I have a story out in Fusion today that details how the Clinton Foundation and it’s biggest donor — Frank Giustra, a penny stock artist un-lovingly nicknamed the “Poison Dwarf” by a former stock-fraud investigator — raped and pillaged Colombia, where I traveled earlier this year. Giustra’s cause was aided by Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state met with then-President Alvaro Uribe, who had close ties to death squads and was notoriously corrupt. Shortly after the meeting, Giustra won valuable energy concessions in Colombia.
It will hardly come as a surprise that the Foundation’s programs in Colombia were marketed as being beneficial to Colombia’s poor, especially Afro-Colombians and women, and would protect the environment. It will come as even less of a surprise that the Foundation’s programs helped make vast amounts of money for Giustra’s oil, gas and mining companies in Colombia and did absolutely nothing for the people who were supposed to benefit.
For space reasons, parts of the story were cut. You should read it at Fusion and I’m publishing here an account of how Pacific Rubiales, Giustra’s flagship firm, ripped off workers and used the Colombian Army to crush a strike. Pacific Rubiales went bankrupt earlier this year, but not before its key executives and investors made a killing.
Incidentally, leftist Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo described the territory where Pacific Rubiales operated as “a type of concentration camp for workers.” The section below also discusses Hillary’s role in passing the Colombia free trade deal and how she lied to Democrats to get it through congress.
There was still the vexing problem, for Frank Giustra and other foreign investors, of congressional opposition to the Colombia free trade deal, primarily among Democrats. Fortunately, the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were more than willing to help out. To win Democratic support, they concocted a Labor Action Plan with the Colombian government that was said to be a guarantee of strong union and labor rights in Colombia. A key issue was that companies should be strictly barred from hiring employees through third-party contractors, which made it virtually impossible to unionize and resulted in subpar pay for workers, even by Colombia’s dismal standards.
Secretary of State Clinton made the Labor Action Plan a key selling point of the free trade deal, which was finally pushed through Congress in the fall of 2012. In the senate, 44 Republicans voted for the deal, six short of the number needed for passage. But 21 Democrats ignored pleas from labor and human rights groups and voted for the deal, assuring its passage.
Meanwhile, Pacific Rubiales and another Giustra company called Blue Pacific applied for financial support from the International Finance Corporation, a multilateral institution that works in cooperation with the U.S. State Department. The companies wanted a $150 million loan for a port and pipeline project in Cartagena, Colombia. Although the IFC determined that the project would have “significant adverse” impacts on the local communities and environment, it agreed to finance the construction on the condition that Pacific Rubiales and Blue Pacific create an “action plan” to mitigate any negative repercussions.
The Pacific companies told the IFC that they would launch a job-training center to help local indigenous peoples get construction jobs on the port and pipeline. They also agreed to fund a program to sustain farming and fishing communities that would be impacted by the construction. The IFC posted the action plan for board comment on Jan. 13, 2013.
The next day, the U.S. Agency for International Development, a department under the auspices of the State Department, approved a grant to a temporary employment agency called Gente Estrategica to fund a job-training program for indigenous Afro-Colombians in Cartagena.
A few months later, Bill Clinton and Frank Giustra flew to Colombia to inaugurate the “Clinton-Giustra-Slim Acceso Job Training Center,” in partnership with Gente Estrategica.
The training center’s promotional materials thanked its two major financial backers – USAID and Pacific Rubiales. The Clinton Foundation told the Washington Free Beacon last year that since the inauguration, its training center has “helped hundreds of employees and potential employees” of the port, many of them Afro-Colombians.
But underneath, problems were brewing for Giustra and Clinton’s joint enterprises in Colombia, and nowhere more so than at Pacific Rubiales. Its troubling labor practices have largely been overlooked, both by the U.S. and Colombian governments and by most of the media.
One of the few Colombian lawmakers who took notice was Senator Alexander Lopez, who in November 2012 traveled to Campo Rubiales, the oil field the company operated, to investigate allegations of labor abuses.
His convoy was stopped at a military roadblock before he could reach the camp’s entrance. When Lopez asked what authority the military had to prevent Colombian citizens from driving down a public road, one of the soldiers replied: “We don’t work for Colombia. We work for Pacific Rubiales.” A group of campesinos smuggled him through the woods and onto the property. “What we found was incredible overcrowding in poor housing, inadequate salaries, and people working for 35 days without a day off,” he said in an interview. “It was an impossible situation for workers.”
Lopez’s visit was prompted by a massive work stoppage a year prior. The company refused to talk to representatives of the labor union that had organized workers, known as USO, and brought in a traditionally business-friendly union, which it encouraged its workers to join. But, labor advocates said, the in-house union acted as a front for Pacific Rubiales and workers said negotiations led to no changes on the most pressing issues: safety, pay, and the fact that almost all of the oil field’s 14,000 workers were subcontracted — the type of arrangement that Hillary Clinton promised would be abolished under the Free Trade Agreement.
