The Guevara family’s 12 year nightmare finally ended Thursday afternoon, when the coffin bearing their loved one, deceased FARC hostage Julian Ernesto Guevara, arrived at an airport in the east Colombia department of Meta.
Release coordinator Piedad Cordoba descended from the Brazilian helicopter – commissioned for the operation to receive Guevara’s remains from FARC rebels – and tightly embraced Guevara’s mother Emperatriz de Guevara.
Cordoba, Emperatriz de Guevara and her daughter Marcela Guevara then attended a brief, solemn ceremony on the tarmac of the Meta airport, presided over by Catholic Church representative Monseñor Leonardo Gomez, who also participated in the release.
Guevara’s family were then given time alone with the body of their loved one, in a private area of the airport.
‘Colombians for Peace’ leader Cordoba told assembled media that FARC guerrillas had walked, carrying the coffin bearing Guevara, some 200 kilometers, in order to reach the location where the hand over took place.
Cordoba said the FARC had honored Guevara by naming him a “Hero of the Fatherland,” because he “was captured in war and died in imprisonment.” The FARC sent their condolences, via Cordoba, to Guevara’s mother and family, as well as their thanks to the Brazilians who participated in the hand over.
An emotional Cordoba said she was taking this sad moment in Colombian history to ask Colombians to reflect on the state of the conflict in their nation, a sentiment later echoed by Commissioner for Peace Frank Pearl.
The senator said that Colombians must take advantage of this moment to press their government to engage in a humanitarian exchange of incarcerated guerrillas for FARC hostages.
Commissioner Pearl thanked the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Brazilian government, ‘Colombians for peace’ and Cordoba for their contributions to the operation to bring Guevara home.
Guevara’s body will be handed over to the prosecutor general, who is charged with sending the remains to national forensics agency Medicina Legal. The forensics agency will do a DNA analysis to clarify that the remains are those of Guevara. DNA analysis results are expected within a week.
Guevara, who was one of 42 Colombian policemen kidnapped by the FARC in November 1998, passed away in captivity in 2006. His cause of death has not yet been officially determined but Cordoba told media she believed he may have died “from a tropical disease.”
The FARC first announced they would release Guevara’s remains, along with hostages Josue Daniel Calvo and Pablo Emilio Moncayo in April 2009. Negotiations for their release lasted almost a year because the Colombian government and the FARC could not agree on the terms of the liberations.
Calvo and Moncayo were successfully liberated last Sunday and Tuesday respectively.
Following Moncayo’s release, the FARC released a statement saying that his would be the last unilateral release the guerrilla organization would participate in. From now on they will only engage in humanitarian exchanges.
Cordoba has agitated for a humanitarian exchange and says that the exchange must occur before the end of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe‘s term on August 7 this year, because negotiations with a new Colombian president “would be difficult”.
Uribe on Sunday open the doors to the possibility, saying that he was “not against a humanitarian exchange provided that the released FARC fighters do not return to the FARC.”