Those left behind in the jungle

July 4, 2008

The rescue of 15 hostages from the clutches of Farc guerrillas is probably the most important event in years in Colombia. It’s also probably the biggest political triumph of President Uribe’s six years in power.

Colombia is rejoicing and enjoying a rare respite from its ugly and unrelenting conflict. The next couple of weeks will be filled with celebration across Colombia. The arrival of freed soldiers to their home towns, families being reunited and fathers finally able to embrace their children, some of whom were born while their fathers were in captivity, will dominate the news.

There is a newfound sense of optimism that the Farc guerrillas can be defeated. Across Colombia, there is restored faith in the country’s armed forces who pulled off an extraordinary rescue operation that led to the release of Ingrid Betancourt, 3 Americans and 11 soldiers and policemen.
The victory however is bitter sweet. There are still political hostages being held by the Farc (including 27 policemen and 3 politicians). Some families fear that the guerrillas will carry out reprisals against their family members held in jungle camps and kill the remaining high-profile hostages. Others fear that the liberation of Betancourt (a French-Colombian citizen) and the three Americans means international pressure to secure the release of hostages and media coverage of the plight of those kidnapped will gradually disappear. They are probably right.

Unfortunately for Gustavo Moncayo, his son, Pablo Emilio Moncayo, was not one of the 11 soldiers and policemen rescued. Moncayo is a well-known activist in Colombia and has spent years trying to secure the release of hostages. His son, a policeman, was captured during a guerrilla ambush on a police base more than 10 years ago. A recent proof of life video shows Pablo encouraging his father to keep up his spirits. Despite Moncayo’s efforts, including his long march across Colombia last year and meetings with government officials in Europe, his son has not returned home. Moncayo and many Colombians continue to pray for the safe return of all the remaining hostages.