Colombia beefs up security in Amazon oil zone following FARC attacks

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced plans to strengthen enforcement efforts to protect oil companies operating in the southern Amazonian department of Caquetá Aug. 29. The move comes following a wave of guerilla attacks on oil operations in the area—apparently in retaliation for their failure to pay protection money. Santos called on the civilian population to report extortion by illegal armed groups in order to combat the practice in a more “energetic” way. (Colombia Reports, Aug. 29) In the most recent attack, on Aug. 18, a tanker truck of the firm Transamazonía, subcontracted by the UK-based Emerald Energy, was hit with gunfire by presumed FARC guerillas near an Vicente del Caguán. Companies operating in the zone had been making payments to the FARC for years, but suspended the practice after Santos warned that any company engaging in it would be banned form the country. (RCN Radio, Aug. 18; Radio Caracol, Colombia Reports, Aug. 5)

More than 15,000 people gathered in the oil city of Barrancabermeja in the Medio Magdalena region earlier this month to attend a national “Peace Congress” aimed at ending Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict. The activist summit brought together leaders from campesino, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities from throughout the country. The slogan for the four-day congress, which concluded Aug. 15, was “Dialogue is the Path.” The closing statement called for demilitarizing civilian territory and initiating a peaceful dialogue among all armed groups. (CNN, Aug. 18)

Organizers rejected charges in the media that the Peace Congress had been infiltrated and coopted by the FARC. Pablo Antonio Téllez, president of the Campesino Association of Catatumbo (a region along the Venezuelan border), said: “The community knows very well that this is a peace congress and that those who are participating in it are civilians.” Caracol Radio reported that it had access to four intercepted conversations between a member of the FARC Central Joint Command and a colleague about how to infiltrate the Peace Congress. The wiretaps are now being analyzed by the authorities. (Colombia Reports, Aug. 12)

See our last post on Colombia and the struggle for the Amazon.

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