Kidnapped in January, Gernot Wober is now a pawn in a long fight over resource rights.
Gernot Wober was a long way from his Canadian home when, on Jan. 18, he was taken captive by Marxist guerrillas in the town of Norosí, Colombia.
The reasons Wober is still being held are deeply entwined in a long-running war between rebels and the Colombian government. It’s a five-decade struggle to control the country’s northern region, which is called the South of Bolívar. At stake is a bounty of gold — and who gets to mine it. Multinational mining companies, as one might imagine, are lined up to exploit the resource. But the region is also home to so-called “traditional miners” — home-grown, low-tech operators who scrape out a living sifting gravel, sand and dirt for the precious ore.
Wober, a vice-president of exploration at the Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corp., is a pawn in that war over who gets the gold. And his captors, the National Liberation Army (ELN), are not likely to let him go without a bloody fight or something very valuable in return.
The ELN is the second largest guerrilla group in Colombia with roughly 2,500 armed members and a long historical presence in the South of Bolívar. On the day the ELN invaded a mining camp and took Wober, they also took hostage two Peruvians and three Colombian nationals.
The ELN immediately admitted the crime. Selective kidnappings are one of the tactics rebels use to control the South of Bolívar and especially its heart, an isolated 16,000 square kilometre mountainous area known as the Serranía de San Lucas.
The rebels claimed they took Wober captive because corrupt Colombian officials gave the mining titles that properly belong to local miners to the Toronto-based company. “The government gave 99 per cent of the mining titles of the Serranía de San Lucas to the foreign companies, leaving just one per cent to the communities that inhabit that territory,” said the Marxist group in a communiqué.
The Colombian government responded by sending at least 600 soldiers to chase the rebels. The guerrillas declared they would not release Wober until the disputed mining titles were returned to the communities. That hasn’t happened and Braeval Mining Corp. has remained silent. Braeval declined comment on Wober’s situation, and the company has not made any public statement about the issue.*
Alejo Vargas is a member of the Colombian civil commission trying to facilitate peace talks between the government and the ELN. He echoed Colombian media reports by telling The Tyee the liberation of Wober might be close. But upon closer inspection, it’s unclear if Vargas is reflecting some change in the ELN position, which seems firm. Just Wednesday the ELN declared themselves willing to “release really soon” Wober — but only if the situation with the mining titles is resolved.
Meanwhile, clashes between government soldiers and the ELN in the region continue. And the people who live there bear the brunt, suffering as a result shortages of food and medicines.
For the rest of this article, click here: http://thetyee.ca/News/2013/06/08/Why-a-Canadian-Mining-Executive-Is-Trapped-in-Columbias-War/