In the best traditions of the mafia, who like to give their victims a final coup de grace, the government of Uribe Velez issued decree No 1760 on 26 June, which divides state oil corporation Ecopetrol into 3 parts. The decree ends Ecopetrol’s status as an Industrial and Commercial State Corporation, turning it into an essentially privatised company, whose owners will be the shareholders. The company’s function will no longer be the management of hydrocarbons, but the promotion of energy.
The three new companies created out of the ashes of Ecopetrol, will include Ecopetrol SA, the National Hydrocarbon Agency, and Colombia Energy Promotion Agency SA. Ecopetrol SA will manage the 300 million barrels of direct oil reserves and 500 million in joint ventures that they already have. This is likely to run out in about 3 years at which time its exploration and production activity will end. The National Hydrocarbon Agency, owner of all geological information will be handed to the multinationals.
As a result of this de facto privatisation, USO the oil workers union who’s 1948 actions were fundamental in the creation of the state oil corporation, has declared itself in Permanent Assembly of Patriotic Resistance and Dignity, calling for the defence of public patrimony, and opposition to the plans that will see 48 billion barrels of oil, an essential part of Colombia’s development, handed over to the multinationals, in a return to the pre 1948 concessions system that the US embassy has been demanding for some time.
Over the last 15 years, during which time USO has fought constantly against privatisation, 82 of its leaders have been assassinated, 32 injured by murder attempts. USO members have suffered 2 disappearances, 2 kidnaps, 452 forced displacements, 8 exiles and 32 imprisonments. Shortly before his assassination, the human rights lawyer Eduardo Umaña described this persecution of USO as “the judicial spider’s web with political ends.”
Trial of Hernando Hernandez
Hernando Hernandez (“HH”), former president and current secretary of International Relations of USO is currently under house arrest facing charges which accuse him of being a commander of the ELN guerrillas.
HH’s trial started on 10 September, and so far evidence against him comes largely from ELN deserter Joaquin Vergara Mojica, who despite convictions for kidnap and other crimes has never been to prison, but has instead been maintained by the DAS, living in their installations and receiving a salary from them. In return he has given evidence against 6 USO leaders since 1994, all of whom were eventually exonerated after lengthy spells in prison. In his favour, the court will hear evidence from ex Minister Bernal, of HH’s commitment to peace, and from another witness who will testify that the DAS offered him 7 million pesos to testify that HH was a member of the ELN.
Meanwhile the CUT has proposed HH for the 2003 National Peace Prize, organised and presented by Colombia’s national media. The proposal is based on his “role in the social and trade union struggle, and his inexhaustible support for the peace with social justice which the country is calling for”.