Tag Archives: colombia

Want to understand Colombia’s gold mining situation?

You need to read the newish Atavist book, The Devil Underground, by Nadja Drost. Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 1.07.57 AM   Here, Drost has written the best explanation I’ve ever seen of the battle for Antioquia between the Urabeños and the Rastrojos. And has shown herself to be a brave, serious reporter who will stop at nothing to really understand a story. And has given readers an idea of what they buy when they buy gold, particularly Colombian gold. She has also written one of the most beautiful pieces of literary nonfiction I’ve read in a long time. I’ve been reading and writing a lot about Gran Colombia Gold, which is trying to turn Segovia into a normal professional mine. I have been reading about this situation for years, but now I feel like I am about 10 times closer to understanding it — even though this book barely mentions Gran Colombia. It’s well worth your US$3.99. Go read it.

UPDATE: I hadn’t seen this, which shows that a connection between crime and gold may remain present in Colombia.

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Colombia trade trends: yes, it’s a coincidence

Yeah, Otto, it’s a coincidence. Colombia is importing more from lots of countries, not just the USA.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.16.50 AM

All figures from here. 2014 numbers are just through October, so that decrease is likely to disappear in final figures. As you can see, the big winners since 2010 have been Mexico (free trade agreement since 1995) and China (no free trade agreement), much more than the USA.

Commodity price trends and changes in Colombian access to consumer credit (for Chinese knickknacks) are probably bigger factors in this chart than trade agreements.

Colombia palm: So many issues at once

Nick Miroff has a great article in tomorrow’s Washington Post about palm oil in Colombia:

…the palm industry’s rapid expansion is yielding new evidence of a boom that benefited from the displacement of small farmers, indigenous groups and others by the armed conflict. Several of the regions where palm has spread during the past decade are places notorious for paramilitary violence and rural terror, like the north coast outside Cartagena, the Venezuela border region and the southeastern plains of the Meta department, where Mapiripan is located.

As the government and the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, now attempt to reach a peace accord to end the fighting, Colombia faces the painstaking task of trying to sort out what happened in Mapiripan and other places like it, and how to move forward.

Central to the dispute is a clashing vision of rural development, between the traditional model that has been partly destroyed by the violence and an agribusiness vision that promises growth, jobs and modernization through the spread of commodity crops like African palm.

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Venezuela recastrates environment ministry

stolen without permission from El Universal

Some oil spill in Venezuela. Stolen without permission from El Universal.

Venezuela. One of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. A place with a nasty heavy-oil industry that produces tremendous quantities of water and spills oil into tropical rivers. And now, a place with no environment ministry.

It was bad enough when the ministry was stupid and weak. Now, it’s been “consolidated” with the housing ministry. In a country where nobody except the government builds homes, the housing ministry has its hands full. It won’t dedicate a whole lot of time or money to the environment.

Lagoon overview

Pond of produced water from oil well in Anzoátegui state, Venezuela, with scum of crude oil in foreground. Open to migrating birds, occasionally “cleaned” by burning off crude. My photo.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, the environment ministry has grown a spine and recently sanctioned Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp for improper water disposal in the llanos. (Funny how the Colombian press and the company have failed to report on that, eh? Thanks to Primera Página, the only real independent biz media in Colombia, for the heads-up on that news item.)

Sure, it’s probably about a decade late to the action, but it shows that a government can occasionally restrain the excesses of the oil industry if it wants to. In Venezuela, that won’t be happening.

Wet savannah near Campo Rubiales

Wet savannah near Campo Rubiales, Colombia. My photo.

I eagerly await the condemnation of Amazon Watch, the International Rivers Network, and other protectors of the environment.

Colombia: community leader killed in Meta state

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 12.45.56 PMCommunity activist and unionist Edith Santos was killed Friday, apparently by a hit man, in a rural area near Acacias in the department of Meta, Colombia. She was supposed to start working with the labour ministry today. Ecopetrol, the state oil company that is the biggest operator in the area, put out a statement rejecting violence.

I have a special connection to that area, having spent a few amazing days near there exploring the woods. I also met with some very nice people from the oil industry who were working to increase oil output in the area and figuring out what to do with all the water.

The area used to be under FARC control. There has been sporadic paramilitary violence and intimidation in the area. Unionists report that oil companies use militias to help get their way with land rights and union fights. I don’t know what happened in this situation. I do know that raising one’s voice in the Colombian llanos remains a hazardous pursuit. While that is true, it will be hard to consider Colombia a democracy worth the name.

State oil companies: Who pays for US lobbying?

Ecopetrol (Colombia)
No lobbying

Petrobras (Brazil)
No lobbying

Pemex (Mexico)
No lobbying

CNPC (China)

Source: Opensecrets.org

Statoil (Norway)

Source: Opensecrets.org

CNOOC (China)

Source: Opensecrets.org

PDVSA (Venezuela)

Source: Opensecrets.org

Source: Opensecrets.org

It looks like some lousy record-keeping. But even if these last two tables have to be added together, 2014 is turning out to be the biggest year for PDVSA lobbying since at least 1998. Not likely to exceed Statoil’s 2007 record, but still, pretty healthy spending.

I guess those possible sanctions on alleged human rights violators were going to pose some sort of threat to Citgo.

Of course, none of these state oil companies can compete with ExxonMobil:

Source: Opensecrets.org

Another day, another Amazon oil spill

PetroPerú tries its hand at environmental devastation. Environmental Health News writes it up in English:

On the last day of June, Roger Mangía Vega watched an oil slick and a mass of dead fish float past this tiny Kukama Indian community and into the Marañón River, a major tributary of the Amazon.

Community leaders called the emergency number for Petroperu, the state-run operator of the 845-kilometer pipeline that pumps crude oil from the Amazon over the Andes Mountains to a port on Peru’s northern coast.

By late afternoon, Mangía and a handful of his neighbors – contracted by the company and wearing only ordinary clothing – were up to their necks in oily water, searching for a leak in the pipe. Villagers, who depend on fish for subsistence and income, estimated that they had seen between two and seven tons of dead fish floating in lagoons and littering the landscape.

“It was the most horrible thing I’ve seen in my life – the amount of oil, the huge number of dead fish and my Kukama brothers working without the necessary protection,” said Ander Ordóñez Mozombite, an environmental monitor for an indigenous community group called Acodecospat who visited the site a few days later.

Read it all here.

And on July 2, PetroEcuador had a freakishly similar situation. Amazon Watch offers the details: Continue reading