BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has declared war on Colombia’s oil industry, which is the fourth largest in the world, as the terrorist group perpetrated 325 attacks on pipelines and wells between 2011 and the first half of 2013.
Ninety of those attacks occurred during the first six months of 2013 after 151 were committed last year and 84 in 2011, according to the Ministry of Defense, Colombia’s state-run oil company Ecopetrol and the Colombian Petroleum Association (ACP).
The FARC says its motive behind the attacks is a desire to have more people gain access to the wealth generated by the Ministry of Energy’s mining and drilling of natural resources. The FARC and the government are engaged in peace talks in Havana, Cuba.
But Vicente Torrijos, a political scientist and professor at Universidad del Rosario, in Bogotá, said the FARC’s intentions are deceiving, considering the terrorists attack oil pipelines and kidnap workers to extort businesses, using the money to finance its criminal activities.
“It’s absolutely clear its aim is extortion,” he said. “There’s no question the FARC is doing everything it can to diversify its sources of income and give the impression to the international community that it’s not planting coca crops.”
Andrés París, one of the FARC negotiators in Havana, said in a December 2012 interview with the website Verdad Abierta that oil companies pay the guerrilla group a so-called “war tax,” adding the government hasn’t been able to stop it.
In January, the FARC kidnapped Luis Figueroa, César Galeano and Hember García, engineers subcontracted by the Canada-based Gran Tierra Energy Inc., in Piamonte 747 kilometers from Bogotá. They were released three days later.
On March 7, 2011, the FARC kidnapped 23 workers employed by the global oil and gas company Talismán Energy Inc., headquartered in Canada. The next day, the Colombian Army rescued 22 of the victims. Surveyor Luis Tapias García remained in captivity until July 29, 2011.
Three Chinese engineers and a translator affiliated with the British multinational Emerald Energy were kidnapped by the FARC on June 8, 2011 and released on Nov. 22, 2012.
Five months after the mass kidnapping, a spokesperson with Emerald Energy announced that the company was suspending operations for security reasons. In March 2012, it resumed its operations.
The FARC isn’t the only terrorist group that has targeted the oil industry, as the National Liberation Army (ELN) recently released an employee of a Canada-based mining company in late August after holding him hostage for more than seven months.
The ELN kidnapped Jernoc Wobert, two Peruvians and three Colombians employed by the Braeval Mining Corporation on Jan. 18. The South Americans were freed a month later, but the ELN kept Wobert, demanding the company relinquish its mining rights, which Braeval did.
Government working to protect oil
The attacks on oil infrastructure may impact the 2013 production target of 1.040 million barrels daily. In June, the country produced 1.003 million barrels per day and in July it filled 1.020 million.
The marketing of this so-called “black gold” is one of the pillars of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ economic policy, which he bolstered by establishing the Office of Public Safety and Infrastructure within the Ministry of Defense in 2011 to provide security to oil companies.
Seventeen Army battalions are specifically assigned to protect the energy, highway and hydrocarbons industries.
“There continue to be security issues in the northeast and the south,” ACP President Alejandro Martínez said. “But in the rest of the country, the situation has improved enormously during the past 10 years. We’re very confident and sure of the work of the Armed Forces.”
Effects on the peace talks
Alejo Vargas, the director of Universidad Nacional’s Centro de Pensamiento y Seguimiento al Proceso de Paz, which works to analyze and monitor the peace process, doesn’t believe the climate of violence against the oil industry will affect the peace negotiations in Havana.
“The government and the FARC decided to negotiate while the conflict was ongoing, and these are the risks,” he said. “By removing the condition of a ceasefire to hold talks, the process becomes streamlined and more pressure is added.”
Iván Márquez, the head of the FARC’s negotiating team, has proposed a debate on the use of natural resources in Colombia since the sides started peaces talks in October 2012 in Oslo, Norway, to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict.
But the government rejected his idea.
“The talks will not involve the country’s economic model or foreign investment,” it said in a prepared statement.