Frontline World

COLOMBIA - The Pipeline War, November, 2002

Synopsis of "The Pipeline War"

Interactive Map of Global Oil

Context for the Pipeline War

Civilians Caught in the Crossfire

Occidental Petroleum, BP, and more

Learn More about Colombia

Human Rights, Colombia's Civil War, Media Resources




Images of Colombian people and architecture

General Background
• Colombia is located at the "top" of South America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea, between Panama and Venezuela, and the northern Pacific Ocean, between Ecuador and Panama.

• Colombia is just under three times the size of Montana.

• Colombia covers only 1 percent of the world's land surface, but boasts 10 percent of the world's flora and fauna.

• Colombia's population is 41,008,227 (July 2002 estimate).

• By ethnicity, Colombians are: Mestizo 58%, White 20%, Mulatto 14%, Black 4%, mixed Black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%.

• Colombia is a republic; the executive branch dominates the government structure. Alvaro Uribe VČlez is the current president.

• Most Colombians speak Spanish, but there are more than 60 indigenous languages as well.

• Colombia was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (along with Ecuador and Venezuela).

• A 40-year-long insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian government escalated during the 1990s, largely funded by the drug trade.

• In 2001, the unemployment rate was estimated at 17 percent and 55 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.

• Colombia's biggest exports are petroleum, coffee, coal, apparel, bananas and cut flowers.

• Colombian exchange rates have nearly doubled in the past five years, seriously weakening the country's economy -- Colombian pesos per U.S. dollar went from Col$1,140.96 in 1997 to Col$2,275.89 in January 2002.

• Colombia's economy suffers from weak domestic demand, austere government budgets and the ongoing difficult security situation. Two of Colombia's leading exports, oil and coffee, face an uncertain future; new exploration is needed to offset declining oil production, while coffee harvests and prices are depressed.

• Colombia is the world's leading coca cultivator, supplying about 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States and the great majority of cocaine that reaches other international drug markets.

U.S. Involvement, Violence and Oil
• Colombia is rated as the homicide capital of the world.

• Based on Colombian government statistics, Colombia's 1999 murder rate of 77.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants was more than 13 times that of the United States. There were more than 27,800 murders in 2001.

• More than 95 percent of crimes in Colombia are never prosecuted.

• Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid (Israel is first, Egypt, second).

• Congress is currently considering a new aid package that includes $439 million for Colombia plus a $98 million package to train Colombian troops to protect the Occidental pipeline. (The United States has previously provided $1.7 billion in mostly military aid to fight drug trafficking.)

• The almost daily bombings of oil pipelines by rebels cost Colombia nearly $500 million in 2001. The two main rebel groups have bombed the pipeline approximately 950 times since the 1980s.

• President Uribe recently declared a state of emergency and announced that Colombia will arm 15,000 peasants.

• President Uribe has specified two military zones where commanders can conduct searches without warrants and impose curfews.

• Colombia is the ninth-largest supplier of oil to the United States.

• In December 2001, the Colombian army more than doubled the size of the force protecting the pipeline, adding three battalions to the two already assigned. As of mid-September 2002, this strategy appeared to be working, as there had been only 29 attacks on the pipeline, as opposed to 170 in 2001.

• Oil is Colombia's top export product (followed by coal and coffee in 2001). Oil accounted for about 25 percent of government revenues in 2001.

• As of January 2002, Colombia had about 1.75 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, down from 2001 estimates of 1.97 billion barrels. Potential oil reserves, however, are believed to be much larger. Without new discoveries, Colombia could become a net oil importer. Colombia's oil production declined in 2001 to 616,000 barrels per day (bbl/d), after reaching an all-time high of 826,000 bbl/d in 1999. Colombia exported 280,000 bbl/d to the United States during 2001, down from 332,000 bbl/d in 2000.

• The Colombian government is the owner of the country's hydrocarbon reserves.

• Britain's BP and U.S.-based Occidental are the most active foreign companies in the Colombian oil sector.

• Left-wing rebel groups continue to target the oil industry. In April 2002, Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), declared that oil companies working in the country were military targets.

• The ELN and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) bombed the Cano LimŪn Pipeline a record 170 times (about 14 times per month) in 2001.

• Due to fewer pipeline bombings in 2002, increased exports of Caño Limón crude oil arrived at the U.S. Gulf Coast.

• The BP Cusiana/Cupiagua complex's Ocensa Pipeline is a far less frequent target for bombings. While it carries more oil than the Cano LimŪn Pipeline, a greater portion of it is underground.

• Ecopetrol (the state-owned oil company) strikes have followed disappearances of oil union officials. An estimated 165 union members were killed in Colombia in 2001.

• Right-wing paramilitary organizations have claimed responsibility for abductions of Oil Workers Union members, claiming those abducted had ELN affiliations. Strikes in February, March and April protested abductions and killings of oil union workers.

• Colombia's current refining capacity is about 285,850 bbl/d, and all refineries are 100 percent owned and operated by Ecopetrol.

• Although Colombia is a net oil exporter, it has to import gasoline to meet domestic product demand.

• A recent OPEC report predicted that in the second half of 2002, global daily crude oil consumption would amount to 76.46 million barrels, rising to 77.22 million barrels in 2003.

• According to OPEC, extraction of crude oil in Iraq grew in September 2000 by 345,000 barrels a day and amounted to 1.922 million barrels.

• Plan Colombia opened a new chapter in U.S.-Colombian relations. In 2000, the United States gave $1.3 billion in mostly military aid to the Colombian government to help eradicate coca crops, the raw material used for making cocaine.

• According to figures released this month by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, coca production in Colombia actually increased by almost 25 percent between August 2000, when Plan Colombia went into effect, and December 2001. During that time, 80,000 acres of land were opened up for coca cultivation, according to the administration's figures.

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CIA Worldfactbook, 2002; Colombian embassy;; U.S. Consular information sheet on Colombia, 9/24/02; Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2002; Associated Press; New York Times; Boston Globe; Los Angeles Times; U.S. Energy Information Center; Global Exchange