Marleny Orjuela, chairman of the Asfamipaz foundation, is Colombia’s best known representative of families whose loved ones are held by the FARC as political leverage. Often she finds herself criticizing the government for its response to the situation of the 24 members of the security forces who are held in the jungle.
Orjuela started a financial accountant’s career in the 1990’s, but this was rudely interrupted when her cousin was kidnapped by the leftwing guerrilla FARC in 1998.
“I was working as an accountant and meanwhile doing a master’s, when it happened. My life changed completely. Everything is turning about the liberation of the boys and men who are still rotting in the jungle, as we say.”
Fortunately her cousin was released in the humanitarian accord that was agreed between the FARC and the Andrés Pastrana government in 2001. But Marleny’s mind was set to go on. Emphatically: “We go on until the last soldier gets out. I know from my own experience with my cousin that without solidarity you are into nothing.”
Two years ago there were still a little more than 40 ‘exchangeable’ hostages, that is to say who could be exchanged with imprisoned guerrillas. But FARC and the Uribe government never came to a humanitarian accord to reach such an exchange. Since the beginning of 2008 bit by bit the FARC have been releasing hostages and in July of that year, in the spectacular Operation Jaque, politician Íngrid Betancourt, the three Americans Keith Stansell, Tom Howes and Marc Gonsalves and eleven Colombian soldiers and policemen were liberated. The eleven “were lucky” to be with the international big shots, Marleny thinks. Because now that all the politicians are free, the liberations have come to a stop and the people who decide about their fate, that is FARC and the Uribe government, don’t seem to care.
Pablo Emilio Moncayo
Nevertheless, Asfamipaz is hoping for the quick liberation of Pablo Emilio Moncayo, son of the famous teacher Gustavo Moncayo, who walked extended parts of Colombia to draw attention to his son’s and his mates’ suffering. “But the hardest thing is the impotence we feel”, Marleny confirms. “We don’t know anything. Supposedly he and soldier Josué Calvo will be released within a month. But we have learned that words have little meaning. It is action we need.”
Bitterly: “We see there is no willingness, neither fom the FARC nor from the government, to solve this problem rapidly. We work with our nails to make the suffering of our people visible. The language of the guns has to change into dialogue. It is peace we want!”
Marleny: “When the rich people were still hostage, it was an important item, but now that the politicians are free, for many it is not important any more.” Asked about international solidarity she answers: “The interest of countries like France, Switzerland and Sweden has diminished with 80 percent, because Íngrid Betancourt has been released. We haven’t heard from the Betancourt committees ever since, nor from her.”
The American government neither has shown solidarity after the release of Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves together with Betancourt. Marleny: “I asked for an appointment with ambassador William Brownfield. That was four months ago. They never gave an answer.”
Will she return to her accountant’s career after the liberation of the last hostage? Marleny smiles: “My mission is peace, after a humanitarian accord to get those who are still in the jungle free. And I want to fight for psychological and psychiatric support for the former hostages and good schooling for their children.”
Whom does she want to be the new president in 2010? “Whoever, if only life counts above all.”
Wies Ubags is a Dutch journalist in Bogotá and has her own weblog.