Thursday, February 10, 2011


Marcos Baquero, reunited with family.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas are progressively freeing five kidnapping victims this week.

What's the point of kidnapping people only to let them go? As far as I can understand, it keeps the FARC sort of relevant and gets them news coverage. The FARC years ago degenerated from revolutionaries to drug-dealing guerrillas who traffic drugs, recruit children, plant land mines, drive peasants from their homes and commit many other crimes against humanity. They've also been weakened militarily over recent years and driven into remote regions, meaning that for most Colombians, who overwhelmingly hate the guerrillas, the FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) are close to irrelevance. 
On Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar, demanding a prisoner swap.

So, kidnapping and freeing people is a way to appear in the headlines and to even look like the good guys - even though the guerrillas were the ones who kidnapped these people in the first place.

The guerrillas' hypocrisy is demonstrated by the fact that, even while the liberations were taking place, the guerrillas kidnapped two more people, according to Pres. Juan Manuel Santos. Also, last year kidnapping increased by 32 %, according to the Pais Libre foundation, although only 23 % of those were attributed to the FARC.

The numbers are most likely huge underestimates, because in Colombia many, many kidnappings are kept secret. In the countryside, ranchers, who are the most vulnerable to kidnapping, often pay protection money, called vacuna, to the guerrillas and other organizations. When a rancher gets kidnapped, his family often decides it's easier and safer to simply pay the extortion.

Kidnapping is a crime against both the kidnappee and his or her family. The guerrillas have held some people for more than a decade, demonstrating both the inhumanity and the futility of kidnapping.

The guerrillas and kidnapping in general lost attention after the military rescued their most important hostages in April 2008. Those hostages included presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American contract workers. Today, the FARC are still holding about 15 police and soldiers, as well as about 600 purely economic hostages who receive little attention.

The first freed kidnappee this week was Marcos Baquero, a young, small-town city councilman. What was the conceivable military/revolutionary objective of kidnapping him?

Colombia's chronic kidnapping problem has created two unique phenomena: radio programs which transmit messages from relatives to kidnappees in the jungle, and a whole genre of 'my years as a guerrilla hostage' books.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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