Luis Alfredo Moreno Chagueza celebrated a somber 41st birthday on Wednesday, having spent almost twelve years as a hostage to Colombian guerilla group the FARC. Moreno was kidnapped on August 3, 1998, in the southern department of Guaviare.
Freed hostage and former governor of the Meta department, Alan Jara, spoke to El Espectador on Wednesday about his time living alongside Moreno Chagueza, one of the 22 remaining hostages in FARC custody, in a jungle prison.
“He was a very quiet, introverted person … A good sketcher,” Jara remembered, explaining that the kidnapped soldier was one of the most diligent students in the “jungle school” that the hostages created to pass the time and learn new skills.
According to Jara, who was released by the FARC in 2009 after nearly eight years in captivity, he and his fellow hostages were able to “sense the pain” that Moreno Chagueza, a single father felt knowing that his son was “growing up without him.”
In April, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe pledged to liberate the remaining 22 hostages currently being held by the guerrilla group, saying, “To those who have been kidnapped, we are continuing with the task. Either they are liberated or we continue advancing until we liberate them ourselves. And any time now we will liberate them. We have never given up on the rescue.”
Following the liberation in April of Pablo Emilio Moncayo and Josue Daniel Calvo, the FARC announced that they would not carry out any more unilateral releases, and are seeking instead for a humanitarian exchange of the remaining hostages for 500 rebels imprisoned by the Colombian government.
The rebel group said that a humanitarian exchange is “the only viable way for the prisoners in the jungle and the guerrillas imprisoned in the dungeons of Colombia and the United States to return to freedom without threat to their physical integrity.”
With Uribe’s term drawing to a close, the issue of securing the release of the hostages is likely to be passed down to his successor, who will be chosen by Colombians on June 20.
The leading contender for the June 20 election, Partido de la U candidate Juan Manuel Santos ruled out the possibility of an exchange with the FARC during a presidential debate, saying that he would only accept a unilateral release, or a military rescue.
Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus also said during the debate that he would not negotiate with the FARC, and instead expressed favor for mediation by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Catholic Church to liberate the hostages.
Despite having spent nearly 12 years as a FARC prisoner, Luis Alfredo Moreno Chagueza is not the current hostage who’s spent the most time held captive in the jungle. Libio Jose Martinez Estrada, also a Colombian soldier, was kidnapped by the FARC on December 21, 1997, eight months before Moreno Chagueza, and remains in captivity.