Since the FARC announced their plans to unilaterally release five hostages in order to honor former Senator Piedad Cordoba some have criticized the massive publicity for the rebel group that will undoubtedly follow.
But many clear-sighted people, including Ms. Cordoba herself, have said that, regardless of the publicity, what really matters is the freedom of the hostages.
The release is a victory for freedom, not for the FARC. The misunderstanding exists because some people think that if the FARC kidnapped these people then they should not gain any publicity by setting them free. However, this view demonstrates a lack of understanding of both kidnapping and the significance of political kidnapping.
Kidnapping can be defined as unlawfully withholding freedom from an individual. Kidnapping may be carried out for person reasons, for extortion, or for political reasons, which is what we are dealing with in this case.
Political kidnapping has a number of goals:
- To show that the enemy it is unable to guarantee the protection of its citizens
- To show that the enemy is unable to rescue its citizens, which is measured by the time the kidnappers are able to keep a victim under their control
- To demand concessions equivalent to the political value of the hostage.
Once a victim has been seized the kidnapping is already a success. Even if a victim is only held for a short time, the kidnappers have managed to destroy the sense of security of the individual and undermine those who should have protected them.
A rescue cannot restore the victim’s sense of freedom – their security has been breached, and that this fault can only be partly compensated for by freeing the victim as soon as possible. A rescue cannot be carried out without knowledge of the probable location of the victim, and each moment it takes to rescue them demonstrates the shortcomings of intelligence and of rescue teams. As you can’t rescue a victim who hasn’t been kidnapped, even the rescue itself demonstrates the triumph of the kidnappers.
Political kidnappers therefore have already gained a lot of power to achieve the outcome that they want, once the victim has been seized, as the kidnapping has taken place and is their victory.
They can then pursue their aims through negotiation, the controlled way to end the kidnapping, or through a unilateral release. The benefit of the latter option is that the kidnappers need not agree to scale down or cease the practice of kidnapping. Political kidnappers usually demonstrate this point by carrying out new abductions before, during, or after a unilateral release.
Therefore a unilateral release gives political kidnappers more freedom to choose what they want to achieve. In the current case the aim is to show support for Cordoba, while in the other recent liberation it was to demonstrate the government’s refusal to negotiate. The kidnappers release a hostage in order to gain a certain end, and are able to maintain absolute control of the process. That privilege is lost if there is a negotiation.
In the same way that the abduction of a person is a triumph for kidnapping, the mere announcement of a unilateral release and of its objective is a triumph for political kidnapping. The publicity is a secondary problem, however, and is almost irrelevant, as the release will always benefit the hostages and freedom itself more than anything else.
Furthermore, a unilateral release is news, like the kidnapping of a person. It would be a violation of freedom of information to try to suppress or censure it.
In a unilateral release news reports are centered around the following questions: How are the freed hostages? What physical and emotional state are they in? What are their first reactions to being free? What does that freedom, that had been denied, represent to them, to their families, and to society in general? The level of atrocity of the crime, and the public’s condemnation of the kidnappers, are determined in direct proportion to the publicity around all these reports.
From the perspective of history, the FARC will have unilaterally liberated five political hostages in order to honor Cordoba. This is an incontrovertible fact, undeniable and irrefutable, and with or without publicity, it will remain a historical fact.
To publicize the liberations with television, radio and the press reporting second by second the release of these five victims from the clutches of kidnapping to the arms of freedom only strengthens democratic institutions and denigrates the FARC. Paradoxically, those who are upset by publicity around the unilateral release are doing a great favor to the FARC.