The Clinton Foundation & Columbia

With a warm smile, Sandra told us that she was initially enthusiastic about working with the Clinton Foundation. She pulled out a smart phone and showed us pictures of the 2013 launch party for the “Acceso Oferta Local” program, a foundation effort directly supported by Canadian financier Giustra to match poor entrepreneurs — farmers, fishermen, candy-makers, flower vendors and others — with big buyers, like multinational hotels.

She thumbed past a shot of Giustra to show us a photo of herself with Bill Clinton. The former president and the female entrepreneur had megawatt smiles.

“The idea was that they would help small stores and small fisherman,” she said. “And that’s what it did, but only at the start.”

Sandra said she received no money from the Clinton Foundation and, in fact, took out a large bank loan at its urging. Paying this loan proved to be a tremendous burden, she said. Even worse, within months the head of the Acceso project told her that she should no longer deal directly with buyers. Instead, she would sell her fish directly to Acceso — at sharply reduced prices — and Acceso would resell them. In other words, the Clinton Foundation would act as a middleman and profit from margins supplied by the people it was supposed to be helping. . . .

Its staggering $2 billion haul, according to a Washington Post estimate, has come from American moguls, foreign governments, international capitalists and multinational organizations, including tentacles of the World Bank and United Nations. . . .

When we met him in his wood-paneled office in Colombia’s Capitol building in May, his desk was stacked high with papers related to Pacific Rubiales’s labor practices, the result of years of investigative work by his staff. He did not see the Clinton Foundation and its partnership with Giustra’s Pacific Rubiales as either progressive or positive. “The territory where Pacific Rubiales operated,” he said, thumbing through pages of alleged human-rights violations, “was a type of concentration camp for workers.” . . .

To meet these requirements, the Clinton Foundation and Giustra launched a job center (with more funding from USAID). It is said to have trained hundreds of indigenous peoples to work on the port construction.

But visits to each of the Clinton Foundation projects — and interviews with the publicized beneficiaries — reveal a wide gap between the public descriptions and reality. . . .

In November 2012, Sen. Lopez and his aides made the six-hour trek from Bogota to Campo Rubiales, the oil field operated by Pacific Rubiales, to investigate allegations of labor abuses.

His convoy was stopped at a military roadblock before he could reach the camp’s entrance. The soldiers manning the blockade said they were under orders not to let the group pass through. 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.”

While union leaders and human-rights campaigners complained, Bill Clinton flew in for a Pacific Rubiales pro-am golf tournament at Bogotá Country Club in February 2012. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos came to play a few holes with Clinton as a crowd of spectators gathered around the green. . . .

“Bill Clinton didn’t come here to play golf,” Robledo, the progressive Colombian senator, said to us about the fundraiser, his lips in a tight smile. “Clinton opened doors for Giustra to do business here.”Hillary Clinton has also had little to say about Colombia during her presidential campaign. She was last seen in the country in 2012, dancing and drinking a beer at a Cartagena nightclub called Havana during the Summit of the Americas. The free-trade agreement went into effect a month later. . . .

Hillary Clinton resigned from the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation in 2015, citing growing complaints about the apparent conflict of interest with her current campaign. The legal entity continues to bear her name. She recently said the foundation will continue to operate if she is elected, although it will place new restrictions on donations from non-U.S. citizens.

Clinton and her campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story. In response to questions about ethical concerns, Clinton has promised “complete transparency about donations” to the foundation. She has not detailed any reforms to its operations or regrets about its failures in Colombia.

Sandra Valdivieso still appears on the Clinton Foundation’s website, its poster child for the Clinton-Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative, months after we asked a foundation spokesman to comment on her criticism and experiences.

The good times would not last for Pacific Rubiales. Although the company’s stock climbed steadily after the Clinton Foundation announced operations in Colombia, it never poked above that $35-per-share price in November 2010. Its shares have since lost most of their value. Pacific Rubiales changed its name to Pacific Exploration & Production Corporation in 2015. It filed for bankruptcy in May 2016.

The Clinton Foundation left a toxic legacy in Colombia

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