Two German pensioners traveling the world in their 4×4 have been held in captivity, kidnapped by the ELN guerrilla group, since November 2012. One Canadian and two Peruvians working for an international mining company were also captured by the ELN in January. Here are two different scenarios with the same aim. The ELN is out to be the spoiler of the peace process, ruin international investment, damage tourism and all in the name of some hackneyed Marxist uprising taking inspiration from the Cuban revolution dating back to 1965.
At this moment in time, a peace agreement between the other warring faction, the larger guerrilla group of the FARC and the Colombian government seems nothing short of quixotic. Talks continue in Cuba while Colombians and foreign nationals resident here lose faith.
The ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional) has not been receiving too much coverage of late since all the media has focused on the FARC for various reasons, the continual harrying of towns such as Suarez and Toribio in Cauca, the Peace Talks in Cuba, the vile Dutch FARC guerrilla stealing the limelight, and their announcement of a unilateral ceasefire (ended on the 20th of January). Of course, as a show of buena fe, the FARC declared they would no longer kidnap. This was short-lived.
So, the ELN, which has not been included in the peace talks in Cuba is throwing their toys from the crib like a toddler wailing for attention. The group craves the gaze and concern of the international community. And, now there are five foreigners in captivity supposedly for representing international firms and exploiting what “is rightfully Colombia’s”.
In a recent communiqué, the ELN made claims that Colombia’s natural resources are for the common good. We cannot argue with this. But, who’s going to extract them from the earth if the enterprises with the know-how are not permitted access to these areas.
Let’s debunk some myths
- The Germans in captivity are pensioners on a jolly about the world minding their own business. Not spies like the ELN claim.
- Will kidnapping a Canadian, two Peruvians and three Colombians stop the Canadian firm or other firms from exploring or mining in these lands? No.
- Will the Government invite the ELN to attend the peace talks in Cuba? No. They will always prefer to keep the two groups separate.
For those who have read some of my ruminations, you will have seen me make mention of my hotel in Mompós. We had a bumper high season and this continues to be the case. Our bread and butter is not Colombians nor is it English tourists, no, we rely on the German market which has grown exponentially in the last couple of years. This has been the case since the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs reduced the travel risk to Colombia and this triggered travel insurance companies to reduce tariffs on Colombia as a destination.
We have already had one German cancellation.
But, it’s not the immediate reaction that concerns me most, most of our groups have been prepaid and are non-refundable and they will come to Colombia whatever the situation. It’s the bookings for next year and beyond that are a major worry as this saga of the two German retirees drags out and becomes even more widely known. I hope this ends soon, but, who knows? While the ELN continues down the path to extinction, the damage to Colombia’s tourism will be massive.
These German travel groups that we manage travel to roughly 18 destinations in Colombia which include Bogota, Medellin, Cali, San Agustin, Popayan, the Coffee Zone, San Gil, Mompós, Santa Marta/ Tayrona and Cartagena. In each of these places they use mid-range independently owned accommodations, hire local guides, eat in the local restaurants, visit the points of interest, take transport, drink in the bars and buy tourist knick-knacks in the shops. This tourism is low impact but with high economic repercussions and benefits to the local community. I guess, you could suggest that this tourism is for the “common good” of Colombia.
The two Germans in captivity were apparently captured in the border region of Catatumbo. I am not going to suggest that they shouldn’t be here, because this is to cede Colombian territory to the guerrilla. There is no justification for this hostage taking. The ELN looks like a buffoon now.
Regarding the three foreign nationals and three Colombians kidnapped in Norosi, Bolivar, yes, we must acknowledge that, the licenses being given out to foreign firms to exploit the land is something that must be reviewed, but kidnapping? No, kidnapping is not justified if only for the psychological stress and danger placed on the hostage, who will never be the same again after a life changing event like this. The real danger at the moment are the folkloric illegal mining outfits exploiting in environmentally fragile regions of the country and leaving god knows how much terrain in a disastrous condition.
By ruining present business and threatening future opportunities the ELN has our attention, now what are they going to do with it?