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Barrancabermeja, a Colombian port and refinery town. This Magdalena River town of 191,403 people (2005 est.) in the department of Santander developed in tandem with the Colombian petroleum industry. Commonly referred to as "Barranca" after the red clay banks of the river, the town remained quite small until the discovery of petroleum in the early twentieth century. The 1921 de Mares concession of oil fields to Jersey Standard (later Exxon) authorized refinery construction shortly thereafter. Under the restrictive Petroleum Law of 1919, the concession reverted to national control forty years later. In 1951, Exxon and Ecopetrol jointly expanded the capacity of the refinery. Its 150,000 barrels per day capacity as of 2007 represents two-thirds of the country's potential. Jersey Standard's concession came in the midst of intense nationalist feeling over the 1903 separation of Panama, which was quite visible in the 1920s. Labor strife has been common in the Barrancabermeja refinery, with major conflicts in 1925, 1936, 1948, 1963, and in the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s the city witnessed major violence, conflict, and displaced refugees in the civil war between paramilitary and armed opposition groups. In response, international human rights organizations denounced the violence. Some of these groups maintain a physical presence in Barrancabermeja and the surrounding rural regions.

See alsoPetroleum Industry .


A. Eugene Havens and Michel Romieux, Barrancabermeja: Conflictos sociales en torno a un centro petrolero (1966).

René De La Pedraja Toman, Energy Politics in Colombia (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Aprile Gniset, Jacques. Génesis de Barrancabermeja: Ensayo. Colombia: Instituto Universitario de la Paz, 1997.

Coghlan, Nicholas. The Saddest Country: On Assignment in Colombia. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004.

Toro Puerta, Mario Rafael. Pendientes de un hilo: El proceso de desafiliación en un sector de Barrancabermeja. Bogotá: Editorial Bonaventuriana, Universidad de San Buenaventura, 2004.

                                            David Sowell

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