Frontline World


Colombia, The Pipeline War, november 2002



Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story, including responses from the reporter.

D. Maze - Marshalltown
I spent 1986-87 teaching in a private school in Barranquilla, Colombia and went back for a visit in 1991. At that time, I traveled extensively throughout this beautiful country. The present 'warfare' must be costing Colombia untold millions in lost tourist trade. When's the last time you saw an ad to come visit Colombia? The U.S. State Department doesn't recommend traveling there. When I asked my high school seniors about the cocaine problem they told me if there weren't such a demand in the U.S. there wouldn't be a supply from Colombia. Is this what a past administration calls supply-side economics?

I was rather astounded to find out that Colombia is third in the world as a recipient of U.S. aid. Unfortunately a large chunk of it goes for the military protection of U.S. corporations. A poor way to make allies in my estimation.

Norma Paskash - Hobart, Indiana
If we have to go to war to protect oil pipelines and oil wells around the world, maybe we need to find another source of energy.

Tom Grace - New Berlin - New York
I wish your televised story had detailed U.S. involvement in the Colombian tragedy with some of facts you have here on online. This is a time for bold reporting as well gutsy newsgathering.

Berkeley, California
The argument that the oil pipeline and the war in Colombia have a cause-and-effect relationship, as reported in "Colombia: The Pipeline War," is spurious at best and a blatant lie at worst. Colombia's civil war has been killing innocent civilians since the FARC first took to the jungles during the decade-long war known as La Violencia that followed the 1948 assassination of Liberal Party leader Eliecer Gaitan. Occidental Petroleum Corp. didn't discover the 1.3 billion-barrel Caño Limón oil field until 1983. To imply that a nineteen-year-old oil pipeline is the cause of fifty-four year old civil war is to disregard the logic of the scientific method in favor of agenda-supporting propaganda. I had higher expectations of PBS and Frontline.

There is no doubt that all sides are using the oil pipeline as a pawn in Colombia's civil war. The first recorded attack on a Colombian oil pipeline in 1986. But do not be misled into believing that the fight is about oil, or that the United States' oil consumption is the cause of all that ails Columbia. Oil, like cocaine and heroin, are a method to Colombia's madness, not the cause of it.

The thing to remember is that roughly 3,500 people, most of them civilians, die every year in the fighting. And at the root of it all, Colombia's social and economic problems, remain un-addressed.

Keith Allred - Ogden, Utah
I am wondering why this isn't big news. I hardly hear anything about this and the Colombians I know that live here won't talk about it. I have met many Colombians and I have great respect for them and the trying times they have gone through. This area is more important to take care of than Iraq in my opinion. These are great people and deserve a safe, sane life.

Gary Hall - Los Angeles, California
A little history on Occidental/Colombia should be made known. No one would doubt a Bush connection, of course there is a lot more. Additional information should be noted here about 1. Plan Colombia and its direct relationship to the pipelines, and 2. The Human rights conditions in Plan Colombia that were waived by the last President. May I copy this article on some recent involvement: Published on Friday, June 30, 2000 in the Washington Times "Gore Resists Calls to Halt Oil Drilling in Colombia" by Bill Sammon (Note: FRONTLINE/World could not publish the article)

Mark Westborough - Boston, Massachusetts
I was disappointed in this piece. It promoted America's willingness to pay for oil as the root of all evil in Colombia. Very superficial.

Juan Posada - New York, New York
This is the best reportage about the Colombian conflict that I've seen recently. My most sincere congratulations to the reporter and the production team, that, through this straightforward piece, depicted the complexities and absurdities of the Colombian conflict.

Thank you.

Steve Hunt - Stillwater, Oklahoma
The United States needs to look at the Colombia pipeline situation closely as it moves to create its new Saudi Arabia in the African Continent, via the Cameroon-Chad pipeline. Wanting to rid itself of the Saudi problem via its dependence upon their oil is understandable, but the States do not realize what will come of this "simple fix." To imagine that things will be different in Africa is a huge mistake, especially when you compare the devastated country of Chad to Colombia. The Saudis have terrorized numerous countries including the United States, not because of Americans' "way of life," but because they are perceived as a people who are basically telling the Saudi people that they have no right to their own resources. When this happens in Africa, when the pipeline is finished in late '03, there will be numerous groups springing up that make the Colombian rebels look like Boy Scouts...

Joel Clark - Deltona, Florida
We just watched your program on the U.S.-owned pipeline in Colombia. My wife is from Colombia, and her entire family lives there, so what happens in Colombia is of special interest to us. Your program, some years ago, entitled "The Godfather of Cocaine," was the best report on the subject in Colombia that we had ever seen. On the other hand, the program we watched tonight on the Colombian oil pipeline and the problem with the paramilitaries we found somewhat one-sided. Had we not known better, we would have come away with the impression that the Marxist FARC and ELN were dedicated groups trying to make things better for the "poor people" of Colombia. On the other hand the paramilitaries were shown to be a ruthless group of terrorists killing everyone in sight. The Marxist groups have been terrorizing Colombia for many years now, but not for doing anything for the "poor people" or making the country a better place, but for their own gain...

