Nonviolent Activist is a quarterly publication of the War Resisters League.  --  In an article in the Winter 2005 number, Bill Weinberg explores the correlation between the pattern of oil company investment and the pattern of U.S. military intervention around the world.  --  Unsurprisingly, there is a close correlation.  --  Since the U.S. embraced dependence on foreign oil resources as part of its national security strategy, a pattern has developed whereby some noble cause purportedly attuned to core American values (anti-Communism, the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, the fostering of democracy have all proved more useful than the old rallying cries of empire and manifest destiny) provides the needed moral veneer for what F. William Engdahl has called resource conflict on a global scale. ...

By Bill Weinberg

Nonviolent Activist
Winter 2005

By design or circumstance, the Pentagon’s “war on terrorism” seems to follow the investments of major U.S. oil companies around the globe. Iraq dominates the headlines now; two years ago it was Afghanistan. But the same pattern also reaches from South America to Africa’s Sahel, from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the high deserts of Central Asia. U.S. military operations have escalated dramatically in all these regions since the 9/11 attacks. And while the intended targets may be “terrorist networks” linked to al-Qaeda, indigenous people resisting the industrial pillage of their lands more often bear the brunt of the militarization.


The ongoing war in Colombia -- recognized by the United Nations as the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster after Congo and Darfur -- has largely been pushed from the headlines by the crisis in Iraq. But Congress and the Pentagon are paying close attention to this oil-rich South American nation.

At the close of October, Congress approved doubling the Pentagon’s troop presence in Colombia to 800 and raised the cap on the number of U.S. civilian contract agents -- pilots, intelligence analysts, security personnel -- from 400 to 600. The little-noticed measure came as part of the 2005 Department of Defense authorization act and was a defeat for human rights groups, which had been pushing for a lower cap. The new 800/600 cap is exactly what the White House asked for.

The vote was closely followed by a national wave of protest throughout the war-torn South American nation, as some 1.4 million public-sector workers walked off their jobs and took to the streets for a one-day strike. Organized by major trade unions as well as civil organizations, the October 12 strike demanded an end both to President Alvaro Uribe’s push to join George W. Bush’s Free Trade Area of the Americas and to the rights abuses and atrocities associated with the government’s counter-guerrilla war -- which the United States has funded to the tune of $3.3 billion since Plan Colombia was passed in 2000.

One beneficiary of the escalated troop presence is Occidental Petroleum, colloquially known as Oxy. Many U.S. military advisors are training the Colombian Army to protect Oxy’s Caño Limon pipeline linking the oilfields of Arauca province with the Caribbean coast. Since the pipeline opened in 1986, leftist guerrillas of the National Liberation Army known as the ELN have repeatedly blown it up, spilling the equivalent of ten Exxon Valdez disasters into the Orinoco basin rainforests. The Bush administration’s foreign operations budget request for 2003 included $538 million in new aid for Colombia, including $98 million to train and equip a Colombian army brigade of some 2,000 troops to protect the Caño Limon pipeline.

The White House has officially dropped the fiction that the Colombia campaign is an anti-drug operation. Language in a post-9/11 $28.9 billion supplemental anti- terrorism package states that the military aid can be targeted against groups on the State Department terrorist list -- including both Colombia’s leftist rebel groups, the ELN and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, called FARC. But unarmed indigenous groups such as the U’wa have also been targeted by the Colombian military. The U’wa -- who have declared their neutrality in Colombia’s civil war -- waged a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign against Oxy for years to get the company to abandon oil leases on their traditional lands. The peaceful protesters were repeatedly attacked by Colombian military forces. Some were even killed.

Oxy did say last year that it would not pursue development on the U’wa land, citing disappointing test drills. But much the of the surrounding rainforest is already a corporate petro-zone. Arauca, the heart of Oxy’s operations, hosts the greatest concentration of U.S. military advisors and has Colombia’s worst human rights situation.


The Bush administration has expanded the “Plan Colombia” program inherited from the Clinton administration into a region-wide “Andean Initiative” that also includes military aid packages for Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. While the level of violence in these countries is nowhere near that in Colombia, similar dynamics are at work.

Oxy is also building a new pipeline over the Andes to get oil from Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest to Pacific ports. Charging land grabs and pollution, local Indians, peasants and ecologists have repeatedly blockaded construction on the pipeline route with their bodies. Their protests have been violently broken up by security forces. In June 2002, the entire region was immobilized by a general strike protesting the pipeline. The U.S. military is currently expanding the airfield at Manta, Ecuador, near where the pipeline is slated to meet the sea, ostensibly as a staging ground for surveillance operations in the Colombia war.

