FARC Indictments Spell Escalation in Andean Oil War
by Peter Gorman
During the past several years, five apparently separate events have taken place involving Colombia that are actually quite interrelated. The first was that during the late 1990s, massive oil resources were discovered in the southern areas of Colombia predominantly controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the leftist rebels who’ve been waging a civil war for 40 years. The second is that Colombia and the US have been working on a Free Trade Agreement which just signed this past February 27. Third, last year Colombian President Alvaro Uribe successfully pressured the country’s Congress into writing an amendment to the constitution that will allow him to run for a second consecutive term. The fourth occurred in early March 2006, when General Mario Montoya Uribe (no relation to the president) was put in charge of the Colombian military. The fifth and last domino fell later that month, when 50-members of the FARC were indicted (with huge rewards placed on their heads) by the US government for alleged massive cocaine trafficking. While many will see these as distinct events, they’re probably better seen as separate pieces of a complex puzzle.
Until the massive oil reserves were discovered in Putumayo and other departments held by the FARC, the guerillas were permitted to control a large portion of southern Colombia as an autonomous zone—as long as they stayed within their zone, the Colombian government wouldn’t send its military in after them. All that changed with the discovery of the oil, which shortly thereafter led to Plan Colombia and the disastrous spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, which has been raining down on the jungle and villages of southern Colombia for several years now. While some saw the frequently errant spraying—which hit more jungle than coca plants—as accidental, others point out that it is impossible to get a good satellite read on the location of oil beneath the ground when the surface is covered with trees. The spraying cleared huge swaths of that jungle cover and “incidentally” displaced thousands of peasants and indigenous from the region—which by luck freed up the areas the oil people wanted to look into.
Add to that the evident reality that President Uribe, Bush’s closest ally (or perhaps crony is a better word) in the War on Drugs south of Texas, sees himself as lord and master of Colombia—which isn’t entirely untrue as he has long been a vital player in and currently controls the country’s cocaine economy, without which the national economy would sink like a stone. Uribe couldn’t see himself put all this oil and glyphosate business in motion and then leave office to have someone else either ruin his plans or take the glory and gelt, so last year he managed to get himself a chance at running for a second term in office. He pressured the Colombian congress into writing an constitutional amendment permitting it—something other Colombian presidents have only tried but at which he succeeded. He’s considered a shoe-in to win, as his hardline policies have made the highways safer and led to at least a slight decline in kidnappings.
Seemingly assured of a second term, he went to work diligently to get the Bush-proposed Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US passed. Looking over the agreement, much ink is spent on things like the reduced or eliminated tariffs US companies will have to pay to ship cotton, chicken legs and so forth into Colombia. All of those elements will work toward eliminating Colombian peasant farmers from the market, particularly in the deep rural areas—such as Putumayo. But deep in the agreement are several items related to Colombia’s “energy” and “oil” industries. Close reading shows that US companies will now be able to purchase Colombian land, utilize US—rather than Colombian—personnel to work their oil rigs, bid on formerly Colombian-only contracts for Colombian oil, and be entitled to the same agreements Colombian companies are offered in relation to all Colombian energy. Shorthand? The US just took over the Colombian oil market, and its open season on those reserves.
But that open-season doesn’t mean a thing if there continues to be a civil war raging in the new oil regions. And Plan Colombia thus far hasn’t eliminated it, as had been hoped for. To step that effort up, Gen. Mario Montoya has just been named the head of the Colombian military. Gen. Montoya has a history—dating back 30-years—of collaborating with the paramilitaries in killing innocent peasants, massacring villages, and generally being one of the worst 25 or so humans of the last century. He’s been sanctioned by the UN, criticized by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and once ran a battalion, the 24th, which was so rife with human rights abuses that it was cut off from US funding. He was also a student, and later, in 1993, a teacher, at the US School of the Americas, the notorious training ground for blood-thirsty US-flunkies who go on to rule Central and South America’s militaries and politics. Former students include Bolivia’s Hugo Banzer, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, and Peru’s Vladmiro Montesinos—quite a list. Montoya’s specialty was training troops against peasant insurrections.
To give his job relevance, 50 FARC leaders were indicted in the US in late March as cocaine traffickers, with prices as high as $5 million put on each of their heads. The federal indictments accuse the FARC of being behind “50 percent of the world’s cocaine trade and 60 percent of the cocaine exported to the United States.” At the announcement of their indictments, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said, “We believe these men are responsible for not only manufacturing and exporting devastating amounts of cocaine, but enforcing their criminal regime with violence.” Some of that is obvious hyperbole, as many of the charges try to link the FARC commanders with cocaine operations either nowhere near where they operate or to operations that occurred long before the FARC were involved in the drug trade.
Some of them are undoubtedly involved in the trade—even FARC-sympathizers concede that the FARC have moved from taxing coca farmers to trying to get a piece of the trade in recent years. But by naming 50, rather than half-a-dozen, alleged traffickers, and placing a fat price on their heads, the US has unleashed every mercenary and paramilitary in the hemisphere to go after them. Worse, they’ll be going after those suspected of protecting and harboring them as well—which means it’ll be open season on peasants and the indigenous in the region as the shmucks claw their way to the $5 million bonanzas. And any villagers that get caught in the crossfire will not be noticed by the international community, as they will be perceived as aiding and abetting narco-terrorists.
To drive that point home, Colombia’s Defense Minister Camilo Ospina noted to the press that the indictment showed that “a big decision has been made to carry out the final battle against narcotrafficking and terrorism.”
Montoya’s job? Capture the 50 most wanted FARC copmmanders and eliminate anyone he considers may have been cooperating with them. The goal: displace or eliminate anyone in the way of access to the oil reserves. With 30 years of human rights abuses under his belt, it will be a job he will relish. And when the smoke clears and the bodies stop burning, Uribe will be a hero to the US companies who’ll make out big in the deal, and wind up on their boards after he retires. George Bush will dress up in a military uniform and declare victory while standing on a drilling rig. And the coca trade, still controlled primarily by the paramilitaries, will continue to thrive.
“United States and Colombia Conclude Free Trade Agreement,” US Trade Representative, Feb. 27, 2006
“Free Trade with Colombia: Summary of the Agreement,” US Trade Representative, Feb. 27, 2006
“Colombian leader Uribe allowed to run for new term,” EducWeb News, Nov. 13, 2005
“The U.S. Department Of Justice Announces Indictments of Members of Farc Drug Cartel,” DoJ press release, March 22, 2006
“US indicts FARC over £14bn cocaine cartel,” The Scotsman, April 27, 2006
“U.S. Indicts 50 Leaders of Colombian Rebels in Cocaine Trafficking,” New York Times, March 22, 2006
“OPERATION GREEN COLOMBIA: Coca Eradication Brings War to Endangered National Parks,” by Memo Montevino, WW4 REPORT #119, March 2006
“Colombia: Trade Pact Signed, Right Sweeps Elections,” WW4 REPORT #120, April 2006
“Ethnic Cleansing in Colombian Amazon,” WW4 REPORT, April 4, 2006
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution