|The twelve kidnapped Valle del Cauca state legislators. Francisco Giraldo is in the middle row, all the way to the left.|
Hello from Brussels, where I’ve been accompanying a delegation of Colombians organized by the British NGO Justice for Colombia and the British labor union UNITE. We are here to seek support for a “humanitarian exchange” to win the freedom of dozens of hostages whom the FARC has been holding for years.
The delegation includes the head of the Colombian Catholic Church Episcopal Conference; the mother of former senator and FARC hostage Ãngrid Betancourt; an opposition congressman, a Liberal Party official; one of the authorized “facilitators” for FARC dialogues; two labor leaders, and the sister of one of the twelve departmental legislators whom the FARC has been holding for more than five years.
Needless to say, the group has had a very bad day.
We were at a meeting this morning in the European Union Council of Ministers, where the group was asking for some sort of statement discouraging armed rescue attempts and supporting dialogue.
Just as we were getting started, Ãngela Giraldo, the brother of kidnapped Valle del Cauca legislator Francisco Giraldo, got a cellphone call. (See our interview with Angela posted May 30.)
According to a FARC communiquÃ©, we learned, Ãngela’s brother and ten other local legislators were killed on June 18. The FARC claim that they fell in the crossfire when an “unidentified military group” tried to rescue them.
There is no such thing as a good place to be when getting news that a loved one has been murdered. But the sterile, unwelcoming offices of the European Union are an especially awful setting. In the very least, though, Ãngela Giraldo can say that at the very moment she found out about her brother, she was doing her absolute utmost to seek his freedom.
Ãngela is on her way back home to Cali. The rest of the group, including Ms. Betancourt, has continued its agenda as planned. Here is a translation of their statement.
Invited by the British NGO Justice for Colombia and by Europe’s largest union, UNITE, a delegation made up of representatives of the Catholic Church, relatives of kidnap victims, the Liberal and Alternative Democratic Pole political parties, and the CUT labor union are in Europe to seek support for a humanitarian accord from the European Union and its member countries.
The support we seek has focused on:
- A rejection of military operations attempting to rescue kidnap victims;
- Stimulation of government and guerrilla action to make the humanitarian exchange reality, and
- Calling attention to the need to find ways to end the armed conflict through political negotiations.
Among others, we have met with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Triesman; with members of the British Parliament; and with the European Commission, Council of Ministers, and Parliament.
He have heard the tragic news, still officially unconfirmed, about the violent death of eleven of the Valle del Cauca state legislators who were in captivity. To avoid this outcome was the exact purpose of our trip. This sad news reinforces the importance of our mission, which we will continue to the end, according to our original plan.
We have witnessed the international community’s consternation. We have seen how they find it incomprehensible that our country, seen from outside, appears to favor death over life. This is why it is so necessary to seek a dialogue for a humanitarian exchange.
The delegation extends its condolences to the state legislators’ families. Especially to Ãngela Giraldo, the sister of one of the eleven, Francisco Giraldo. Until this morning, she was here with us in this noble effort.
Today more than ever, we consider that the national and international communities must take note of the uselessness of the war that spills our blood, and to promote and encourage the importance of political solutions to the conflict that afflicts our country.
Signed in Brussels, June 28, 2007
- Wilson Borja DÃaz, Representative of Colombia’s House of Representatives from BogotÃ¡, Alternative Democratic Pole party
- Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro, Archbishop of Tunja, BoyacÃ¡
- Carlos Lozano GuillÃ©n, Director of the newspaper Voz and facilitator of the peace dialogues
- Tarcisio Mora Godoy, CUT labor union
- Yolanda Pulecio de Betancourt, Mother of Ãngrid Betancourt
- Jose NoÃ© Rios, General Secretary of the Liberal Party of Colombia and former High Commissioner for Peace
- Domingo Tovar, Director of the CUT Human Rights Department