Colombian Journey – An Inconvenient Truth
Colombian Journey – An Inconvenient Truth Scott Nicholson – Colombia Occidental Petroleum and Al Gore would like us to believe that they’re environmentalists. “Caño Limón – Ecological Protection Zone” reads the billboard at the military checkpoint where the highway enters Oxy’s Caño Limón oilfield in the state of Arauca. “An Inconvenient Truth” is the title of Al Gore’s movie about global warming. The inconvenient truth here in Arauca is that Oxy and Al Gore are responsible for environmental devastation, not protection.
Scott Nicholson – Colombia
Occidental Petroleum and Al Gore would like us to believe that they’re environmentalists. “Caño Limón – Ecological Protection Zone” reads the billboard at the military checkpoint where the highway enters Oxy’s Caño Limón oilfield in the state of Arauca. “An Inconvenient Truth” is the title of Al Gore’s movie about global warming. The inconvenient truth here in Arauca is that Oxy and Al Gore are responsible for environmental devastation, not protection.
Oxy’s “Ecological Protection Zone” is the site of 316 oil wells that produce 95,000 barrels of oil a day. The extensive estuary that used to exist there was drained to create dry ground for those wells, the pipeline that transports the oil to the Caribbean coast, and the highway built to bring in the construction and drilling equipment.
The Arauca Flora and Fauna Sanctuary were created by the Colombian government in 1977. Oxy began exploring for oil in the sanctuary in 1981.
The government revoked the declaration of the Arauca Flora and Fauna Sanctuary in 1983 and Oxy began pumping oil from there in 1986.
The source of the Limón River was located in the sanctuary. The Limón River fed the Lipa Lagoon which was the source for seven other rivers. The Guahibo indigenous people lived alongside the Lipa Lagoon – which they considered to be sacred. Oxy blocked off the source of the Limón River which dried up the Lipa Lagoon. The Guahibo were displaced from their ancestral lands and their culture was destroyed.
Oxy then decided to explore for oil in the Samoré block in the Eastern Range of the Andes. The Samoré block includes territory of the U’Wa indigenous people and is located just west of Arauca. The U’Wa initiated a strong campaign to try and prevent Oxy from drilling on their land.
Thousands of U’Wa and supporters from the Arauca social organizations occupied the road leading to Samoré from February 19 to April 22, 2000. The government agreed to demand that Oxy suspend its operations and the U´Wa and their supporters lifted the blockade. Less than a month later, Oxy brought in its drilling equipment in the midst of a massive military operation.
During that time, Al Gore was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination while holding hundreds of thousands of dollars in Oxy stock. His father, Al Gore Sr., had been a close friend of Oxy founder Armand Hammer and served on Oxy’s board. A national campaign in the U.S. urged Gore to take action to stop Oxy’s plans to drill in the territory of the U’Wa. The inconvenient truth is that Gore did nothing.
Meanwhile, Oxy was waging a strong campaign to get Congress to approve the Clinton administration’s Plan Colombia – a massive increase in U.S. military aid to Colombia. The plan was approved and Colombia has since received nearly $4 billion in U.S. military aid. In 2003, $98 million of that aid was used to create Mobile Brigade 5 to protect Oxy’s pipeline here in Arauca. That Brigade has been implicated in many of the worst human rights abuses committed in Arauca.
The Caño Limón oilfield was supposed to be handed back to the Colombian government in December 2007 – according to the original contract signed by Oxy and the government. That contract was modified in 2003 and Oxy can now operate the oilfield until the reserve has been completely extracted. Oxy has also begun exploring for oil in the Caricare block located to the south of Caño Limón. The Playa Rica estuary is being drained and more rivers are being blocked off. The fear is that the devastation caused by Oxy in Caño Limón is going to be repeated in Caricare.
The social organizations of Arauca are organizing a national and international campaign to halt the destruction caused by Oxy in Arauca.
We’ll keep you informed about how you can support this campaign.
In love and solidarity,
Scott Nicholson serves as a Short-term Volunteer with the Social Organizations of Arauca, Colombia. As a part of the process of accompaniment, Scott works as an advisor/consultant in the administration of productive projects in the rural communities.