Lafayette, Louisiana
I believe the U.S. has no business exploiting the resources of any country, including our own, for its own greedy, irresponsible ends. America's oil policy is not spreading wealth. It's spreading social, economical and ecological terrorism in the guise of progress, friendship and economic empowerment. Then we wonder why we have become a target for terrorism. America arrogantly out-muscles anyone choosing to resist its oil policy through peaceful means, then is shocked when less conscientious and law-abiding forces [use] violent tactics. [Thus] continuing the deadly never-ending circle of fighting violence with violence. I fully support exclusive implementation of renewable energy sources that do not negatively impact any country, including our own.

Stan L. - Lake Forest, Illinois
I felt this to be a slanted story with the real agenda of trying to portray/blame the U.S., and its implicitly greedy desire for oil, as the reason for the civilian misery, especially as suffered by the prostitutes, homosexuals, and civil rights workers. It looks to me like it is the leftist guerrillas, who have chosen to attack the oil pipeline as a soft target, who are at fault. Where is the outrage against the leftists? Instead, somehow the U.S. is to blame! If it were not politically incorrect, I would accuse the producer as being a leftist sympathizer; but I won't do that.

Smith Stephens - Dallas, Texas
I had no idea that the pursuit of oil was spoiling rivers, earth and families in Colombia! What an eye-opening and tragic story. The politics involved are enough but what about the destroyed land and rivers? Thanks PBS for the unfiltered story, you don't find news like this anywhere else.

Joe Lapsley - Chicago, Illinois
Your piece did not inform viewers that the rebels on more than one occasion agreed to participate in the electoral system. Each time they were slaughtered by the thousands. Rather than learn that history, your reporter simply evinced suspicion of their claims that they fight for the poor.

Luther D. Harrison - Ft Lauderdale, Florida
You know what really gets me about this oil business is the old adage "the haves and the have nots." While we in the U.S. drive these impossibly large and ostentatious Expeditions and Escalades, working people in developing nations are lucky if they can find a Pinto or Vega to drive. This excessive greed is so obvious, fund[ing] the "American Dream" at the expense of the poor bastards who don't know the difference anyway. I'm an American, however this unbalance and obsession with the "things" that supposedly make our lives, "better, faster, easier" only serves to make some of us Americans ignorant to the impact we have on our fellow planet sharers. Thank you for excellent reporting. As usual you are setting the standard. Keep bringing us fair accurate and most of all authentic news broadcasting.

Glendale, Arizona
Your report is very interesting and objective. I think that Colombia's conflict is too serious. I wish that foreign countries [would] take [note] of this situation. This country is part of my heart. My hopes are with our current president, [who] is the only one who is facing the problem. Still, guerrillas and the paramilitary won't stop. The more they fight, the worst this situation will be. Still there is a little hope in my heart, for me to be able to go back. I wish there where something I could do to help my country. Thanks.

M. Scott MacInnes - Ferndale, Michigan
I can't believe we taxpayers still subsidize this harmful addiction with our hard-earned money.

With so many alternatives, who still thinks the risks associated with extracting, transporting and refining oil is a good idea?

Are these people stupid or evil or both?

Lorena Mendoza - Tempe, Arizona
I am so proud that you are informing Americans about Colombia. We need to realize what is happening there and I am glad to see shows like these. We all need to unite as Americans and educate ourselves on how we can help with this terrible situation in Colombia. Please, we need more shows about Colombia like this one.

Otoniel Calderon - Austin, Texas
Thank you for laying out the information concerning the Colombian Pipeline War as efficiently as you did. It aroused my curiosity and I found out some interesting facts. If the U.S. did not import oil at all from other countries our supply would only last for another 8 years. Saudi Arabia's oil supply, however, could keep the United States running smoothly (not taking into account population or oil consumption demand increases) for 98 years. Colombia just seems to be a pawn in a game that costs many innocent lives as it becomes more important for the United States to secure an alternative to Saudi Arabia. It was also very interesting to note that the high oil consumption comes from the fact that 1/2 of all vehicles being purchased in America are light trucks which are less fuel-efficient. I wonder if the public was aware of this if it would affect the purchase of light trucks.

This was one of the worst stories that I have seen on Colombia and was simplistic at best. It essentially boiled down to a wide-eyed reporter traveling around Colombia in the back of a military helicopter staring in wonderment at the violence only to ultimately blame the oil. Oil does not commit acts of violence, people do. Where is the political analysis here? Why is it never mentioned that the paramilitaries commit 80% of political murders in Colombia? Where is the historical context? Why are the guerrillas never mentioned by name and why is it never pointed out that there is more than one group (FARC and the ELN)?

I believe that ideally the program should have taken a political stance on the root of and solutions for violence in Colombia. However, at the very minimum it should have provided basic information about the overwhelming political and economic situation there which involves much more than oil. All this program really demonstrated is that Colombia is a country with a lot of oil and there is also a lot of violence.

In addition the whole tone, in particular the voice over, of the program made it feel as if we were watching a nature special about the natives that have gone wild over oil. A more complex analysis of the crisis might have improved this but unfortunately was absent.

