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The new Spanish colonisation

Por Marc Gavalda

The collective memory of the Latin American people, reinforced in each country with a patriotic sense has seen published, all over the continent, a large number of stories and testimonies that describe the sagas of Simon Bolivar, Sucre or Martin's liberating army in order to be freed of the domination of the Spanish crown.

Surprisingly, this historic conscience against colonialism, contrasts with the lack of information of all society of the new economic colonisation of the powerful Spanish economic groups. Taking advantage of the easy ride offered following the structural changes the World Bank and the IMF designed for the national economies during the last decade, the Spanish multinationals have taken over the public services, which have been auctioned at ridiculous prices. In this way, companies like Repsol-YPF trade in 9 countries of the continent, Gas Natural in five countries, Telefonica in 7 countries, Endesa in 12 countries, and the banks BBVA and BSCH in 11 countries.

The privatising offensive

The 90's were characterised by a massive sell-out offensive of all national resources masked with a New Structural Adjustment promoted and financed by multilateral banking. The World Bank as well as the International Monetary Fund have dictated the instructions for the state sale of its goods, using arguments of lack of competence and inefficiency as well as a it being a means of getting rid of the cumbersome external debt. So for instance, in Bolivia the country was left without trains, telephones, oil and public services in the space of five years. In some cases, the political links between the privatising businessmen have had a determining role, like in Pinochet's Chile, where Endesa, whose president was the franquist Rodolfo Martin Villa kept the state electrical company Enersis. On the other side of the Andes, the arms trafficker and at the time Argentina's president Julio Menem, financed with public funds the YPF company to sell it to Repsol a few months later. After the oil and other extractive resources have been sold, the new offensive is directed towards the rich range of utilities, companies like Agbar (Waters of Barcelona), Gas Natural, Union Fenosa and Endesa are controlling the water, gas and electricity distribution of the major Latin American capital cities. On the other hand, Telefonica took over the telecommunications network of several countries without having invested in any cable layout.

In a decade, the Latin American society has lost two centuries of national capacity building. Now, the national economies have become dangerously dependent upon the privatising companies. They have fallen into a well without stairs, like what happened to Argentina, due to the fact that its banks and resources are in foreign hands. In order to protect the investments from a possible nationalising turn, the FTAA will create a legal framework so that there is no possibility of changing things back. Besides, in order to protect the companies from popular rejection, military offensives like Plan Colombia and the Andes Region Initiative will be used to defend the foreign capital using guns or threats. Two clear examples reflect the new cycle that starts in Latin America: expansion and violence.

Fenosa Union and Para militarism

Fenosa Union is a company that belongs to the powerful banking group of the Central Hispanic Santander Bank. The oil company CEPSA1, which also belongs to this group, acquired by the company ErtoOil, property of the Spanish Minister Josep Pique, who was involved in a big corruption and tax evasion scandal during the transaction.

Fenosa Union deals with the electrical sector, it monopolises a portion of the Spanish market, but above all it receives huge profits from its transnational projection in Latin America. The strategy of this projection is to broaden its tentacles in public service privatisation.

The dubious management of this company in Colombia became glaringly obvious when the ex-president Samper privatised the public electricity companies of the Caribbean Coast and of Cali on August 5th , just two days before his period ended.

All this privatisation process obviously faced resistance led by the unions who opposed the sale of a public resource that served the citizens and that had been created for decades in a collective effort. But union resistance was literally silenced by the physical elimination of union leaders. The paramilitaries first killed the Vice-President of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores and the leader of the Electricity Union of Cartagena. Many union leaders of Barranquilla faced the same fate.

The lawyer who investigated all the frauds committed during this privatisation process was also assassinated. He was investigating the bribes politicians received during the intervention of the Spanish company and the damaging contract the Colombian State assumed in the privatisation. With the disappearance of the lawyer, the judicial process remained headless so Fenosa Union and its accomplices enjoyed impunity.

Besides this, Fenosa Union profits from the electricity produced from the building of the Urrá dam, this has displaced and massacred the indigenous people of the Embera-Katío.

Repsol invades the Indigenous Territories

Repsol YPF is one of the mail oil companies of the world since it bought the Argentinean State Company YPF in March 1999. To make the transaction more profitable, Repsol sold the less profitable units; the same thing Iberia Airlines did with Aerolíneas Argentinas2.

It also closed the refineries and fired thousand of workers. On the other hand, it increased production in the large oilfields in the Argentinean Patagonia (where they have polluted several Mapuche communities) 3. In Bolivia Repsol YPF owns more than 5 million hectares, represented in 27 oil blocks where they can operate in the following 40 years, leaving the country only 18% royalties. These blocks are situated in the Amazons and el Chaco invading 6 National Parks and 15 indigenous territories. The indigenous peoples who live in these territories are not well organised and are just receiving small gifts that threaten their culture and their dignity. Through YPF, Repsol took over half the oilfields discovered by the Bolivian oil company. Some of these oilfields have been recently classified as the biggest in America. At present, a gas pipeline is being built that will allow this company to export 30 million cubic metres of gas to Brazil per day, and it also takes part in the LNG project that will export liquefied gas to the thermo electrical markets in California.

In Ecuador, Repsol, together with the multinational OCP, is responsible for the construction of an oil pipeline which will trigger the invasion of the indigenous territories in the Amazons, where this company has an important field in the Huaorani territory. In Colombia, Repsol together with Occidental and Shell, is involved in the Caño Limón Field, the most productive field in the country. This company also operates independently in the Ancestral territory of the U'wa, an indigenous people that has promised to defend their territory from the oil companies to death.

The Repsol invasion of Protected Areas and Indigenous Territories

Country Project Affected areas and peoples

Marc Gavalda (Transnational Observatory)

1. CEPSA associated with ENRON to exploit oil in the Bolivar Department, in a zone with a strong paramilitary presence.

2. Something similar happened with Aerolineas Argentinas, they were bought by the multinational SEPI (Iberia), in what was called the Galician Strategy: they bought the company at very good value, took it to bankruptcy in order to sell their planes and sell the company in auction.

3. The Mapuche Organisation in Neuquen is in a constant fight against the Rapsol company in the Loma de la Lata field. In April 2002, they sued the company f or 404 million dollars for the irreversible damage caused to the Payynemil and Kaxipayiñ communities. | alca | Plan Puebla-Panamá |