7. 5. 08
The freeing of Ingrid Betancourt, Mark Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and 11 other persons held hostage by the FARC guerrillas is very good news. The taking of hostages, whether for political purposes or for payment of ransom, is cruel and counterproductive. Those held hostage experience constant fear and live in intolerable conditions. The FARC and the ELN guerrillas should long ago have foresworn kidnapping as a tactic; they must have realized that when they kidnap they forfeit any good will the public in general might show them.
We at the Colombia Support Network (CSN) have been privileged to get to know the mothers of two of the so-called ”high value” hostages, Ingrid Betancourt and Marc Gonsalves. Ingrid’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, graciously received a CSN delegation in her Bogota home, where we experienced the tremendous anguish and frustration she felt as the days went by with no apparent progress towards release of Ingrid. She spoke in favor of a Humanitarian Agreement, under the Geneva Conventions, under which the FARC hostages would be released and the Colombian government would release FARC personnel they had taken prisoner, and criticized the Uribe Administration for focusing upon military action instead of negotiation for hostage release. We at CSN have taken the same position.
I sure all of us on that CSN delegation felt thrilled seeing Ingrid and Yolanda embrace after Ingrid’s release. The tremendous determination and hope which Yolanda showed us was rewarded.
And we also feel privileged to have gotten to know Jo Rosano, the mother of Marc Gonzalves, who called CSN to seek our assistance in trying to procure the release of her son. We were able to do very little, other than publicize the fact that the FARC were holding Marc and to speak out for his release. But we were fortunate to experience the unfailing hope and tireless devotion of Jo to the effort to free her son. We were delighted to see Marc safe and sound when he arrived in San Antonio and could contemplate the joy both he and his mother would experience upon being reunited.
We of CSN are better people for having known Yolanda and Jo. They each demonstrated the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. How wonderful it is for them to see the goal of their energetic campaign achieved with the release of Ingrid, Marc and the others!
Yet we must not let the happy events of the past few days obscure the fact that the conflict in Colombia goes on and literally millions of people there continue to suffer. The FARC and ELN guerrillas still hold hundreds of hostages. We must continue to press for a Humanitarian Agreement under which the remaining hostages may be released and the groundwork laid for peace discussions leading to an end to more than forty years of civil conflict. A part of this must be a commitment to providing opportunity for the great majority of Colombians who have been excluded from wealth and power to participate and convert a façade of a democracy into a real democracy. This means protection of the rights of peasants to the lands they have worked for years and, for some 4 million people from rural areas, return of lands from which paramilitary forces, often with support of Colombian Army personnel, have forced them out. And it means an end to the U.S. government-inspired coca crop spraying campaign, which, while failing to reduce the amount of coca produced, has decimated the subsistence food crops of peasants, indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities. It means protection of union members and their leaders and of journalists who often risk their lives to report on truths which are inconvenient for many of the country’s rich and powerful to hear. And the structures of the paramilitaries, who have brought so much death and destruction to the countryside, must be dismantled. Finally, a good-faith, courageous effort must be made to return legitimacy to the Colombian government, which the Uribe Administration through its para-political ties and re-election maneuvers has done much to undermine.
There are reports today of a possible ransom payment of millions of dollars in connection with the release of the 15 FARC hostages. Whether or not such a payment was made—the Colombian government has denied there was such a payment—the result of the freeing of the hostages is a very positive development. It has brought hope and pride back to many Colombians who had lost their faith in the country to address its problems. Let us hope these sentiments bring to fruition the changes needed to make Colombian society more equitable and Colombian institutions again honest and honorable.
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621