Other Harken Energy Scandal
Oil, Death Squads and Corruption in Colombia
by Sean DonahueFinancial irregularities at Harken Energy
during President Bush's tenure at the Texas oil company
have dominated headlines in recent days. But the press
has ignored a much bigger scandal: how Harken Energy
has benefited from war and terror in Colombia.
George W. Bush went to work for Harken Energy in 1986
when the company bought out Spectrum 7, a company that
had earlier purchased Bush's failed Arbusto oil company.
Harken gave Bush $2 million in stock options, a $122,000
consulting job, and a seat on its board of directors.
While Bush was working for Harken, Rodrigo Villamizar,
an old friend Bush had met at a fraternity party in
1972, became director of Colombia's bureau of Mines
and Minerals, the ministry that oversees the sale of
oil concessions by the state oil company, Ecopetrol.
According to a December 2001 report in Counterpunch,,
Bush had helped Villamizar out in the '70's by getting
him first a job with the Texas state senate's Economic
Development committee, and then a seat on the state
Public Utilities Commission. Toward the end of Bush's
tenure at Harken, Villamizar returned the favor by granting
Harken a series of oil contracts in Colombia.
The bulk of the oil contracts were in the Magdalena
Valley where military officers, drug traffickers, and
cattle ranchers had come together to form right wing
paramilitary groups that fought guerillas, assassinated
union leaders and human rights activists, and terrorized
peasants in order to force them off coveted land. Most
of the oil companies doing business in the region either
tacitly accepted or actively sought out the protection
of these death squads. A 1996 Human Rights Watch report
documents the fact that the Colombian military armed
and assisted these groups and, under the guidance of
the CIA, integrated them into its intelligence networks.
The close cooperation between the military and the paramilitaries
continues today - and tends to be most rampant in areas
where there is a lot of oil production. The State Department
has listed the paramilitaries as terrorist organizations,
but has looked the other way as the <U.S.-funded>
Colombian army has continued to rely on them to do its
dirty work in its war against dissidents. Harken is
still doing business in the Magdalena Valley, thanks
in part to funding from the World Bank's International
Finance Corporation, and paramilitaries continue to
terrorize anyone who threatens corporate interests in
Noone is alleging that President Bush personally ordered
paramilitaries to kill peasants and intimidate union
leaders in order to improve Harken's bottom line. But
at the same time, given his close ties to Villamizar,
and the fact that his father was President at the time,
its highly unlikely that Bush was ignorant of the human
rights issues involved in oil drilling in Colombia.
All of this has a very immediate relevance today because
Villamizar, who left Colombia to escape corruption charges
and is now a covicted felon and fugitive from justice,
drafted the Colombia policy for the Bush campaign in
2000, and still maintains close ties to the President.
Counterpunch reports that Villamizar, who should be
serving four years in a Colombian prison, was Bush's
first choice to serve as Assistant Secretary of State
for Western Hemisphere Affairs, but turned down the
Villamizar's recommendations on expanding U.S. military
aid to Colombia have been largely accepted by the Bush
administration, and a new President in Colombia with
links to the death squads is poised to use expanded
U.S. aid to dramatically escalate the country's forty
year civil war against leftist guerillas. Hundreds of
U.S. military advisors are on the ground in Colombia
today. Officially they have no combat role, but that
is likely to change when the guerillas begin treating
the advisors as military targets. Colin Powell's old
doctrine of making sure the U.S. has clear military
goals and a viable exit strategy before getting involved
in a war seems to have been completely forgotten.
The cornerstone of Bush's new military aid package is
a $98 million grant to help the Colombian government
establish a new battalion of its army's 18th Brigade
to protect an oil pipeline against guerilla attacks.
The 18th Brigade has a long history of ties to the paramilitaries,
and its own history of attacks on civilians - earlier
this year soldiers killed a teenage boy for walking
too close to the pipeline. Ironically the first beneficiary
of this program will be Occidental Petroleum, the company
that helped the Gore family make its fortune. But U.S.
Ambassador Anne Patterson has said that in the long
run the Pentagon is eyeing similar programs for other
key economic assets in Colombia. These would likely
include pipelines maintained by Harken's subsidiary,
Global Energy Development, , a natural gas pipeline
operated by Enron, and projects involving Dick Cheney's
old company, Haliburton, as well as assets owned or
used by Texaco, Exxon-Mobil, and BP.
The Bush administration's conflicts of interest in Colombia
need to be investigated, exposed, and thoroughly examined
before the U.S. gets drawn deeper into Colombia's bloody
Sean Donahue is co-director of New Hampshire Peace Action
and has written and spoken extensively on U.S. policy
toward Colombia. He is available for interviews and
speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.