In Peru, Hunt Oil and Halliburton -- Vice President Dick Cheney’s former firm -- have launched a massive natural gas project at Camisea in the Amazon rainforest. The gas is to be piped over the Andes to the Pacific and exported to energy-hungry California. Last year, local peasants blocked roads leading to the Camisea site for weeks, in protest of the project’s ecological impacts. In October 2003, the blockades were violently broken by Peruvian National Police troops using helicopters and tear gas.

Just as the Peruvian blockades were being broken, Bolivia was rocked by a wave of unrest now known as “Black October” or “the Gas War.” At issue was President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada’s approval of a plan by a consortium led by Sempra Energy of California and including Shell Oil to build a pipeline linking Bolivia’s natural gas fields to a terminal on the Chilean coast for export to California. The security forces responded to peasant roadblocks with violence, leaving at least 80 dead -- and international fears of a coup d’état -- before Sanchez de Lozada fled to Miami on October 17. His vice president, Carlos Mesa, assumed power and pledged to hold a popular referendum on the pipeline project. Sanchez de Lozada now faces charges in Bolivia of murder, human rights violations and genocide.

The referendum was held in July, approving increased national control of gas and other resources and throwing the pipeline project into question. Bolivia’s congress is currently negotiating a new hydrocarbons law to instate the principles of the referendum. But peasants and Indians have continued to protest and periodically block roads and gas installations with their bodies to press the issue. Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian and a leader of the movement who has a seat in Bolivia’s congress, is often named as a likely candidate for the country’s presidency. But more radical elements of the movement -- led by Felipe (“El Mallku”) Quispe, another Aymara legislator -- demand outright nationalization of all oil and gas infrastructure. Bolivia’s internal gas pipeline network has been partially privatized to none other than Enron, the failed Texas energy giant.

Another major demand of Bolivia’s powerful indigenous movement is the right to legally grow coca leaf, an ancient crop with a large internal market for traditional medicinal use. Growing it is banned in most of the country -- including the Amazon region of Chapare, where U.S.-trained anti-drug units have been implicated in human rights abuses in recent years, further fueling local unrest. Bolivia’s newspapers have recently issued sensationalized allegations that Colombian guerrillas have established a foothold in Chapare and are preparing to open a new front there.


U.S. military involvement also seems to be following oil investment on the African continent. While Sudan’s horrific attacks on the Fur and other indigenous peoples of the country’s western Darfur region have finally come to the world’s attention, few have noted that the Pentagon has established a presence just across the border in Chad -- not to respond to the genocide but to chase “terrorist networks.” Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group are also training troops in Mali, Mauritania and Niger under the program, aimed at halting infiltration into sub-Saharan Africa by the Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which has publicly pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda.

The new U.S. military presence comes just as ExxonMobil has targeted Chad for a major new thrust of oil development. New oilfields have opened in Chad’s Doha Basin, and a World Bank-funded 600-mile pipeline was completed in 2003, linking Chad to the Atlantic and Western oil markets.

The U.S. has also targeted the Horn of Africa as a new front in the war on terrorism, claiming that al-Qaeda-linked groups have established a foothold in lawless Somalia and are expanding their networks throughout the region. The Pentagon’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti, is holding joint operations with troops from Ethiopia, Kenya and other regional governments. Earlier this year, the joint task force held a three-month bilateral training exercise with Ethiopian forces, dubbed “Golden Spear.”

For the past year, the Anuak indigenous people in the Ethiopian state of Gambella have been targeted for attacks by government troops and government-supported militias, on the same model as the Darfur genocide, if not on the same scale. Up to 2,500 Anuak civilians have been killed since the campaign was launched last December, and thousands more have been forced to flee to refugee camps -- ironically, in Sudan, which other refugees are fleeing. As in Darfur, the government cites the presence of separatist guerrillas in Gambella, but rights groups say the military is overwhelmingly targeting civilians. Meanwhile, the Malaysian oil company Petronas has targeted Gambella for major development, while both Petronas and Hunt Oil of Texas have new investments in Ethiopia’s Ogaden Basin.


