Archive for January 15th, 2008

Colombian hostages sad, ill, letters show

January 15, 2008

And just so there is no mistake as to who the FARC exactly are and the horror they subject their captives to, here is a Reuters article from today on the letters the hostages still in captivity sent their relatives with the two women that were freed:

Colombian hostages sad, ill, letters show

Chained, often weak from disease and wracked with despair, Colombian hostages in jungle camps cling to hope a deal with their Marxist rebel captors will free them, letters from the captives released on Tuesday show.

The notes and pictures from guerrilla hostages were brought by former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez who was freed last week after nearly six years in rebel captivity in a deal brokered by Venezuela’s left-wing President Hugo Chavez.

The release of Gonzalez and fellow captive, Clara Rojas, has raised hopes for an accord to free other hostages held by Latin America’s oldest insurgency, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans.

But letters from those left behind such as Police Col. Luis Mendieta, captured nearly a decade ago, show the toll on their physical and mental health after bouts of illness, long jungle marches, and frustration after years in insect-infested camps.

“It is not the physical pain that wounds us, nor the chains on our necks that torment us or the constant sickness … it’s the mental agony of the irrationality of all this,” says one letter signed by Mendieta and others read on local radio.

“It seems that we are worthless, that we do not exist.”

Details of suffering from recent hostage letters have shocked Colombians even as violence from their four-decade conflict eases under President Alvaro Uribe, a Washington ally who has led a campaign to drive the rebels into the jungles.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, still holds several hundred hostages for ransom or political leverage. Authorities said the rebels kidnapped six Colombian tourists on Sunday from a remote Pacific beach.

Mendieta wrote that he has been chained to a pole and spends days trying to pass time playing cards and learning English and Russian in informal classes from another hostage.

Sickness has forced him to be carried several times in a hammock. Injections have eased ailments in his legs and feet, but at times he cannot walk.

“I had to drag myself to the bathroom for my necessities through the mud with just the strength of my arms because I could not get up,” he wrote in a letter read by his daughter.

Blurry photos show Mendieta with former local governor Alan Jara and ex-congressman Luis Eduardo Gechem and other police hostages who have been held for more than five years.

In one letter read by Gechem’s wife he appealed for help from Cuba, which has been host to attempts to broker a peace deal with the ELN, Colombia’s second-largest rebel group.

Gechem, who suffers from a bleeding ulcer and a heart ailment, writes he is even willing to be jailed in Cuba while he recovers his health, his wife said.

“President Fidel Castro, I ask you, beg you to make an additional gesture for humanity,” Gechem wrote. “Comandante Castro, please save this life.”

After a failed attempt at the end of the year, Chavez last week helped negotiate the release of Rojas and Gonzalez, who were held for nearly six years by the FARC, which Washington brands a drug-trafficking terrorist group.

Rojas gave birth to a child in captivity who was taken from her months after he was born. They were reunited on Sunday.

Chavez, a foe of Washington, has stirred tensions with Colombia by demanding Uribe recognize the FARC’s political status and has urged foreign governments to take the group off their lists of terrorist organizations.

Uribe’s government says that could only happen when the FARC commits to a peace process.

“This shows the horror and infamy to which the FARC submits those held in its power. For us it is clear the need for an immediate way out of this,” Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo told reporters on a visit to Costa Rica.

The rebels, who began as a peasant army fighting for socialism in the 1960s, are insisting Uribe pull troops from an big area of southwest Colombia to facilitate any hostage deal.

But Uribe, a hardliner whose father was killed in a botched FARC kidnapping more than 20 years ago, has refused, saying creating such a safe haven would let the guerrillas regroup.

Bolivarian friends? Plain bandits

January 15, 2008

I meant to translate this Editorial in El Nacional, but had no time, but now BBC Monitor published it and you can read it too (link later):

Bolivarian friends? Plain bandits Editorial in El Nacional

The international news agencies had a feast yesterday with President [Hugo] Chavez’ request for the democratic countries of the world to erase the crimes and terrorist actions perpetrated throughout the past 20 years by the Colombian FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and the ELN [Army of National Liberation] and declare them
“insurgent forces.” In other words, he has asked them to give the two groups their own political status of a movement of national liberation, status they had back in the 1960s and 1970s. However, our president has forgotten that he is shamefully raising some up in arms groups that today have industrialized kidnapping, extortion, and the protection of drug trafficking networks, thus betraying the ethical principles of a revolutionary.

Did Ho Chi Minh, the brave old man who defeated the US forces in Vietnam, ever become involved in the illegal drug trade to finance his struggle? He never did, and he never lowered himself by practicing the extortion tactics practiced in Colombia with kidnapping and with the demanding of protection money. Furthermore, that old, calm, and wise, old Vietnamese man, never recruited children to be killed on the battle fields as the FARC does.

Did Nelson Mandela during his struggle for South Africa’s freedom ever become the guardian of the drug traffickers in that vast African zone? How many extortions did Mandela practice and how many kidnap victims did he negotiate for cash and political support, as we saw in Venezuela? Did this wise former South African president ever cover up the dirty businesses of the guerrilla groups that disguised as revolutionaries to operate in Africa and export diamonds and gold to Europe? No honest revolutionary supports a guerrilla machinery whose operation depends on illegal, cruel, and criminal tactics. All we have to do is listen to the statements made by one of the two hostages released by the FARC, Consuelo Gonzalez who said that there are “people’s jails” in the Colombian jungles, jails where [Manuel] Marulanda’s people are holding dozens of hostages in miserable and infrahuman conditions.

But what is most horrifying is what Gonzalez also said, that “the prisoners who are soldiers or policemen have chains around their necks,” like the chains that the captains of slave boats during the days of the colony made the slaves wear. One of the things Gonzalez said, which she said was very painful, was “seeing the men in chains who were forced to carry those chains in a haversack on their shoulders, wherever they went.” She added that Colombia “is the only place in the world where this is happening.” For her, the way these prisoners behaved was amazing: “One would look at them and wonder: how can these people who were kidnapped nine or 10 years ago keep on going, people who have been in chains for more than a year?” She also said that all the hostages have very serious health problems.

This Dantesque picture shows the true nature of President Chavez’ guerilla friends [amiguitos guerrilleros], those he wants to turn into “insurgent rebels”.

Originally published by El Nacional website, Caracas, in Spanish 12
Jan 08.