Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lest they be Forgotten...

Universidad de la Sabana students with posters of kidnap victims who they have  'adopted.'
Over the past few days I've encountered two different demonstrations regarding kidnapping in Plaza Simón Bolívar.

Kidnapping is a long-running nightmare for Colombians. The nation's FARC and ELN guerrillas, as well as drug cartels and right wing groups, have long used kidnapping - and the threat of kidnapping - to generate revenue thru extortion and to try to pressure the  government for political concessions.

Caged guerrilla hostages. 
For years, Colombia was the unfortunate world leader in kidnappings, until the administration of Pres. Alvaro Uribe drove the guerrillas out of the country's main cities and away from its highways, and kidnappings dropped dramatically. In July 2008 the Colombian military tricked the FARC into releasing 15 high-profile hostages, include presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three United States contractors and police and soldiers. With those releases, kidnapping dropped out of the public's awareness. But that was a rare victory. In other rescue attempts, the guerrillas have massacred their hostages when they saw soldiers approaching. And hundreds of people remain in captivity, and according to Pais Libre the number of reported kidnapping soared 32% in 2010, to 282, from 212 in 2009. And those are only the reported kidnappings - many victims' families keep the crimes secret while they try to negotiate directly with the kidnappers.

A concentration camp? A FARC leader observes hostages in a cage in the jungle. 
Some kidnappees have been held for a decade by outlaw groups, confined in cages in the jungle while their children grow up, their wives remarry and their parents pass away. Kidnapping has become so institutionalized in Colombia that there are even all-night radio programs in which people broadcast messages of hope and encouragement to relatives who they hope are listening somewhere in the jungle.

And what's the point of all this suffering? The guerrillas' agenda, even if you believe in it, is lost. 

Universidad de la Sabana students on Plaza Bolívar with placards showing kidnappees they've 'adopted.'
This weekend I saw these students from the conservative and expensive Universidad de la Sabana, who are 'adopting' kidnap victims, as a way of demonstrating to their families, and hopefully, to the victims themselves, that they are not forgotten. The U. of the Sabana students' families are the kind of people who for many years feared kidnapping by the guerrillas and other outlaw groups, and who are now grateful to the country's law-and-order administrations.

Humanitarian Accord Now! 
Today, proponents of the proposed Humanitarian Accord, in which the guerrillas would release their hostages in exchange for the freeing of imprisoned guerrillas, held their monthly demonstration. But both the Uribe and the Santos administrations have opposed the idea, saying that it would constitute giving in to the guerrillas' demands, and that the freed guerrillas would return to fighting and kidnapping. I've found that many of the acuerdo's supporters sympathize with the guerrillas, who also support the idea.

In the end, the only people who can end kidnapping are the kidnappers.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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