mention it, the day she resigned, former secret police chief Rafael Garcia testified in Bogotá that Suarez collaborated with leaders of the AUC, and with the governors of CĂ©sar and Magdalena departments to establish paramilitary control over these regions.

Uribe and the White House argue that stability is returning to Colombia and point to the drop in kidnappings and guerilla attacks. But they always ignore the horrific human rights toll of this pacification. The 2008 Amnesty International annual report on Colombia states that while guerilla and paramilitary attacks are down, rights abuses by the army and security forces actually rose last year.

Compounding the betrayal of Don Berna’s victims is the irony that the United States is now replicating the disastrous Colombia model in a $1.4 billion, multi-year anti-drug program for Mexico and Central America, dubbed the MĂ©rida Initiative. Last month, Congress approved $400 million for Mexico and $65 million for the Central American nations in the first year of the program. Critics call the project “Plan Mexico”—although, unlike Plan Colombia, it does not make a commitment to supplying US military advisers.

Under pressure from human rights groups, Congress initially included rights “conditions” in the Merida Initiative legislation. But following protests from Mexico, the language was softened, with “conditions” dropped in favor of “guidelines.” The most significant difference is that the amount of aid that can be withheld if Mexico fails to meet the “guidelines” has been dropped from 25 percent to 15 percent.

Similar conditions on Colombia aid have failed to remove that country from its position as the hemisphere’s worst rights abuser. And there is little reason for optimism in Mexico. As Mexico’s drug war quickly escalates to a real one, grisly abuses mount, with growing talk of the country’s “Colombianization.” President Felipe CalderĂłn has sent the army to patrol northern cities and fight the drug gangs. Despite official denials that the Merida Initiative mirrors Plan Colombia, Mexico’s Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said on a trip to Bogotá in 2006 that Mexican law enforcement should “learn through an exchange of information with Colombia about the best way to combat organized crime.”

And they do seem to be learning. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has just issued eight recommendations for prosecution of army personnel involved in grave rights violations—including homicide, “disappearance” and torture with electric shock—in anti-crime operations in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Michoacán and Tamaulipas.

All the incidents took place within the last year. Although the story hasn’t made headlines in the United States, the central city of LeĂłn is being wracked by a scandal in which a video made of a police torture training session was leaked to a newspaper. It shows recruits having their heads submerged in excrement and being pushed into their own vomit.

John McCain’s July 1 meeting with Colombia’s hard-line President Uribe indicates he will continue the Bush Administration’s militarist agenda for Latin America. If we are lucky enough to get a President Obama, he may, at least, be more susceptible to pressure on the question. But with all eyes on Iraq and the credit crisis, human rights in Latin America have at best been relegated to an afterthought.


Bill Weinberg is the editor of World War 4 Report.

This story first appeared July 29 in the online edition of The Nation.


Amnesty International Report 2008: Colombia

See also:

from Weekly News Update on the Americas
World War 4 Report, October 2007

From our Daily Report:

Colombia: army colonel admits participation in Peace Community massacre
WW4 Report, Aug. 3, 2008

Mexico: US-UK firm teaches torture?
WW4 Report, July 14, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Aug. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution