FARC Releases Five Kidnapped Oil-Company Employees

By Dialogo
August 03, 2011

Five contractors working for the U.S. oil company Occidental, kidnapped by FARC guerrillas in northeastern Colombia, were released on 31 July in reaction to pressure from the Colombian Army, which was seeking to rescue them, a high-ranking officer announced.

The kidnapping and subsequent release of the workers, which demonstrate the risks faced by the petroleum and mining industries as a consequence of the internal armed conflict, took place in the department of Arauca, a prosperous cattle-ranching and oil-producing region on the border with Venezuela.

The commander of the Army’s 18th Brigade, Gen. Jaime Reyes, told Reuters that guerrillas belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released the workers in a rural area of the municipality of Arauquita.

“We initiated an operation with three battalions in the sector where the guerrillas fled with the hostages, with the aim of achieving the release of these individuals and trying to avoid combat in order not to affect the workers’ physical integrity. We succeeded,” the officer declared.

“We were pleased to find that they turned them over safe and sound; we have the satisfaction of a duty fulfilled. They are apparently in good health,” Reyes specified.

The five electricians working for Occidental were kidnapped on a road where they were intercepted by armed men who forced them to get out of the vehicle in which they were travelling and took them into a wooded area.

Colombia is Latin America’s fourth-largest producer of crude oil, amid a takeoff of the mining and petroleum sectors due to improved security conditions that have enabled the arrival of numerous multinationals to explore the country’s potential.

Security conditions have improved since 2002 as a consequence of a military offensive launched against the FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla groups by former president Alvaro Uribe, with the support of the United States, and continued by current president Juan Manuel Santos.

The offensive, during which important guerrilla commanders have died, at the same time that thousands of fighters have deserted, has forced the FARC and the ELN to withdraw to remote mountainous and jungle areas, making exploration and exploitation operations possible in regions they previously controlled.

Nevertheless, the guerrillas still maintain the ability to carry out high-impact actions, including attacks with explosives in large urban centers.

Three Chinese employees of the oil company Emerald Energy and a translator, kidnapped by the FARC at the beginning of June, after being assaulted in the jungle department of El Caquetá, are still being held.

In March, 23 oil workers were kidnapped and held for several hours in the department of El Vichada, also by the FARC, which released them hours later due to pressure from the military.

In recent months, the guerrillas have returned to attacking oil infrastructure, such as the pipelines through which crude is transported from production areas to the ports from which it is exported.