The return to freedom of three policemen, one military official, and two political personalities, is a reason for celebration. Colombians must rejoice every time fellow citizens are granted back the basic right to freedom. Yet, as FARC once again decides to free individuals they have held in captivity for years, the clear question raised is, why? Does FARC consider these liberations a worthy public diplomacy strategy to improve their reputation across the globe? If so, what is their ultimate goal?
While the liberations that the FARC are facilitating are quite commendable, does it really show them in a particular good light? If anything, freeing individuals that they have held in captivity for such an extended period of time focuses public opinion once again on the fact that the guerrilla group has used kidnapping as a tactic in the armed conflict.
Furthermore, while the FARC, as they have done with past operations of the same kind, may want to give the impression that individuals weren’t treated inhumanely under their watch, there are no public relations strategies that can overshadow the fact that they have prevented individuals from enjoying their right to freedom. There are no haircuts or talking points that can counterbalance testimonies about being tied to trees, or being prevented medical care at times of critical need.
The effect of kidnapping on the social fabric of Colombia has been so unfortunate, with thousands of families having to suffer for years the effects of broken family structures and the uncertainty about the well-being of their loved ones. The fact that FARC is trying to somewhat mend past wrongdoings – while still holding thousands in captivity – is not quite enough to make up for the fact that they were the ones that originally committed and defended those wrongdoings.
If FARC, under the leadership of Alfonso Cano, has become concerned about the steep decline of public approval that has resulted from their use of kidnapping as a tactic, a clear expression of that belief accompanied by massive liberations of the thousands that remain held in captivity, would have been a more effective method to convey the message to national and international audiences.
More so, if this action if part of a larger strategy to legitimize the position of Sen. Piedad Córdoba and of the group Colombianos por la Paz, in the hopes for a future negotiation, FARC also ought to consider that no true peace negotiation can occur effectively until they have not ceased to act against the Colombian population. Such a commitment to respect the citizens of the nation that they claim to be so determined to improve must necessarily include a process to grant freedom to not just a few, but all of those who they still hold captive in the jungles.
While FARC may consider that these unilateral liberations are effective public diplomacy strategies to change the perception in Colombia and around the world about them and their actions, the change in public opinion can only be inspired from a consistent and genuine commitment to peace, social justice, and the respect of human rights. Such a commitment is yet to be seen.
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York