Jun 23, 2008 | 21:13 GMT

3 mins read

Colombia: The FARC's Low-Level Pipeline Campaign

Colombia's Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline was shut down because of attacks on June 21 and 22. Attacking pipelines has been a favorite tactic for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and such attacks will continue both because of their political ramifications and because they keep authorities' attention on guarding pipelines instead of pursuing the FARC. The attacks pose little threat to Colombia's oil industry overall.
Explosive devices have shut down Colombia's Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline, Colombian state petroleum company Ecopetrol announced June 22. The line transports on average 35,000 barrels per day from Arauca province to the Caribbean coast. Attacks against pipelines and other oil infrastructure equipment have been a calling card of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group (and of other militant groups around the world). In the past 15 years there have been 950 pipeline attacks in Colombia, most of which were carried out by the FARC. Attacks on the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline alone peaked at 170 in 2001 — most of the nearly 500-mile-long pipeline runs through dense jungle, making it particularly hard to defend. Over the past two years, attacks on the Cano Limon-Covenas and other pipelines have tapered off — slowing down to about one per month. The main reason for the decline is Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez's dedication to fighting the FARC (with U.S. assistance). In addition, the FARC has begun to focus cocaine production and trafficking, which are more profitable than fomenting socialist revolution. The FARC still retains a strong political activist core and will use violence to achieve political ends, but in light of recent deaths among the FARC leadership, this political core has given way to proponents of plying the cocaine trade. With oil above $130 per barrel, pipelines have become more financially sensitive than ever. Maintaining a steady but not-too-aggressive campaign against oil pipelines is a way for the FARC to continue its guerrilla campaigns without attracting too much government attention, which could damage the group's cocaine operations. Easy attacks also provide new members with an opportunity to cut their teeth. The attacks may also give the FARC some maneuverability — the more time and resources authorities spend securing the pipeline, the less time they are spending chasing the FARC. The frequency of these attacks has led the government to hedge against damage to its oil infrastructure. Oil production and shipments have continued as normal despite the attacks, because Ecopetrol has oil stored at port — a precaution the company began taking in the days when attacks came much more frequently. Also, regular attacks over the years have made authorities quite adept at repairing pipelines. The Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline is expected to be operational again in two to three days.

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