Finally, at the end of the program the correspondent said the following: Before leaving, Shah visits a graveyard for blownup oil pipes: "Each piece," she laments, "represents a farm destroyed, a river poisoned or a life lost. The West benefits from Colombia's oil. Its true price is counted not just in dollars, but in human misery."

Since when is Colombia not geographically located in "the West"?

I expect far more of PBS.

Jupiter, Florida
I just finished watching The Pipeline War. I am truly saddened by what is happening in Columbia. I am sad for the people and the land. I was appalled at seeing the river "flowing black" with oil.

Because of your report, I will write to President Bush to [tell him that] my America needs to honestly look at alternative resources for energy/fuel! That as Humans & brothers & sisters of planet earth, we need really look at the whole picture & at the toll of human life and of nature. Is this worth it?

I will also be contacting Greenpeace. By working with them I feel that I am doing something, and trying to make a difference for my future brothers and sisters.

Wake up people, wake up!! What are you going to do to make a change?

San Diego, California
How can a country with the most educated people engage in hiring military anywhere just to protect its business interests. I go to a university and I hear a lot of talk about how the U.S. shouldn't do this, but yet we elect politicians that engage in these kinds of things for campaign donations. Americans just front for tolerance yet we allow our companies and government to get involved in other countries' affairs for profit. Getting involved means the companies will do almost anything to make a profit. They will destroy natural environments and kill people. I [would] rather not have oil and have to ride a bike than to know that some of the oil I use displaced a family from their home or was extracted at the price of people's lives.

Frances Elward - Manasquan, New Jersey
The Colombian news report was excellent...however I am not concerned with the politics. I would like to say to the rebels who are blowing up the oil line, this is the wrong way to are destroying your own country, poisoning rivers, land, water, supplies, animals, humans..YOU ARE MAD..Try a different method to fight for your cause.

Frances Elward an American...

Juanita Wood - Wenatchee, Washington
I am disappointed with the quality of reporting demonstrated in this story. Who is fooling who here? During the story the reporter traveled to the area where the pipeline was bombed. The reporter breathlessly tells the camera, "We are not supposed to be here" The camera pans out to show the soldiers hunting for rebels. The reporter goes on to tell us the rebels often hide in the area after they have bombed the pipeline. The camera then shows 2 soldiers standing in the meadow firing off their rifles (machine guns). The soldiers boldly walk out into the meadow. No duck and run here! Now notice please: these soldiers stand in an area without any cover! They do not even stand behind the trees! The soldiers simply point their rifles in front of them and fire! How could they possibly have hit anything? The other members of the party look on. They do not have cover either. I submit to you; if rebels had been in the area these soldiers would have been a soft target! After a time the camera pans to feet running on. The "party" is getting out of there! The implied threat is obvious!

What is the threat? Was it really dangerous to be in that location?

Are these soldiers as stupid as the camera would have us believe?

Was the whole thing staged for the audience?

Was the reporter a willing participant?

What kind of investigative reporting is this?

I cannot rely on the veracity of the information presented. Thus, the story is tainted. I am sure this is an important story. By showing the piece the producer's have insulted the average viewer's intelligence. Come on! Lose the Frontline tag! Frontline viewers expect and demand accurate, unbiased reporting!



Greenfield, Ohio
Your story was very compelling. It gave a perspective of the devastation and despair of people caught up in these wars. I love your shows and watch them first over prime time programs.

Dave Pochedley - Cleveland, Ohio
Excellent shows tonight, can't believe you got such access inside the country. Would like to see a "Charlie Rose" type discussion with various points of view about topics.

I am from Colombia and have been in the United States for the last 20 years. It never seizes to amaze me how easy it is for someone outside of the immediate danger to forget. Colombia had this war when I came here and will continue to have this war until there is drastic intervention by the global community. I am not referring to taking over the country, but this war is fueled by drug money. Money that comes from wealthy countries like the United States and Europe. If the money is taken away from the paramilitary and guerrilla groups in the country then they do not have the resources to destroy such a beautiful place.

Jim Oldani - St. Louis, Missouri
Watching "Pipe Line War", I was amazed at the twisted logic used to once again portray the U.S. as the root of all evil. Our "desperate need" for oil causes perfectly nice people in Columbia to kill each other! What tripe. If we hadn't invested in oil production the left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitary would have found another excuse for lawlessness. Just look around the world: diamonds and tribalism in central Africa, religion in the Middle East, drugs in South America, ethnicity in the Balkans and nothing at all in the Horn of Africa.

Public Broadcasting's record of presenting anti-American opinion pieces as journalism remains intact.

Juan Noyles - El Paso, Texas
No. The Colombian government should not be performing security services for U.S. companies. If these companies choose to put the Colombians (military or not) on their payroll, I think that would be just.

Naz Hashmi - Voorhees, New Jersey
Excellent reporting by Saira Shah! I never knew what goes on behind the scenes in Columbia for oil. It is such a shame that the media does not cover a story like this more often. Thank you for an informative show.

Craig Roberts - Zanesville, Ohio
I commend Ms.Shah, real gutsy. That area doesn't get much press. I would think that the drug war and oil interest should be explored. No doubt they're tied together.