Last week Colombians were shocked by the proof-of-live videos of some of the 24 policemen and soldiers still being held hostage by the FARC. Some have been in captivity for more than 12 years. The images are degrading and should make any human being sickened. Yet, the government continues to impede their swift release.
Before going any further it is important to clarify that there is no intention whatsoever to exempt the FARC of their responsibility for slowly and painfully torturing these 24 hostages. It’s true that the FARC will always be the culprits for having kidnapped and kept those policemen and army officers in the jungle. Nevertheless, this does not excuse the government from taking reasonable actions towards their release without political calculations that overshadow humanitarian obligations.
On April 16, 2009 the FARC announced the release of Pablo Emilio Moncayo, an army corporal kidnapped 12 years ago, with the condition that opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba served as guarantor. The government, however, refused this condition and instead order a military rescue. After weeks of criticism the government took a U-turn. But this time the government unrealistically demanded the release of all 24 remaining political prisoners. The government fears that their release would become a media spectacle where the opposition, at the helm of Cordoba, gain public support — media spectacles are only reserved for military operations.
Since the FARC currently have 24 ignoble hostages, the government has maintained its intransigent position. The government’s actions would have been drastically different if instead of Moncayo the FARC had announced the release of Ingrid Betancourt.
The following is an excerpt from a speech President Alvaro Uribe gave after receiving the “Cortes de Cadiz a la Libertad” award on the April 29, 2009 in Spain that outlines the essence of the government’s position:
“What we cannot allow is for them to use the release of hostages – who shouldn’t have been kidnapped in the first place and have been tortured for over a decade – to deceive the people of Colombia or protect the members of the Farc-politics with impunity, disguising them with a humanitarian mask, which, as with all connections of politics and guerrilla, have not been investigated, as opposed to the links between politics and para-militarism, which have been investigated by virtue of the determination of Democratic Security, and have led to imprisonments.”
Nonetheless, the governments’ position is misleading and erroneous.
First, Piedad Cordoba is not a presidential candidate and even without her humanitarian actions she has enough followers to ensure her continuity in Congress. Second, the Farc-politics investigations have not resulted in convictions; the Supreme Court has dismissed most of the investigations for lack of evidence. Third, the government’s demand that the FARC release the 24 hostages is an understandable position, albeit an impossible condition since the FARC utilizes these releases to boost its image and leverage. The government, however, should know better. The atrocious stories that the hostages tell after their release are enough to delegitimize the FARC even more before the international community.
The government’s intransigent position only emphasizes its political agenda. It utilizes the lives of second class citizens (in the government’s eyes) for justifying their counterproductive war policies.
Meanwhile, 151 days have elapsed since the FARC’s announcement and Pablo Emilio Moncayo continues to rot in the inhospitable jungle, forgotten by almost all except his father, Gustavo Moncayo. This school teacher has walked 1,186 kilometers in the hope that the government and the FARC show some mercy; the latter responded to the call. He has even visited foreign heads of state to keep the hope of his release alive. His latest act of desperation consisted in planning his crucifixion in a Bogota plaza. But he was not allowed. It wasn’t for humanitarian reasons; it was because the park had been booked for another event.
The FARC are responsible for the slow torture that these 24 individuals and their families are going through – as well as the hundreds still held for ransom. Nevertheless, the government must be held accountable, if not for direct action then for omission. The lack of political will by the government to facilitate the liberation of the remaining kidnapped policemen and soldiers demonstrates the government’s cruel political calculations. With national elections around the corner these 24 hostages and their families will remain in despair.