Nature & Politics.

From: Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn.
Date: 03 Nov 2002
Time: 21:17:27
Remote Name:


Bush's Felonious Friend

While George Bush is wagging his finger at Saddam Hussein and Mullar Omar as heads of crooked regimes, one of his old pals has just been convicted on a slew of charges stemming from a widening corruption scandal in Colombia, the forgotten battleground of the US's other war.

That man is Rodrigo Villamizar, the notorious former minister of Colombia's department of minerals and mines, who spent his tenure there rapidly auctioning off the Colombian rainforest to international mining and oil companies, including land held by native tribes such as the U'Wa. He became a very wealthy man and the pal of high flying American executives and politicos.

But ultimately his spending habits became a little too ostentatious and aroused suspicion even in Colombia, a government then headed by Ernest Samper, whose presidential campaign was largely financed by the cocaine lords. In 1997, Villamizar was forced to resign his post when he was caught selling off public radio stations and keeping the profits. The affair became known as the "Miti-Miti" or "half-and-half" scandal, because Villamizar split the illegal profits down the middle with Saulo Arboleda, another minister in the Samper government.

On December 4, 2001, Villamizar was condemned to 52 months in prison after a criminal court judge from the Bogota circuit found him responsible for the crime of "illicit interest." Ex-minister Arboleda has already been sentenced for his part in the case. The key evidence in the case was a tape recording of a phone call between Villamizar and Arboleda, where they talk of how they should divide up the ownership of several FM stations.

Bush and Villamizar met at a 1972 party in Austin, where members of Gamma Beta Kappa fraternity had gathered. Villamizar and the young Bush hit it off immediately. He told Bush he was looking for a job. A week later Villamizar got a position in the Texas statehouse, as an adviser to the Committee of Economic Development--courtesy of George Bush.

Four years later, Villamizar again requested help from his pal, George W. Bush. The Colombian told Bush that there was an opening on the Texas Public Utility Commission and he was very interested in getting the job. A few days later Villamizar received a copy of a letter of recommendation signed by Bush's father, then director of the CIA, and former Texas governor John Connelly. Needless to say, Villamizar got the position.

When Villamizar returned to Colombia in the 1980s, he went to work exploiting the country's burgeoning oil reserves, setting up a series of companies with ties to US firms and financial backers. He served for awhile as Colombia's ambassador to Japan and then became director of the bureau of mines and minerals, where he supervised the sale of mining and oil concessions.

One of the companies that benefited most spectacularly from Villamizar's tenure there was Houston-based Harken Energy, on whose board Bush resided for several years. Bush's initial foray into the oil business was Arbusto, which merged with Spectrum 7. Spectrum was then bought out by Harken Energy in 1986. Bush got a seat on Harken's board, $2 million in stock options, and a $120,000/year consulting contract.

In the early 1990s, Harken opened a subsidiary in Colombia, headquartered in Bogota. Beginning in 1992, the company was awarded five contracts for drilling and production rights in Colombia. The official who signed those deals was Villamizar. A March 2001 story on Villamizar in the Colombian magazine Cambio reported: "Harken's entry into Colombia was no accident. Tracing its history, Cambio established that Harken began its interest in the country thanks to Bush's relationship with Rodrigo Villamizar ... Now Harken sees Colombia as its main investment for the future, ahead of the United States and other Latin American countries."

Harken has in turn been one of the biggest supporters of Plan Colombia, the US-funded anti-drug campaign that has put $2 billion into the hands of the Colombian military.

As for Villamizar, he fled Colombia after being indicted in the Miti-Miti scandal. But his status as a fugitive didn't deter Bush from asking Villamizar to become an advisor to his presidential campaign on Latin American issues.

After the election, Villamizar was summoned to Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch for a face-to-face with the president-elect. The subject was Colombia. Bush asked Villamizar to develop a gameplan for a new US strategy in Colombia.

Villamizar released his report on November 11. In some respects, it is a refreshingly honest document that clearly describes the US goal as opening Colombia to increased exploitation by international energy conglomerates. It cites the various guerrilla groups as the major impediment to this objective and urges Bush to expand the US commitment to Plan Colombia.

Villamizar argues that the Colombian military isn't up to the task of fighting both the revolutionaries and the drugs. He suggests that US intervention might be necessary to keep the government from falling.

Bush reportedly asked Villamizar to consider a position as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, a post that would have completed a roster of henchmen Bush has assembled to run Latin American policy, a team that already includes such unappetizing players as John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams, and Otto Reich. Villamizar declined, saying he had to resolve his legal troubles first. Now that he is a convicted felon Villamizar might take Bush up on his offer. After all, it worked for Abrams.

~Politics with Bite-January 16,2002: <http://eatthestate.org/06-11/NaturePolitics.htm>