Despite expectations, dissident rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) continue to carry out kidnappings in Colombia. On 24 November 2016, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) brought their 54-year conflict to an end with the signing of a peace agreement. This was hailed as a significant accomplishment, particularly as it carried with it the promise that its pacifying effects would extend beyond the immediate conflict and to the sources of rebel funding, such as kidnap for ransom and the drug trade. A temporary ceasefire, signed on 4 September 2017 between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), was also welcomed with similar views of far-reaching positive effects.
However, in recent months dissidents have conducted multiple kidnappings predominantly targeting domestic nationals. One of the most high-profile cases was the abduction of Herledy López, a UNODC official, from Miraflores in Guaviare on 3 May 2017. López was released on 5 July 2017 following negotiations between the dissidents and national authorities. Although locals are the primary victims, the threat to foreign nationals should not be discounted.
The peace process has led to the fragmentation of the FARC, an armed group previously renowned for its highly cohesive structure, into various separate entities. These groups are not only fighting amongst themselves but also against rival groups. FARC dissidents have been known to operate in the departments of Guaviare, Caquetá and Nariño. On 11 November 2017, a dissident group known as the Guerrilla Unida del Pacífico kidnapped seven people from the Awá indigenous community in Tumaco, Nariño department. The abductions were carried out as part of an armed confrontation against another FARC rebel group known as the Gaula NP. Several days later an armed clash between FARC dissidents and the ELN in a rural area of southwest Nariño killed 13 people.
Kidnapping used to control territory
Incidents such as these highlight the interconnection between rebel activity and kidnapping, highlighting that these are non-state actors who use kidnapping to control parts of Colombian territory. Whilst they are unlikely to interrupt the peace process, they demonstrate that the threat continues in spite of it. As a result, kidnappings linked to power struggles are likely to continue in the short to medium term.
In a recent interview with Colombian magazine Semana, GAULA (Unified Action Group for Personal Liberty) Director General Fernando Murillo acknowledged that dissident groups pose a serious kidnap threat, however he sought to reassure the public by saying that they can rely on the authorities’ capabilities and experience. On 2 December, the GUALA national police showed such competence by rescuing Gelmo Borrero Ceballos, a 69-year old cattle rancher, who was abducted in Altamira, Huila department and held for seven days.
The kidnap threat remains multifaceted in Colombia as kidnappings continue to be perpetrated by a number of criminal and guerrilla groups, in addition to rebel dissidents. It is important to recognise that these fragmented units pose a particular threat as they are each driven by a unique set of motivations and have access to different resources.
If you are planning to travel to Colombia, NYA can help you understand the threats you are likely to face, identify vulnerabilities and help you mitigate the risks. Contact us for a discreet conversation about how we can help.