Look beyond the Iraq and Afghanistan headlines to more obscure parts of Asia, and a similar pattern again emerges. U.S. troops have already been involved in fighting with Islamic guerrillas in the Philippines. Now Bush is seeking to re-establish military aid to Indonesia, suspended due to human rights violations in 1999.

Exxon faces litigation in U.S. courts for grave human rights violations carried out in the conflicted Indonesian province of Aceh by Indonesian military forces in the company’s direct pay for “protection” of its oil facilities. The White House now warns that al-Qaeda is seeking links to Aceh’s separatist guerrillas. But the Aceh separatists -- who say they have actually resisted al-Qaeda’s designs in the region -- want their independence precisely because Jakarta allows the breakneck corporate exploitation of their land.

In May 2003, the Indonesian military launched a new offensive in Aceh, ending a five-month ceasefire with the guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement. In subsequent weeks, hundreds of civilians were killed in Aceh, and at least 40,000 forced from their homes, many into camps without clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. The Indonesian military admitted it had used two of its U.S.-made F-16 jets in its campaign in Aceh, although military officials denied reports they had bombed or fired on ground targets.

Unocal, the company that came to attention of the media in 2001 over its notorious talks with the Taliban regime for trans-Afghanistan pipeline rights, now claims it has pulled out of Central Asia -- in favor of Indonesia, where it has new leases in Borneo’s Kalimantan, another emerging separatist hotspot where tribal peoples are resisting petro-development.

Unocal has also announced interest in developing new offshore gas finds in the Philippines -- where U.S. military involvement is rapidly escalating. Unocal’s interest is off Mindoro Island, while U.S. forces have already been in combat with the (supposedly al-Qaeda-linked) guerrillas of Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, the major Muslim-majority island just 200 miles south. In January 2003, nine U.S. troops were wounded in a gun battle with Abu Sayyaf.


Since the fall of the Taliban regime, the U.S. and Russia have both launched a diplomatic offensive to win trans-Afghan pipeline rights and the cooperation of regional strongmen. Chief among these is Turkmenistan’s megalomaniacal president-for-life Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov, who sits on vast oil and gas reserves and signed a deal with Unocal in the 1990s. New sources in Kazakhstan, just to the north, are also coming on line, with Chevron, Exxon and Shell among top Kazakh investors.

While U.S. oil companies deny interest, shortly after the fall of the Taliban, new Afghan leader Hamid Karzai signed a pact with the “Turkmenbashi” regime and Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf to cooperate on the pipeline, which would link the Caspian Basin oilfields of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan with Pakistan’s port of Karachi. The Asian Development Bank has pledged to fund a feasibility study for the project.

After Afghanistan, the largest U.S. troop presence in Central Asia is in Uzbekistan, just to the north and bordering both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Since Uzbekistan opened its military bases to hundreds of U.S. troops in the aftermath of 9/11, a militant armed Islamic group known as Hizb-ut-Tahrir has emerged, launching a series of suicide bombings and other attacks, leaving scores dead. Rights groups accuse Uzbekistan’s security forces of torture and other violations in their crackdown on the group. The Uzbekistan forces have also targeted nonviolent dissident groups.

Across the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus, a British Petroleum-led consortium is already building the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which would deliver the new Central Asian oil to international markets. The pipeline is to link Azerbaijan’s Caspian port of Baku with the Turkish port of Ceyhan -- which is also the chief outlet for oil now being produced under U.S. occupation in northern Iraq. The pipeline is to pass through Georgia, which faces multiple armed separatist movements and where Russia charges Chechen guerrillas have taken refuge. Shortly after 9/11, a detachment of U.S. Green Berets arrived in Georgia for a training mission. It is believed they are preparing local troops for an assault on the Pankisi Gorge, where the U.S. claims al-Qaeda-linked groups have established a foothold along with Chechen guerrillas.

Even if al-Qaeda franchises are at work in the region, indigenous peoples rather than “terrorists” are again likely to bear the brunt of the integrated corporate-military expansion. The U.S. Energy Department is even funding oil exploration in Siberia -- where indigenous peoples such as the Evenks are making a last stand to save their culture from extinction, demanding rights to their ancestral lands from an intransigent Russian government.

Those wondering what country might next be targeted by George Bush’s war on terrorism may do well to follow the petro-dollars.

--New York-based journalist Bill Weinberg, author of Homage to Chiapas (Verso, 2000) and editor of World War 4 Report (, is writing a new book on Plan Colombia.