Gernot Wober, a Canadian mining executive was freed last week after spending nearly seven months in captivity in Colombia. Wober, who returned to Canada on August 29th, was held prisoner by The National Liberation Army or (ELN), a rebel group who heavily contests any mining in the region.
Wober who is the vice–president of exploration at Braeval mining Corp, a Toronto based mining company, was kidnapped on January 18th along with several South American workers and consultants outside the town of Norosi.
The area in which Wober was captured known as the Serranía de San Lucas, is a 16,000 square kilometer isolated mountainous region which has been known to be the ELN’s headquarters for some time. Since the 1980’s, the ELN has controlled the area due to its strategic location to the Magdalena River one of Colombians largest bodies of water, as well as its importance to the Caribbean cocaine trade.
The ELN, who immediately admitted to kidnapping Wober, claimed that the government of Colombia has unjustly given away 99 percent of all mining rights in the region to Bravel earlier in the year.
Struggles between the government and the ELN have been ongoing in the region for about ten years and resumed immediately following a declaration by the ELN that they would not release Wober until all of the mining rights were returned back to the people.
The Serrania de San Lucas region became a warzone following the 1990’s when Carlos Castano of the far-right paramilitary forces in Colombia declared war on the ELN. What followed has since been described by many Colombians as the worst armed conflict in Colombian history. With some 500 disaperances, deaths and the displacement of roughly 94,000 Colombians who lived south of the contested area.
Despite the unprecedented violence in the region, both parties reached a standstill around 2007. With the government unable to deal a decisive blow being unable to reach the ELN headquarters at the top of the mountain, and the ELN on the verge of collapsing due to years of struggle with the government, a loose peace agreement was established allowing allowing for relative stability to return to the region. That is until Wober’s kidnapping which saw a complete remobilization of the region by both ELN members and paramilitary. Units were ordered into the region to rescue the hostages.
Wober was released to Red Cross members earlier last week and according to Chris Eby of the communications firm Navigator. Eby commented that Wober is,“ safe, healthy and back home with his family, friends and colleagues”.
Helmut Wober, Gernot’s father who has still only talked to his son on the phone remarked in an interview “everybody that met him reported that he is in surprisingly strong and good spirits, but he has lost a lot of weight”.
Braeval announced last month prior to Wober’s release that it would pull out of Colombia and leave its Snow Mine project abandoned; much as it has been for the last seven months following Wober’s abduction.