How Many More Dead, Mr. President?

By Claudia López
Jueves 19 de Julio
Columnist for El Tiempo, Colombia.

[Translated by Micheál Ó Tuathail, a CSN volunteer translator]

Another hostage dead. Once again, the army, following the orders of
the President, went to rescue a live hostage and brought back a dead

How many more, Mr. President? How many dead hostages are required for
you to deign to consider other options? All 3,200 who remain alive?

I ask myself, Mr. President, why, according to you, your government
cannot refrain from exercising its constitutional obligation to
military rescues but at the same time refrains from the constitutional
and ethical obligations to defend Colombians in danger?

With what criteria do you choose which constitutional obligations to
comply with and which to disregard?

In order to carry out your orders to rescue hostages by force and
without the certainty of their survival, the government announced that
it must first consult their families and that, in some cases, they
rejected your decision.

However, you have so emphatically affirmed that to consult is not to
ask permission and that, in any case, the government remains firm in
its decision to carry out military rescues. Mr. President, if you are
going to carry out military rescues anyway, do you believe that
exposing families to information based upon which they can’t make the
final call is a means for you to moderate the political cost of your
risky decision? But isn’t it also adding to them an inevitable sense
of blame for the death of their loved ones when it occurs during these
rescue attempts?

I had an enormously heavy feeling while listening to María Londoño,
the widow of kidnapped businessman Diego Mejía, who was killed during
a rescue. "My husband’s life is gone, but so too are the lives of
those who did much damage to the country (during the operation, four
guerrilla fighters died, among them alias ‘Fabio,’ one of the leaders
of the FARC’s 47th Front). I hope this will serve some good," said
doña María. It seems like just retribution: eye for an eye, tooth for
a tooth. The truth is, doña María, it didn’t serve any good. What
would have served us all good was to have your husband by your side
and producing. Each year, the government takes down hundreds of
guerrilla fighters in legitimate combat. Surely, in one of those
battles, those four fighters would have fallen.

Doña María also said, "Diego couldn’t be saved because it was God’s
will. The outcome wasn’t what we would have wanted, but before God’s
will, we can do nothing." No, doña María, the decision to rescue your
husband was neither yours nor God’s; it was the decision of a mortal.
You, your husband, and the rest of the hostages have other
alternatives, alternatives with higher possibilities for a safe
return. But our mortal President considers these other options
illegitimate and impossible.

Reading the news of Mr. Mejía’s death last Thursday, and yesterday of
how we are once again overrun by mafia and paramilitaries, I have so
many questions, Mr. President.

According to your own official statistics, the paramilitaries were
responsible for some 1,000 kidnappings. Neither to begin negotiations
nor to concede to them the generous benefits of the poorly named
‘Justice and Peace Law’ was the return of hostages demanded of the

Not even today have they been heard from, much less returned.

Why, Mr. President? Why should we demand of the FARC the unconditional
return of hostages but not demand the same of the paramilitaries?

Why does your government not demand that the paramilitaries
unconditionally return the bodies of the thousands of Colombians they
massacred and buried in mass graves? Why, in order to defend life or
recover the bodies of those Colombians, have you not led a national
and international condemnation and protest?

Why, Mr. President, according to your reasoning, are paramilitary
kidnappings tolerable and those by the FARC not negotiable?

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