A humanitarian exchange, in which the Colombian government frees imprisoned FARC fighters in exchange for the release of hostages held by the guerrilla group, is the best and the most secure way to liberate the soldiers and policemen who are still being held by the FARC. That’s the view of Alan Jara, former hostage and twice former governor of the central Colombian Meta department. “The government makes a mistake thinking that a humanitarian accord is a favor to the FARC”, says Fara, who has published a book, “El mundo al reves” (“The World Upside Down”), on his seven and a half years in captivity.
“It’s a pure humanitarian issue,” Jara told Colombia Reports. “Neither the government nor the FARC should look for political or military advantages. The Uribe government is afraid to act against its strategy of a firm hand, so it is not willing to give in a little. Neither are the FARC. But in the middle there are the hostages. Most of them have been in captivity for twelve years. Police colonel Guevara was a hostage for seven and a half years before he died. There could have been a humanitarian exchange before that happened. When you put political and military reasons first, life is at the second level and that is a wrong way of thinking.”
That’s the reason, according to the former governor, that the humanitarian exchange need not wait for a goverment that is more willing to negotiate with the FARC than the Uribe government has been. “This goverment can do it. Uribe said you cannot compare policemen and militaries with guerrilleros. And a former home secretary said that the first ones are good and the second ones are bad. And so they cannot come to a humanitarian exchange. That means that the good ones have to die? The answer of course is no.”
Another reason often given against a humanitarian exchange is that it will stimulate more kidnappings. Jara says “The FARC have also continued kidnapping without a humanitarian exchange. Besides, when you sign an agreement, you can determine that the FARC will abstain from further kidnappings.”
Asked if he is optimistic about the chances of an agreement, Jara grins. “It is my duty to be optimistic. It is a matter of life and death.” In his book Alan Jara descibes the hardships the hostages have to go through. Diseases, eternal marches and of course the chains that are placed around their necks. He explains why only the policemen and soldiers are chained, as well as himself. “They have more capacity to escape. They know better how to survive in the jungle and orient themselves. They are trained for it. I was the only politician who was chained: around my ankle, a little less hard than around your neck.” He shows his left ankle. Where the chain was put, the hair has stopped growing. “I think they chained me because I was born in the Llanos region and I know how to swim in a river and orient myself in the woods.” The worst thing, he adds, was that the FARC never explained what was going to happen. “They only used to say ‘Pack your things.’ They wouldn’t say why we were going, where, how long it would take. That is terrible.”
Jara says that he saw a lot of minors with the guerrilla group. “Especially in the group that walked me to liberty, I saw many boys and girls of between 16 and 18 years old. They hadn’t been there for a long time. So they were recruited in the period of democratic security. They joined the FARC because they like arms, they want to escape hardships at their homes or because they don’t have chances to earn a decent living. It is a social problem. Many don’t have any idea about politics or the revolution the FARC want to carry out.”
Alan Jara wants to run for a third term as a governor in October next year. “I could have run for the Senate, but I didn’t want to. I am more useful as a governor, to solve the concrete problems people have. As a senator you are far away from it. Meta has many resources, like oil, and therefore gets a lot of taxes (“regalias” in Spanish). That’s why you can do something. You can carry out social projects and see if it really works. We have to work for inclusive development. You see that in this country weapons are an alternative in life. That’s why young people join the guerrilla or other armed groups. But it is also the reason why people join the army. Just ask a soldier how old he is and why he joined the army: To survive.”