HomeNewsAnalysisKidnapping on the Rise in Colombia; Rebels Target Oil Workers
ANALYSIS

Kidnapping on the Rise in Colombia; Rebels Target Oil Workers

COLOMBIA / 5 AUG 2011 BY JEREMY MCDERMOTT EN

Kidnapping in Colombia went up 30 percent in the first half of 2011, according to the anti-kidnapping NGO Pais Libre, with numbers pushed up by rebel mass abductions of oil workers.

In the year 2000, Colombia was the kidnapping capital of the world with more than 3,500 registered cases, and thousands more that were never reported. Under the Democratic Security Policy of President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), that number dropped exponentially, down to 213 in 2009. While there have been accusations of corruption within the state anti-kidnapping body, Fondelibertad, and perhaps manipulation of the numbers, there can be no doubt that kidnapping has fallen away to a fraction of the figures seen in 2000. However, a slight increase was seen in 2010, with 282 cases, and the trend for this year is up another 30 percent, the main driver behind this a sharp increase in rebel abductions, particularly of oil workers.

The trend in 2009 and 2010 was that the Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional - ELN) were no longer the principal kidnappers. Common criminals had overtaken the rebels as the main abductors and the kidnapping plague, long a rural phenomenon, was becoming urban. There were two main reasons behind the drop in rebel kidnappings. The first was that the guerrillas were pushed away from the principal urban centers and therefore the biggest pools of potential victims; the second was that, under constant threat of aerial bombardment and increased security force operations, the guerrillas had been forced to become totally mobile, seldom spending consecutive nights in the same place. Dragging around a kidnap victim, seldom in the same peak physical condition as the rebel fighters, became dangerous.

In 2011, however, this trend is being reversed. The FARC have stepped up their kidnapping operations, on the orders of the rebel commander-in-chief alias "Alfonso Cano" (real name Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas), as part of his new guerrilla strategy document Plan 2010. Their principal target is the oil industry.

The first sign of this new rebel policy was seen in March, when the FARC’s 16th Front kidnapped 23 oil workers on contract with the Canadian company Talisman Energy. They were taken in the remote eastern province of Vichada, on the border with Venezuela, home to coca crops and rebel drug export routes. All but one of the workers were released on the same day, with the final victim being liberated at the end of July. It is not known if any ransom was paid.

Then in June three Chinese workers and their translator, working with the British firm Emerald Energy, were snatched from their vehicle in the southern province of Caqueta, long a rebel stronghold. It seems the rebels are demanding a three million dollar ransom for their release.

Most recently, at the end of July, five workers on contract for the Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation were kidnapped in the department of Arauca on the Venezuela border. They were released a few days later, in a rebel operation which, sources told InSight Crime, was related to a failure to meet extortion demands.

The FARC has combined the kidnapping of oil workers with an increase in attacks on oil and gas pipelines and energy infrastructure, suggesting that Cano’s policy is designed to undermine the government’s claim that it is now safe to invest in Colombia and thus deter foreign investment, which has been one of the major factors in boosting the economy. Oil production is also currently as record levels, with the government promising that output will soon exceed a million barrels a day.

However it is not just the FARC that are engaging in mass kidnappings. The new generation of narco-paramilitary groups, called BACRIMs ("bandas criminals" - criminal gangs) by the government, are also involved. In April, 10 people were taken by heavily armed men from a farm in Sopetran, in the northern province of Antioquia. As investigations into the kidnapping advanced, it became clear that those abducted had links to the drug trade, and it was believed that their abductions were related to an unpaid drug debt, or fighting between rival gangs linked to the Medellin mafia, the Oficina de Envigado. The bodies of those kidnapped were found towards the end of May in a mass grave not far from where they had been snatched, the corpses bearing signs of torture.

Another factor feeding kidnapping this year is the fact that there are regional elections in October. There have already been at least three cases of local politicians being kidnapped, perhaps to pressure them into either withdrawing from the race, or promising to work with illegal factions should they win public office.

What is clear is the kidnapping is again becoming a significant problem in Colombia, and yet another headache for President Juan Manuel Santos, already under pressure on the security front as the FARC increase actions across the country.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARGENTINA / 29 JAN 2021

While unrest gripped much of Latin America in 2019, it was the coronavirus that took center stage and ripped through…

BRAZIL / 24 MAY 2021

Of the nearly 140 reporters killed in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Honduras during the past decade, about half covered organized…

BRAZIL / 9 FEB 2021

The volume of cocaine needed to feed the booming European market requires the type of bulk transport capabilities offered by…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…