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Narco News 2001

March 16, 2001

Gorman Digs Under the Surface of Plan Colombia and is...

Finding Oil Below


By Peter Gorman

IQUITOS, PERU-Though the stated objectives of Plan Colombia are to end the 30-plus year old civil war that has cost the lives of more than 35,000 Colombians and to end the production of cocaine and heroin, there may
be a simpler reality: oil.

There have long been rumors that somewhere between the vast oilfields of Venezuela and the third-rate shale-oil fields of the Peruvian Amazon's northwest there might lie the motherload of South America's oil.

Recently, geologists have been targeting those rumors to the southeastern foothills of Colombia's Andes. While it is only a rumor at this time-because those scientists passing it not yet willing to put their names on the record-if true, then Plan Colombia has an even more wretched face than previously thought. Could it be possible that Plan Colombia is simply a cover for eliminating the people in the region who stand between the oil exploration and the potential riches it would produce?

Of course, that idea begs this question: if we already know there are unimaginably rich oil fields in the region, why not simply move in as businessmen and purchase the rights? The answer, if such oil fields exist, is twofold: first, Colombia is in the midst of a civil war and US oil companies are already having tremendous difficulty maintaining qualified men there because of how dangerous the job has become. US oil companies in Colombia are currently paying a premium of $1,000 a day to men who, in other countries for the same work, are earning $200 or less per day. And they are still short men willing to risk their lives in the ongoing civil war. Exploring for oil in the heart of rebel-held territory would simply be impossible in the present political climate.

There is also the question of public relations. Several indigenous peoples live in the region in question, including the Cofan tribal group, and drilling for oil in traditional indigenous territory has already proven to be a political and public relations nightmare in South America, one which has cost companies years of work and millions and millions of dollars in legal battles, most recently in Waorani territory in Ecuador.

If, however, those traditional peoples, as well as the FARC, were moved from the region because of war, they would largely lose their claims to the "traditional territory." Imagine the FARC and locals in the region slaughtered or displaced in a US-backed war, after which US oil companies quickly move into the now-vacated territory and discover terribly rich oilfields. Rather than being a public relations debacle for the oil companies they would appear as proverbial White Knights rushing in to help rebuild a decimated land.

If such fields exist, it is not difficult to imagine the possibility of someone or several people in the US State Department knowing of them, and subsequently pushing for the passage of Plan Colombia under the guise of fighting the War on Drugs. As noted, to date the existence of the oil motherload is just a rumor, but it would explain why the US position went from one of having no interest in Colombia's civil war-even at the height of the cocaine epidemic in the US-to the billion-dollar-plus Plan Colombia with all of its war components, after the FARC agreed to peace talks. It would also explain why those war components of Plan Colombia are nearly all aimed at the FARC demilitarized zone and not at the paramilitary (AUC) held regions, which are the primary sources of finished cocaine and the exclusive regions of distribution and export of same.

Digging Under the Surface of Plan Colombia