Community 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.
Colombia’s in a bit of a tough spot on natural resource exploitation. (But who isn’t, right?) On the one hand, the economy is getting more mineral-dependent every year. Here’s a chart showing what Colombia’s exports are made of, according to the central bank. The inner ring is 1995. The outer ring is 2012, through May. The red part is minerals. Cocaine exports aren’t included. Minerals — including fossil fuels — now make up more than half of Colombia’s legal exports, up from less than 42% every year through 2010. In other words, industrial and agricultural exports are becoming less important to Colombia’s foreign trade.
(Below, see a chart of the overall export figures — industry has actually been doing well, just that minerals are kicking its culo.)
There are many ways to translate “pricing power” into Spanish. But the easiest way to explain what it means is here (PDF), on page 7.
Ecopetrol’s export price for “gases” — which as far as I can tell is natural gas* — in the fourth quarter went up to US$5.80 per million BTU, from $4 in 4q2010. The average price for the year rose to $5 from $3.90. As long-time readers may recall, Colombian gas exports are basically to Venezuela, via a pipeline built (ostensibly) to export Venezuelan gas to Colombia. Because Venezuela’s natural gas situation remains grim, Colombian producers including Chevron Corp. sell to Colombian national oil company Ecopetrol, which in turn sells to PDVSA, the state oil company in Venezuela, which then sells the gas to power generators and chemical plants.
I’ll leave it to the Venezuela howling squad to worry about the fact that PDVSA’s retail prices for natural gas remain the same year after year. For me, the interesting thing here is that Ecopetrol has Venezuela over such a barrel that it seems able to pretty much raise prices. I mean, where else is Venezuela going to go? Volumes exported also rose 47 percent year-over-year because of “higher demand in Venezuela” and more gas available for export.
At some point, the shoe will be on the other foot, as Venezuela has a nearly bottomless pit of gas if it can ever figure out how to get it out of the ground, and Colombian gas — well, see the last entry for more on that. Gas sales in Colombia are at a 2-year low.
*It’s Friday night so I’m not going to bother Ecopetrol flaks about this, but this whole entry is off-base if the word “gases” includes butane. Sorry for the ambiguity, but this is the journalism you get for free. On Friday night.