An oil field worker, held hostage by Colombian guerrillas for five months, was reportedly released near the Venezuela border.
According to newsweekly Semana, a military patrol in the remote department of Guainia picked up the topographer, Luis Dayan Tapas Garcia, a contractor for Canadian oil company Talisman.
On March 8, Garcia was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) along with 22 other oil field workers, in the eastern Vichada department. The department has long been the stronghold of FARC’s 16th Front, responsible for the kidnapping. One oil worker escaped from the guerrillas and the other 21 were set free, most likely because the 16th Front lacks the resources to maintain large groups of hostages.
It is not clear why the 16th Front let Garcia go free. As President Juan Manuel Santos emphasized after the March kidnapping, Colombia’s official policy is that any multinationals who pay ransom to the rebels will be expelled from the country. Garcia reportedly suffered from health issues, which may explain why he was released.
The 16th Front was once one of the FARC’s wealthiest and most powerful units. After front commander alias “Negro Acacio” was killed in a bombing raid in September 2007, the front experienced a wave of desertions, and is now believed to number between 100 and 150 combatants. The rebels are still able to take advantage of Vichada’s jungle terrain — as well as the proximity to the Venezuelan border — to continue trafficking coca base to their allies, the Popular Revolutionary Antiterrorist Army of Colombia (Ejercito Revolucionario Popular Antiterrorista Colombiano – ERPAC).
The Talisman kidnapping is one of the clearest indications yet that the FARC intend to step up their actions against Colombia’s oil sector this year. In June, the FARC kidnapped four Chinese oil workers in Caqueta department, who are still in captivity. The guerrillas have also continued bombing oil infrasture, including the Caño Limon Coveñas pipeline, bombed four times so far this year. The Defense Ministry registered 31 such attacks last year.