Pipeline Protection: The Falling Figleaf in Colombia

The escalation of US military intervention in the affairs of Colombia has taken a new turn in the last few weeks. Our government has spent billions of dollars—including $625 million for 2002 —to help the Colombian army. As described in a January 24 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, "US culpability in the civil war has been discreetly obscured by the fig leaf of fighting drugs." The editorial notes that although it is claimed that American military advisers and equipment are limited to counternarcotics activities, this distinction is pointless since US and Colombian officials view the rebels as indistinguishable from drug traffickers and fight them equally. But with a last minute move on the part of President Andres Pastrana on January 20 to "save the peace talks," and with funds for protecting oil pipelines introduced in President Bush's budget request for fiscal year 2003, the fig leaf has been dropped.

The tenuous state of peace talks over the past three years between the Pastrana administration and guerrilla groups has been a major concern. Critics of US policy have noted that most of our government's actions have undermined the peace talks while the United Nations has endeavored to keep them alive. The renewal of peace talks with the major guerilla force (the FARC) in January included a tight agenda for reaching a ceasefire by April 7, but hope was quickly diminished by increased violence in urban areas, car bombs, and attacks on power transmission lines.

US response to the heightened threat to infrastructure and commercial interests, as made specific in Pastrana's most recent plea, is found in a request within Foreign Operations in the Bush FY03 budget proposal. As reported by Reuters (February 11), military aid would be upgraded to include protection of the much-bombed Cano Limon oil pipeline in northeast Colombia, used by the US corporation Occidental Petroleum. US Ambassador Anne Patterson, in explaining the proposal to allocate $98 million to protect the 490 mile pipeline, stated, "It is true that this is not an anti-narcotics issue, but it is something we have to do. It is important for the future of the country (Colombia), for our petroleum supplies, and for the confidence of our investors." The administration proposal includes funding for 11 or12 new Huey-2 helicopters. The pipeline protection program would not cover the largest oil pipeline, the Casenares, where there are no US interests.

A February 13 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle states, "The new US policy reeks of corporate welfare — the administration wants to dispose of the fig leaf altogether and get directly involved in fighting guerrillas."

Further enlightenment regarding the distortion of US drug policy in Colombia will be available at the forthcoming presentations by Sanho Tree (see enclosed flyer). For additional information, call Dan or Doris Sage of the Colombia Support Network: 315-468-2293.

_Dan Sage