One year on from the success of Operation Jaque, the eleven soldiers
liberated from the FARC by the Colombian military are moving on with
their lives. Celebrations are bitter-sweet as they recount stories from their time in captivity and how they are attempting to move forward.
Operation Jaque on
July 2, 2008 saw the Colombian army free high profile hostage Ingrid Bertancourt, three US
contractors and eleven Colombian soldiers held hostage by the FARC. Armed Forces Commander Fredy Padilla de Leon called the rescue the most successful Colombian military operation of all time.
The Army Commander reunited the eleven soldiers in Bogota Thursday to pay homage to their ordeal and to give them the opportunity to share what they have lived through.
“We thought we were going to die in the jungle of Colombia, we were prepared for that. But thanks to Operation Jaque for a year I have been enjoying my freedom, life and even technology,” says freed soldier Armando
Some of the freed hostages were held by the FARC for more than ten years. Now they want to make up for lost time.
“It’s been a year of happiness but also of sadness, a year of nervousness, in which one wants to do everything in one day, one wants to live in record time, to return to live those ten years that weren’t lived,” explains ex hostage William Perez.
Perez says he has recurring nightmares about being chased about a shopping mall by guerrillas who are trying to kidnap him, while he runs around looking for help from the army or police, who never appear.
“They abused me in physically, mentally, emotionally in every way possible for almost 11 years and what really makes me angry is that they continue to harm me,” he says, adding he does not speak to his family about the kidnapping.
Sargent Jose Miguel Arteaga is also angry. “It was hell, a torture of pain and suffering. They stole my life, they abused me, I lost ten years of my youth, ten years that fill me with bitterness, sadness and pain, those bastards,” he says.
Arteaga acknowledged that in spite of the psychiatric, psychological and medical help that he has received, he has not been able to overcome the tragedy of what he lived through.
“I feel hate, the purest hate that they still have prisoners and I hope they are brought down soon,” he says.
All are trying to look to the future. Some have married, some are studying and after ten years in the jungle they are all trying to come to terms with how the world has changed.
“I know that we can’t get back those ten years, but I do think there are many beautiful things to look forward to,” says Sargent Julio Cesar Buitrago.
“It hasn’t been easy to adapt to society again,” he says, adding that he is amazed by the advance in technology but now has an email account and a facebook page.
Buitrago is also surprised by home much his home city of Bogota has changed.
“It seems more organized, there’s not as much poverty or garbage. The standard of living has increased a lot, so has security,” he says.
While the liberated men celebrate their freedom, their thoughts are with those still imprisoned by the FARC.
Buitrago’s mother says the anniversary of her sons liberation is tainted by feelings of “bitterness about those left behind”.
“There will only ever be one Operation Jaque,” says Perez. “But there are a lot many people working every day to bring home those left behind”.
The release of other hostages held by the
FARC remains at a standstill. The FARC promised to release soldier Pablo Emilio Moncayo in April,
but the operation is deadlocked over Opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba’s participation in this
release. Uribe wants only the Red Cross to take part in a release
operation, while the FARC demand Cordoba take part as guarantee the
operation will not be abused by the government.