Gore Resists Calls to Halt Oil Drilling in Colombia

By Sammon, Bill | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 30, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Gore Resists Calls to Halt Oil Drilling in Colombia

Sammon, Bill, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

Vice President Al Gore, who controls at least $500,000 worth of stock in Occidental Petroleum, has ignored pleas from environmentalists to fight the company's plan to drill for oil on sacred Indian land in Colombia.

The Gore family stands to benefit substantially if Occidental finds the 1.5 billion barrels of oil it estimates are buried beneath the pristine forest inhabited for centuries by the U'wa Indians.

The 5,000-member tribe is threatening mass suicide if Occidental goes forward with drilling.

But the Clinton-Gore administration is pushing more than $1 billion of aid to Colombia that Occidental says will help protect its oil interests. The money will be used in part to fight guerrillas who have often attacked the company's pipeline, spilling more crude than the Exxon Valdez.

Gore supporters inside and outside the administration are pushing hard for the Occidental project.

Scott Pastrick, the former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee who in 1996 prepared "call sheets" for the vice president's use in fund-raising solicitations, was hired the next year by Occidental to promote the project.

The Clinton-Gore administration, in turn, hired a former Occidental lobbyist who was pressing the Energy Department to back the drilling. Lobbyist Theresa Fariello was hired last year by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

"There has been a lot of back-room negotiations between the Clinton administration and the Colombian government on behalf of Occidental," said environmentalist Stephen Kretzmann of Amazon Watch. "Occidental is a favorite of the Clinton-Gore administration, particularly Gore."

In recent weeks, violence has escalated between the Colombian military and U'wa Indians who have been blockading a road to the Occidental drilling site. U.S. and Colombian environmentalists are growing more frustrated at what they consider the willful inaction of Mr. Gore.

"You have an imminent, unfolding, tragic situation in Colombia being perpetrated by a corporation with direct ties to the vice president and he won't do a . . . thing," Mr. Kretzmann said. "He has remained silent, and he hasn't pulled his money out."

Environmentalists are particularly appalled by the vice president's recent campaign to link George W. Bush with skyrocketing gasoline prices by portraying him as a puppet of Big Oil.

"It takes somebody who is independent from Big Oil to take on Big Oil, and I'm independent from them," the vice president thundered Wednesday.

But Mr. Gore controls between $500,000 and $1 million worth of stock in Occidental.

"Mr. Gore cannot pretend to be any better than Bush when his hands have the blood of the U'wa on them," said Sharon Wright of the Rainforest Action Network.

Gore spokesman James Kennedy said the standoff in Colombia "is an internal domestic matter and the United States does not have the unilateral authority to intervene in it.

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