Flew out of the country by FBI agents: Got a price on my head
Published: Just now
Ulf Erlingsson would portray the fates of Venezuelan refugees and the cocaine trade in Colombia’s border areas.
Then he was kidnapped by the guerrilla group ELN who accused him of being a spy – and held him prisoner in the jungle for two months.
Now he is at home on Swedish soil again.
– The best thing is actually being able to go to the toilet whenever you want, he says to Aftonbladet.
Ulf Erlingsson sits in the study on his farm in Markaryd. Outside the window lies the Småland landscape in summer greenery.
He has been at home in Sweden for a week. But just over three weeks ago, he was sitting in the jungle, locked and chained in an isolation cell with no windows.
Ulf had been kidnapped by Colombia’s last guerrillas: EL ELNational Liberation Army. .National Liberation Army
– I had a mattress, water bottle and a fan. It was completely closed in the cell, there was a light that shone around the clock and I was chained by the legs, he says.
The 63-year-old geographer has previously been in the Colombian border areas with Venezuela to help Venezuelan refugees and describe their situation.
Stopped at roadblock
In February he was back to make a series of YouTube videos. Partly about female Venezuelan refugees who are forced to sell sex services online in the border city of Cúcuta, but also about cocaine smuggling routes.
– This place at the border is a dream location for all immorality and crime on earth. I wanted to go to the places where cocaine is grown and see where it is smuggled out, says Ulf Erlingsson.
It is an extremely dangerous region with drug smuggling and human trafficking and several armed groups controlling different areas, and Ulf says he took a conscious risk.
Several tourists have been kidnapped there in recent months.
On the first of March, the 63-year-old had been out filming in an area. He was on his way back to his apartment in Cúcuta when he was stopped at a roadblock by armed guerrillas.
– I thought at first that something had happened, an accident or something like that. Then a person from ELN came and started asking questions about who I was, says Ulf.
“Would lock me up for a long time”
Ulf’s advanced camera equipment and the fact that he did not know anyone in the area aroused the guerrillas’ suspicions. He was forced out of the car, blindfolded and forced into a car.
First he was held for two weeks in Colombia. Then he was taken across the border to Venezuela to an abandoned farm by Lake Maracaibo. There he was locked in an isolation cell.
The Marxist guerrillas began questioning him about his political involvement and what he was doing in Colombia. Ulf told us that he is involved in a Venezuelan movement that works for democracy in Venezuela, which today is a communist dictatorship.
– They said that I was an enemy of the revolution and that they would keep me imprisoned for a long time, up to 20 years, they said.
According to Ulf, the guerrillas were very worried that he, who is a geographer, had made maps of their activities.
Caught trying to escape: Shoot at me
Five weeks passed without the guerrillas contacting Ulf’s relatives or saying they had him. Ulf started singing to keep his sanity, the Swedish national anthem was what he came up with.
– There were also a lot of people passing by there, so I made up a song in Spanish about my name being Ulf and coming from Sweden and that I was captured, he says and says that he hoped someone would raise the alarm.
While his family lived with the worry that he had been killed by the guerrillas, he himself never feared for his life.
The ELN guerrillas are currently in peace negotiations with the Colombian government.
– I thought they would soon discover that it was not good for them. They cannot sit in peace talks with the government and have a foreign tourist kidnapped.
But he was afraid that he would be a prisoner for a long time. On one occasion, when he was taken to yet another new place, and the soldiers were busy cleaning the house, he tried to escape.
– I ran out into the jungle but got stuck in the vegetation. One of the soldiers shot at me and then I thought it was best to just go back. After that, my feet were chained and handcuffed, he says.
“Free to kill me”
On another occasion, days before he was to be released, he collapsed from heatstroke and one of the guerrillas had to put him on drips.
After two months in captivity he was released. He was received by representatives from the church, the United Nations and an ombudsman for human rights. They took him to City Hall in Cúcuta where FBI agents, Colombian Task Force officers and the military were waiting, heavily armed.
Swedish police and embassy staff should have been there but were delayed.
The FBI agents didn’t leave Ulf’s side until he landed in Miami. According to them, he has a price on his head after the communique ELN published in which they accused him of being both a spy and a professional killer.
– They have painted me as an enemy of the revolution so it is free for their followers to kill me. I will never be able to go back to Colombia.
Missed the declaration
When asked how it was to get home, he replies that he is a little stressed about his company. He has not been able to respond to emails or orders for two months. He has received debt collection claims from the United States. He also missed the declaration that was due on May 2.
– I have received a paper from the FBI certifying that I have not been able to answer emails or pay bills for two months.
His family in Sweden, ex-wife and son in the US and ex-girlfriend in Venezuela and media in both Colombia and Sweden have engaged in the search, something he is grateful for.
– It has been very nice to see how many people care about me. The fact that the media wrote about my case was probably decisive for my release.
He gets psychological help paid for by the US if he wants, and they also pay for his son’s plane ticket to Sweden.
What have you appreciated most about being free?
– The best thing is actually being able to go to the toilet when I want, he says and laughs.