BP and the US-Colombia Business Partnership Print
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Tuesday, 01 April 2003 01:00

BP not only is the biggest foreign investor in Colombia, this investment is the biggest of any British multinational in the whole of Latin America. From its Casanare oilfields BP controls the production of over half Colombia's oil output. The weight of this £2 billion project in fashioning British government policy towards Colombia cannot be overstated. What is good for BP is good for Britain, as far as Blair's government is concerned.

What is lesser known is the degree to which BP has been active in shaping US government policy on Colombia as well.

BP has joined in with the sustained lobbying of US administrations carried out by top US multinationals with an interest in Colombia. According to the Washington based Centre for Public Integrity BP Amoco Corp has paid $ 2.99 million into presidential and congressional election campaigns between 1995 and 2000. BP is one of the top ten corporate spenders influencing US Latin America policy.

There was a burst of lobbying activity in response to Clinton's decision to de-certify the government of Ernesto Samper on 28 February 1996. Samper's presidential election campaign had accepted large sums of money from the Cali cocaine cartel. Clinton's de-certification of Colombia was a public declaration that he did not regard Samper as a trusted ally in the war against drugs. But de-certification implied the withdrawal of state support for commerce, such as finance for exports and insurance cover for direct investments, and the removal of trade concessions under the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA). The US and Colombian business interests that were threatened immediately sprang into action. Exxon alone, which at that time owned half of the El Cerrejon coalmine, spent $7.66 million on lobbying to prevent any negative consequences from de-certification on an investment that was bringing in over $1 billion a year in revenue.

Another move to counter the threat of economic sanctions came from a group of US corporations including Bechtel, Caterpillar, Colgate-Palmolive, Enron, Occidental Petroleum, United Parcel Service and Compaq Computer who formed the U.S.-Colombia Business Partnership. The only non-US multinational that joined the group was BP. The Partnership was headed by Michael Skol, who had just ended a 30 year career as a US diplomat. His final post had been Washington's trouble shooter for Latin America.

With the insider knowledge of people like Skol, the lobbying effort of Exxon (Esso) and the corporations grouped in the Partnership paid off. Clinton limited de-certification to a nominal moral sanction. He came to the view that trade and investment interests took priority over the anti-drugs effort.

Andres Pastrana replaced Samper as Colombia's president in 1998. He was presented as free of the taint of drug money that had mired his predecessor, but it did not take long for Pastrana to be linked with a series of corruption scandals. However of far greater concern to the multinationals was the growing strength of the FARC and ELN guerrillas. To make matters worse, as far as Pastrana and the multinationals were concerned, by the end of 1998 neoliberal policies had plunged Colombia into its worst ever economic crisis, and the militant social movement showed every sign of fighting back.

1999 was the year of decision. Paramilitary violence became far more systematic and was unleashed on a national scale against the social movement, but Colombia's regular armed forces were still unable to defeat the guerrillas in battle. In Washington the alarm bells were ringing, Colombia could go down. Clinton resolved to commit serious effort to re-arming the military and strengthening the Colombian state. The idea of Plan Colombia was born.

Production from BP's Cusiana and Cupiagua oilfieds had come online in 1996, and through the OCENSA pipeline, Colombia's high quality crude was reaching the US market. BP had planned a 30 year production cycle, and hence every incentive to committing the British, Colombian and US governments into an alliance to protect its return on investment. Since 1996 BP has built up a considerable US presence. It merged with Amoco in 1998, and BP-Amoco took over ARCO in 2000 creating a $200 billion corporation, the world's second biggest oil multinational.

The energy corporations Enron, Occidental, BP-Amoco plus interested US armaments manufacturers turned up the pressure in 1999, by which time they too were pushing for active military intervention in Colombia. One unlikely lobbyist for Plan Colombia was Philip Morris, the US tobacco multinational accused of co-operating with Colombian drug dealers in a contraband scam and money laundering.

The US Senate agreed the $1.3 billion funding package for Plan Colombia in June 2000. BP Amoco was deeply involved in the push for a military solution. It's reported Washington lobbying expenditure includes three items of $1.16 million in June 1999, $1.10 million in December 1999 and $1.20 million in June 2000. The US Senate agreed the $1.3 billion funding package for Plan Colombia in June 2000.

BP announced on 30 January 2003 a swap of its Malaysia Thailand JPA asset for Amerada Hess's Triton interests in Colombia. BP ownership of Colombian assets will be:

SDLA/Tauramena/Rio Chitamena: BP 31%, TotalFinaElf 19%, ECOPETROL 50%

Recetor: BP 50%, ECOPETROL 50%

OCENSA: ECOPETROL 35.29%, BP 24.8%*, Total 15.2%, Enbridge 24.71%