We met with a group of former Pacific Rubiales workers at a hotel in a working class area of Bogota. We sat at an outdoor table and drank cold Poker beers and shots of Aguardiente. Inside, a small crowd sat beneath a TV hung from the all and cheered a Colombian soccer team that was competing in an international tournament.
The workers told us they sometimes had worked for weeks without single day off, living in makeshift camps and bathing with river water. Waking up at 4 a.m. for the hour-long bus ride over rutted dirt roads to the oil fields, they didn’t know what time they’s return to their camps. Some days it wasn’t until 8 p.m, when they’d have to hastily hand wash their uniform before getting a few hours sleep. Many workers developed spinal problems, especially those involved with drilling operations.
One former worker, Norley Acevedo, had the job of heating the pipelines so that the oil would pass through easier. On days that would often break 100 degrees, laborers would have to stop to pour the sweat out of their shoes. The dust was so heavy in the air that the company had to spray the dirt down with water collected from nearby streams.
Each worker was issued a piece of a cardboard with a barcode that they would present in order to receive their lunch. The food was transported along with the workers on the sweltering buses, which did not have air conditioning. According to Senator Robledo’s investigation, the meals were “unfit for human consumption.”
“People would get nauseous and faint in the heat,” Acevedo said. “People got food poisoning.”
Workers were housed in tents designed for forty people but crammed with twice that number or more. They slept on hammocks and used barracks-style bathrooms. Each worker was issued two uniforms and one blanket, all of which they would wash themselves.
One day, an order came down to the management that there were sanitation concerns, and the sleeping areas needed to be cleaned. When the workers returned to their tents that night, they found that any possessions they had left on top of their hammocks had been thrown away – shoes, clothing, personal items.
“We had no idea what a union was, we had no idea what a protest was,” said Acevedo. “But everybody came back to the tent and saw their things had been thrown away. So we said, let’s do this.”
The next morning, Acevedo and six other angry workers refused to board the bus. By 11 a.m., more than 2,000 workers had joined the strike, blocking the roads near the campsite and paralyzing Pacific Rubiales’s operations.
Strike leaders drew up a list of demands to present to Pacific: decent food, decent salaries, better contracts, improved living, and better transportation. Workers sat in their tents, playing cards and waiting for the company’s response.
It came two days later, on July 22, 2011, when General Rodolfo Palomino, head of Colombia’s National Police arrived at the campgrounds with the full force of the Colombian military behind him.
Tear gas rained down from helicopters; tents were set ablaze with workers sleeping inside them. Uniformed men with automatic weapons swept the compound, driving the workers into the trees.
Fallout from that strike, and subsequent work stoppages, continued for months. The company initially made moves to negotiate, but the list of labor demands was never met. The workers chose four representatives to speak on their behalf in Bogota in meetings with the ministry of labor. One was fired by his subcontracting employer during the negotiations. Two were jailed for three months.
In December, just as Pacific Rubiales’s stock price was peaking, an USO leader, Milton Rivas, was shot dead two blocks from a police station in Villa Vicencio, the largest town near the oil field. No one was ever charged but union officials suspected he was killed by paramilitary members allied with Pacific Rubiales.
Acevedo, the fourth of the workers picked to represent Pacific Rubiales workers, began receiving death threats over the phone around this same time. Then, he said, two armed men on a motorcycle paid him a visit at home. “They told me to leave the country or I’d be killed,” Acevedo told us. He soon fled for Chile with his family and spent two years there. Now he’s back in Villa Vicencio, looking for work.
After the strike was crushed the Colombian military’s “energy battalion” was deployed to Campo Rubiales. Soldiers lived in company housing and were given vehicles and patrol supplies by Pacific Rubiales, according to Senator Robledo. “This is the Colombian army operating as if it were a private army employed by a transnational company,” he said.
The Bogota-based Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, a prominent legal and human rights group, filed a criminal complaint against Pacific Rubiales after the strike was crushed. The complaint, which is ongoing, includes testimony from dozens of oil workers and even a number of members of the company’s own internal security force, who were disgusted by Pacific Rubiales’s actions.
The complaint has revealed that Pacific Rubiales set up a secret surveillance system — nicknamed Andromeda — to identify and eliminate USO supporters from its work force. Vladimir Gomez Gamba, a former Andromeda team member, said in a sworn deposition that the company’s executives were furious that USO sought to improve salaries and working conditions, including food served to workers. Pacific Rubiales worked with the Colombian military with “a task of singling out the union leaders…in order to identify and to monitor those that were inciting the strikes,” Gamba stated in his deposition.
He said the Andromeda database contained detailed information on union activists, including photographs. The company also videotaped strikers and Team Andromeda reviewed the tapes to pick out participants, who were swiftly fired. “Whenever there are situations the armed forces supported [Pacific Rubiales] immediately,” Gamba said in his deposition. “The armed forces also assisted with the monitoring of USO when it visited the field.” According to Gamba, Andromeda was overseen by Gustavo Avendaño, a former Colombian military official who had been involved in anti-narcotics operations.