Highlighting a new lawsuit in UK courts by Colombian trade union leader Gilberto Torres against BP, alleging BP complicity in its funding of a paramilitary brigade that kidnapped and tortured him in 2002. Details of his story were reported in the Guardian last month:
Torres, then 39, had organised an oil workers strike three months earlier to protest over the murder of another trade union leader, Aury Sara. He was worried, and had even asked the authorities to issue him with a handgun for protection.
As he left the El Porvenir oil-pumping station in Casanare to drive the 12km home, he passed a Mitsubishi Montero and recognised the distinctive van as belonging to security staff at Ocensa, the oil-pipeline company. He tooted his horn in greeting, as was customary.
Five minutes later, the van had turned around and was following his car. It rammed into him. As he looked up, he was staring at the barrel of a gun. His nightmare was just beginning.
His kidnappers were from the Self-Defence Forces of Casanare (ACC) – one of the most powerful and feared of the rightwing pro-government paramilitary brigades during Colombia’s vicious civil war. He was tied up and bundled into the back of the Ocensa van and driven off. . .
After being held for 42 days, he thought his moment had come. “They woke me up at 5am, with the chains and blindfolded, and took me to this hole. They put barbed wire on top of me and I couldn’t lay down. I was kind of dizzy from the pressure of the chains and I had wounds around my body so the ants and insects started to eat my wounds. These big red ants that literally were eating my flesh.”
It rained, and the water came up to his chest. He was convinced he was going to die.
Then, a miracle.
“The commander received a call saying: ‘Send the cattle to be cleaned up. It needs to be sent to the fair.’ So we went to the river. I washed myself, and when I was putting on my rags, the commander said: ‘Not today, engineer. You should wear your nice new clothes, as you are going to be in the media.’”
Unknown to Torres, his trade union colleagues had mounted a strong campaign for his release and were now threatening another expensive national oil strike. Even in Colombia, killing him now would be very difficult for those behind his abduction.
And so he was freed into the arms of the Red Cross. He fled first to Spain and now lives in the Dominican Republic. He is too afraid to go home, and his family has split up as a result.
The UK firm Deighton Pierce Gylnn is representing Torres. It has been partially crowd-funded through Crowd Justice. The focus on BP stems from the fact that BP held 15.2% of Ocensa’s shares at the time and allegedly failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the paramilitaries from abducting, torturing and killing people. Evidence regarding the link between Ocensa and the paramilitaries emerged from Colombian criminal trials of three of Torres’ kidnappers in 2010. Lawyers, including Terry Collingsworth and DPG lawyer Sue Willman, are claiming that the Torres case could be the “tip of the iceberg” with respect to complicity claims arising from Colombian paramilitary violence.