Pubdate: Fri, 07 Apr 2000
Source: MoJo Wire (US Web)
Copyright: 2000 Foundation for National Progress
Contact:  731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103
Fax: (415) 665-6696
Author: Michael T. Klare


Photo caption: Colombian anti-narcotics police stand guard in front of a
US-made Blackhawk helicopter in Bogota.

The Clinton administration is pitching its proposed $1.6 billion gift to the
Colombian military as a way to stem the flow of cocaine to the US; but it's
got just as much to do with ensuring that another Colombian export -- oil --
keeps coming.

In the biggest step-up in US military aid to Latin America since the Reagan
era, the Clinton administration is preparing to provide Colombia with $1.6
billion in helicopters, communications gear, combat training, and other
forms of assistance.

All this aid is supposed to strengthen Colombia's capacity to fight
narcotics traffickers and the leftist guerrillas who protect them. But there
is another, hidden objective -- to protect US access to the largest untapped
pool of petroleum in the Western Hemisphere.

US interest in Colombia's drug production is well known. Government sources
claim that Colombian traffickers supply as much as 90 percent of the cocaine
flowing into the United States, plus a large proportion of the heroin sold
in the eastern third of the country.

Far less known is Colombia's role in satisfying America's vast and growing
petroleum habit. According to the US Department of Energy, US oil
consumption rose by 15 percent between 1990 and 1999, rising from 17 to 19.5
million barrels per day. During the same period, Colombia's oil production
rose by about 78 percent, with most of the added amount going to the United
States, making it, today, the nation's seventh largest supplier of oil.

But US strategic calculations are more concerned with the future. US
consumption is expected to rise by another 5 million barrels per day over
the next twenty years, and most of this oil will have to come from foreign
sources. These quantities could easily be provided by the Persian Gulf
countries, especially such petro giants as Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.
However, US strategists are reluctant to increase America's dependence on
the unstable (and increasingly unfriendly) states of the Middle East -- and
so seek more accessible suppliers. This is where Colombia and neighboring
Venezuela enter the picture.

Although Colombia's current production is dwarfed by the petro giants, the
country is believed to possess 2.6 billion barrels of untapped petroleum and
perhaps ten times this amount in possible reserves. Venezuela is even more
richly endowed, with 73 billion barrels in proven reserves.

Since the Gulf War of 1991, US leaders have moved to increase the importance
of Western Hemisphere oil. "We are undergoing a fundamental shift in our
reliance on imported oil away from the Middle East," the White House noted
in a May 1997 report on national security policy. Noting that Venezuela is
the number one foreign supplier and that " ... Venezuela and Colombia are
each undertaking new oil production ventures," the report called access to
these supplies a "vital interest" of the United States. This has significant
security implications. Once a source of oil is designated a "vital
interest," it becomes incumbent on Washington to assure the long-term safety
of these supplies. In the past, this has often entailed direct intervention
by US forces or providing military aid to friendly governments.

In calling for stepped-up aid to the Colombian military, US officials have
stressed the need to go after leftist guerrillas said to provide protection
for drug traffickers. Rarely mentioned, however, is the fact that the
guerrillas are also attacking US oil interests in Colombia, especially
pipelines. In 1999, for example, the pipeline from the Cano Limon field --
operated by US-based Occidental Petroleum Co. and Royal Dutch/Shell -- was
bombed 79 times. In fact, a key element of the guerrillas' stated program is
to expel foreign interests and use future oil profits to improve the lot of
Colombia's impoverished masses.

All this raises important questions about the aims of the aid program. The
$1.6 billion is described as a one-time "emergency" measure, intended to tip
the scales on the narcotics battlefield in the government's favor. But it is
very doubtful that this amount -- five times the size of previous allotments
- -- will make a lasting difference, and additional infusions of US aid will
be needed in the future. When we add Colombian oil supplies to the strategic
equation, it is apparent that we are talking about a very extended future

Given the risk that this military aid package will lead to protracted and
expanding involvement in Colombia's messy conflicts, it is essential that
the administration and the various pro-aid factions in Congress be more
forthcoming about America's long-term interests in Colombia. If increasing
our dependence on Colombian oil means expanding our involvement in that
country's internal wars, we may be better off looking elsewhere for our
future oil requirements.
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