by Daniel Leal Diaz
The Bogota daily El Tiempo recently reported that the US military contractor Halliburton has recruited 25 retired Colombian police and army officers to provide security for oil infrastructure in Iraq. One of the men, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the officers met in Bogota on Dec. 2 with a Colombian colonel working on behalf of Halliburton Latin America, who offered them monthly salaries of $7,000 to provide security for oil workers and facilities in several Iraqi cities. The claim was confirmed by a Colombian government source, said El Tiempo, but denied by a Halliburton representative in Bogota. US media have reported that former soldiers from Chile, South Africa and Spain are being recruited to beef up Iraqi security forces. Halliburton, the oil services giant once run by US Vice President Dick Cheney, has won billions of dollars in Iraq contracts, but has been accused of overcharging and accounting irregularities. (Al-Jazeera, Dec. 13; AP, Dec. 17)
Colombia is a member of President Bush’s "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, but hasn’t sent troops because its army is battling a guerilla insurgency with US aid at home. The wars in Iraq and Colombia are coming to reflect each other more and more.
Rights abuses by the military continue in Colombia’s rural communities. On Dec. 29, in the self-declared "peace community" of San Jose de Apartado, Antioquia department, a 10-year-old girl, Flor Alba Nerio Usuaga, was shot in the back, while running with some campesinos that refused to stop when an army patrol told them to. According to a statement from the community leaders, the campesinos had seen guerillas in the area, and were afraid of getting caught in cross-fire. The girl survived, and is now in the hospital in nearby Apartado city.
On Dec. 22, in La Cristalina, one of San Jose’s outlying communities, three campesinos, including 70-year-old Miguel Arango, were forcibly detained by army troops in their own houses. Accused by the troops of being guerilla collaborators, Arango was tortured by having his head held under water repeatedly. The family was finally set free. (San Jose de Apartado statement, Jan. 2)
On Sept. 29, in the peace community of Cacarica in neighboring Choco department, three residents, including an 11-year-old boy, were detained by the military’s XVII Brigade after being accused of being members of the guerilla militia. In the course of a three-hour interrogation, they were threatened with death and humiliated. One soldier told an officer through his radio, "one of them has the face of gonorrhea." (Cacarica statement, Dec. 7)
Sadly, such rights violations are also taking their toll in Colombia’s mayor cities. An employee of a Coca-Cola plant, affiliated to the beverage workers union SINALTRAINAL, is the latest target. The events took place Nov. 25 in the city of Cucuta, Norte de Santander department. Gustavo Lindarte received a bullet in his right leg in what was apparently an attempted assassination. The president of SINALTRAINAL, Javier Correa, said that Lindarte’s life is "in serious risk." Cucuta’s government functionaries have been nationally and internationally denounced by rights groups for maintaining links with the right-wing paramilitaries. The mayor of the city, Ramiro Corzo, is currently in jail on charges of collaborating with outlawed paramilitaries. (ANNCOL, Dec. 9).
As in Iraq, designs on local oil resources are a major factor in the war. In the spring of 2001, Guimer Dominguez, president of Occidental Petroleum’s Colombian operations made a private visit to the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in Bogota to plead for help. A bombing campaign by leftist guerillas had nearly shut down Oxy’s Cano-Limon oil field in Arauca department. Dominguez threatened to permanently shut Oxy’s operations unless security improved. The pull-out would have been a harsh blow to Colombia’s government, which is heavily reliant on oil royalties. "Oxy will not resume production at the Cano-Limon field until the [Colombian government] addresses the security situation in Arauca significantly," then-US Ambassador Anne Patterson wrote in a confidential memo to the State Department after Dominguez visited the embassy. A subsequent Colombia aid package sent to Congress by the Bush administration included a provision to send US military advisors to train Colombian soldiers to protect oil infrastructure. Patterson worked closely with both Oxy and the Colombian government to draw up the plan. The US has now trained some 2,000 soldiers to protect the Cano-Limon pipeline. Attacks on the pipeline have dropped from 170 in 2001 to only 17 in 2004. Colombia’s government is receiving $500 million more from Oxy’s oil operations annually. (LAT, Dec. 29)
Finally, these abuses are taking place as Colombia’s fragile democracy appears to be degenerating into a US-backed authoritarian state. Colombia’s Congress approved on Nov. 30 an amendment to the constitution that permits President Alvaro Uribe, the Bush administration’s closest ally in South America, to run for re-election in 2006. Uribe signed the measure, making it official, Dec. 27. His term is to expire in August 2006, and the Colombian constitution has until now barred re-election. Wrote the New York Times: "The Bush administration has quietly but steadily supported a re-election drive by government supporters who argue that Mr. Uribe needs four more years to help extricate Colombia from its long, drug-fueled conflict with Marxist rebels. Since 2000, the United States has provided Bogota with 3.3 billion in mostly military assistance, and President Bush offered more when he visited Colombia on Nov 22." (NYT, Dec. 28)
The US has transformed Colombia’s soldiers into some of the best mercenaries in the world through decades of a mutating war that never seems to end: communism, drugs and–the latest version–terrorism. As Halliburton exploits this expertise for the Iraq campaign, Colombia becomes poorer in every dimension: violations of human rights, indiscriminate violence, loss of sovereignty and a crumbling democracy.
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 17, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution