Monthly Archives: August 2012

Under the radar: Yanomamis massacred, Curacao oil spill

Too much fucked up shit happens all at once, and it’s hard to keep up.

Someone flew into the Amazon and killed off an entire village of indigenous Yanomami, possibly to make way for illegal mining.

Goldminers in Venezuela have carried out a ‘massacre’ of isolated Yanomami Indians, according to reports received by Survival International.

Witnesses of the aftermath described finding ‘burnt bodies and bones’ when they visited the community of Irotatheri in the country’s Momoi region, close to the border with Brazil.

Initial reports suggest up to 80 people have been killed, but these numbers are impossible to confirm. Only three survivors have been found.

The attack is believed to have happened in July, but news is only just emerging.

Due to the community’s remote location, it took the Indians who discovered the bodies days to walk to the nearest settlement to report the tragedy.

And in case you are still in a good mood, Caracas Chronicles points us to an oil spill in Curacao. To be clear, this is the Caribbean, a relatively unspoiled patch of tropical water full of coral reefs and white-sand, turqoise-water beaches.

An oil spill from the Isla Refinery, currently handled by PDVSA, has stricken the natural reserve of Jan Kok located nearby. Several wild species including flamingoes (one of them seen in the picture) call Jan Kok home.

Reporter Dick Drayer of Dutch Public Broadcaster NOS indicated that the size of the spill covers an area the size “…of around 30 football fields”. His report is available here (in Dutch). Peter van Leeuwen, a member of the enviromental group Stichting SMOC called the incident “…probably the biggest (environmental) disaster in Curacao”.

Many good links at the Caracas Chronicles article.

Paraguana disaster update: Fascinating report, Miss Venezuela

A couple tidbits on the Paraguana explosion and fire. First, this document popped up on the internet yesterday. Who knows if it was a final draft, or had been fact-checked, or what. You can see that the paper was crumpled — did someone rescue this from the trash? And if so, who? Anyway, I ran it through OCR so you can cut & paste the text, translate it, etc. (All yours for no extra fee, but that “Donate” button is right there on the right side of the screen if you can’t handle getting such a valuable service for free.)

Second, you know that Paraguana was big news by this: Venezuela had its most important civic event last night, the annual election of Miss Venezuela. But today, she isn’t the top story on! Look:

(updating) Third: People associated with but not members of the Chávez administration keep putting out the line that the explosion was an opposition plot. Here’s a great example.

I’m absolutely convinced that this was an act of sabotage… There is a group of Venezuelans around the candidate Capriles that has become pawns in the service of transnational interests…

Pacific Rubiales union problems: a year later, new weirdness

UTEN workers at their office

Interfax has a clear, complete report on what reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev and I saw in the Colombian llanos two weeks ago. I have written to Pacific Rubiales requesting comment on the story and will update this post if they get in touch. From Interfax:

What can you do as a large oil and gas company plagued by labour unrest? You can either settle with the workers’ representatives or factor industrial disruption into your business plan. But Pacific Rubiales, Colombia’s largest private oil company developing the country’s first LNG export terminal, has come up with a third way: invite another labour syndicate that does not advocate direct action to sign up members from the existing union…

By August 2011 Pacific was ready to negotiate, but not with USO. Wildcat understands the union’s dogmatic socialism is an anathema to the company’s Venezuelan founders Ronald Pantin and José Francisco Arata who, along with a dozen other Pacific executives, came to Colombia to escape the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ of neighbouring President Hugo Chávez.

Instead, Pacific employees invited Unión de Trabajadores de la Industria Energética Nacional (UTEN), a business-friendly electricity union with four years of history and no prior oil experience. UTEN subscribed more than 1,000 Pacific workers in October 2011 and at the end of July this year claimed 5,050 affiliates in the company and its contractors. UTEN’s mission is to “propose and not protest”, according to its founder Alex Ortiz.

Meanwhile, USO disappeared from Rubiales. “UTEN appeared out of thin air on the company’s invitation and immediately reached an agreement with Pacific, taking our proposals and presenting them as their achievements,” said USO President Rodolfo Vecino. “We were outmanoeuvred,” he told Wildcat, sitting underneath a psychedelic painting of Che Guevara in his Bogotá office. USO claims around 5,000 of its members at Rubiales were dismissed or did not have their contracts renewed following last year’s protests.

Yeah you know what I put here: Go read the whole thing.

Guerra de cuarta generación

Photo: Meridith Kohut for The New York Times. Click for slide show.

Venezuela’s government leaders often justify their actions as taking part in “Fourth-generation warfare,” known in Spanish as “guerra de cuarta generación.” For years, people in that country have lamented that they have wartime levels of violence. 50 people are often killed in a weekend in Caracas, and about 15,000 to 20,000 people a year are murdered nationwide, making Venezuela by far the richest country with so much homicide. Now, looking at the pictures out of Paraguaná, you can see scenes straight out of the blitzkrieg phase of the US invasion of Iraq. Maybe this is real guerra de cuarta de generación? Prevent invasion by destroying yourself?

I know there are people here in Washington, DC who dream of invading Iraq Venezuela. I wonder if they are frustrated at the shrinking target list.

What will be learned from the Paraguana explosion?

I rented a sweet-looking road bike from a bike shop in Bogotá Friday afternoon. Saturday morning at first light, a friend and I were riding up the Andean foothills in back of the city. Within a few kilometers, a crucial part — the bottom bracket — had loosened up and started to fall apart. The rest of the day was a series of messy attempts to fix it. I got back to the city and returned the bike. I told the shop worker who had rented me the thing that it was ill-maintained and that they need to do better in the future. He took responsibility, apologized and gave me a coupon for a free bike rental. I left satisfied that he will take more care with his rental bikes in the future.

I got home to sickening news. There was an explosion at the Amuay refinery in the Paraguana peninsula of Venezuela. 39 people are confirmed dead, at least one of them a child, and there are 80 injured. The blast destroyed a National Guard barracks and damaged more than 200 homes in the nearby community. The hospital said one of its admittees was 12 years old. Now, Sunday night, the fire continues to burn. I hope everyone injured recovers, and I wish well to the families of those killed. Incredible photos here. Continue reading

Private security, Colombia style

Before coming to Colombia, I knew that multinational oil and gas companies used private security guards backed up by the Colombian military. I did not know that the private security officers are literally in the driver’s seat while the military literally takes the back seat. This is something I learned in the booming Llanos basin earlier this week. Continue reading

Venezuela quit ICSID. Who gained?

Venezuela quit the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes this year. The World Bank’s arbitration organisation has been criticised as an imposition on national sovereignty that prevents countries from imposing new controls on multinational corporations. From that perspective, it should be a good thing when a country — especially one that is trying all sorts of restraints on corporate behaviour — leaves the structure. But who really gains from a country getting out of this structure? Continue reading

Orimulsion — deepening the debate

Orimulsion — the mix of water, chemicals and tar-like crude that can be burned in power plants — is back in the news, since Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has mentioned its possible revival under his possible administration. (Here’s a story on the topic from El Nacional.)

Caracas Chronicles’ Francisco Toro opined on the topic (also here). Pundit, professor and petrolero Gustavo Coronel weighed in.

One person who has studied this topic more than just about anyone is Juan Carlos Boué. Boué worked for years as an outside consultant to the Chávez administration’s oil ministry in its various names. He writes:

While you were in Venezuela, you must have heard about a business called Orimulsion, which everybody there claimed was the biggest thing since sliced bread. I wrote an immensely detailed forensic report about it, which was published through Le Monde Diplomatique Venezuela, but has had an extremely restricted distribution… If you are daunted by the size and specialised nature of the text, you can skip straight to the appendix, where details on prices and other commercial conditions (previously confidential) are given regarding all the Orimulsion contracts that were signed throughout this product’s mercifully brief life. Surprisingly, the Venezuelan political opposition is talking about resuscitating this Venezuelan invention, which brings to mind that saying about the post-Revolutionary Bourbon kings in France having forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

I am honoured that he sent the book over here for free distribution. And here it is:

Síndrome Orimulsión 2012. Yes, it’s a 470-page, highly technical treatise in Spanish. And yes, if you want to debate this stuff, you should be able to read it.

Regardless of your thoughts and feelings about Orimulsion, this book looks useful. Enjoy. Many thanks to Boué for distributing it here.

Time to end the Italian feud in the comments section (UPDATED)

My notes about Arevenca have attracted a lot of really strange, often very informative comments, mostly from anonymous or pseudonymous correspondents. But they have also inspired a weird fight between people upset with one another in Italy. They have been using the comments section of this site to make all manner of allegations and counter-allegations. They started out straightforwardly enough, but at this point, I don’t have the connections, skills or interest to disentangle their concerns. I am summarizing the issues here as a way to isolate this fight to one thread and get myself out of this festival of mud-slinging. Continue reading