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Arauca - Oil or Peace

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

By Bárbara Orozco Díaz

The Colombian department of Arauca is located in eastern Colombia, in the Orinoco region and the colombian-venezuela border. Currently, approx. 80% of the department is under concession for oil exploration and exploitation, 25 oil blocks are programmed for the next few years and two oil pipelines, Caño Limón and Bicentenario, pass through the department. There are approximately 12,000 uniformed members of the National Army in the department. According to data from the Unsatisfied Basic Needs Survey (NBI), 31.56% of the population of the municipality of Arauca lives with their basic needs unsatisfied.

Its population is mostly mestizo and white, with 6 indigenous communities (U'wa, Betoyes, Sikuani, Hitnü, Kuiba, Hitanü, Chiricoa and Piapoco) living in 26 resguardos, and the Afro-Colombian communities are represented in 6 social organizations and have formed 3 community councils.

The Araucanian communities are proud to be a productive department, they have organized themselves in cooperatives around cocoa, bananas, cassava, milk and dairy products, livestock or water service and developed commerce, strengthening a community and collective economic model in a department completely absent of civil institutionality.

It has been historically forgotten by the Colombian State which paid attention to it in 1983 when the US company Occidental Petroleum Corporation "Occidental de Colombia INC" - OXY -, carried out an exploration where it managed to discover an oil field of considerable size. The following year the construction of the Caño Limón Coveñas oil pipeline begins, OXY and Empresa Colombiana de Petróleos - ECOPETROL - will be in charge of the exploitation of the field from then until 2020.

It should be recalled that it was the oil crisis in the mid-1970s and the need to find resources that led the United States to Latin America, but also that after the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in 1979, a US model of oil exploitation abroad was imposed, characterized by a high military component determined by the National Security Policy that was called the Carter Doctrine by US President Jimmy Carter (1977 - 1981) which indicated the US position towards the Persian Gulf and the control of the Middle East but also its international policy for the control of natural resources.

In 2020, one of the most important investment groups in the world, the American Carlyle Group, buys all of OXY's onshore continental assets in the Llanos Norte, Magdalena Medio and Putumayo basins, in the departments of Arauca, Santander and Putumayo, respectively. The operations will be carried out by the oil company Sierracol whose president is Tony Hayward, a controversial British businessman who joined British Petroleum in 1982, holding numerous positions until 2010; he was exploration manager in Colombia from 1992 until 1995 when he became BP's exploration director in Venezuela until 1997. OXY will continue to operate its offshore assets.

On the other hand, the armed conflict in Colombia has worsened in recent years and by the year 2020, the National Government establishes "a strategy to transform the territories by bringing institutionallity with legality, entrepreneurship and equity, in the regions most affected by violence, criminality and poverty" in five regions of the country that it calls Zonas Futuro and indicates that "the purpose is to improve security in the territories and generate development by changing illicit economies for licit economies." Arauca, declared a territory free of illicit crops by the UN in 2018, is one of the 5 Future Zones, affecting 211 villages in the municipalities of Arauquita, Saravena, Fortul and Tame.

In May 2020, "the US Embassy and the Colombian Ministry of National Defense informed of the arrival in the country of a US Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), which is coming to assist Colombia in its fight against narcotics. [...] it will focus its efforts mainly in the Future Zones delimited by the National Government". In June, the US State Department announced a $10 million each for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Seuxis Hernandez-Solarte, aka “Jesus Santrich,” and Luciano Marin Arango, aka “Ivan Marquez.”

This year 2022, election year in Colombia, began with a strong wave of violence in the country, in Arauca; on January 3 more than 20 people were killed in clashes between armed groups in different rural areas, on January 9 and 19, the Héctor Alirio Martínez building, headquarters of different social organizations and human rights defenders, among them, the community project managed by more than 100 representatives of social organizations ECAAS and the Joel Sierra Foundation, was attacked. As of March 30, the UN reports 130 people killed and more than 3,000 forcibly displaced in the department.

WfPSC accompanied the #CaravanaHumanitarianArauca that visited the municipalities of Tame, Fortul, Arauquita on March 21-23 and held the Human Rights Forum for Life, Peace and Permanence in the Territory in the municipality of Arauca on March 24-25. The Arauca Humanitarian Caravan was also accompanied by the UN, MAPP OAS and the Regional Ombudsman's Office.

Jessica Garcia (left) speaking during humanitarian caravan

For obvious reasons, it was not possible to visit the villages, but the only institutions that are in the department are the Military Forces. From the seat of the bus during the trip, you can see tanks at some points and road crossings and several military checkpoints that stop any vehicle to search. The lack of social investment in infrastructure for the communities, the dryness of the rivers and the life at constant risk of the Araucanian population can also be observed and felt. However, it can also be observed that the Araucanian social movement is still standing and will continue to do so in defense of its own food sovereignty.

History is Present! and the communities continue to resist in search of a Dignified Life, Permanence in the Territory and Peace.


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