The pro-FARC website ANNCOL posted a communication from the guerrilla leadership yesterday announcing the FARC’s intention to release six of the twenty-eight so-called “exchangeable” hostages who have been in its custody for many years. (These are in addition to untold hundreds of hostages the group is holding for ransom.) Those to be freed include both of the remaining civilians on the list of those whom the FARC have long held as a brutal tactic to pressure the Colombian government for a prisoner exchange.
- Alan Jara, former governor of Meta department, kidnapped in July 2001.
- Sigifredo LÃ³pez, the only survivor among twelve Valle del Cauca departmental legislators kidnapped in April 2002. The rest were murdered in June 2007.
Though the FARC communiquÃ© does not specify who the four non-civilians to be released will be, El Espectador reports that the four most likely to be let go are a soldier and three policement who have been held for less than two years. Most of the other security-force hostages have been in captivity for nine years or more.
- Willam Geovanny Dominguez, soldier kidnapped in January 2007.
- Alexis Torres Zapata, police officer kidnapped in June 2007.
- Juan Fernando Galicia, police officer kidnapped in June 2007.
- JosÃ© Walter Lozano, police officer kidnapped in June 2007.
If correct, this list does not include Pablo Emilio Moncayo, one of the two longest-held hostages, who just completed eleven years in guerrilla custody on Saturday. Moncayo’s father Gustavo, a teacher from NariÃ±o, has been one of the most active and highest-profile advocates of a solution to the hostage crisis.
The guerrilla announcement is a partial success for the so-called “Colombians for Peace” group, a collection of prominent citizens and intellectuals, including opposition Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba, who began an “epistolary exchange” of letters with the guerrillas in September. The announced hostage release comes at the end of the FARC’s second written response to the group.
The success is only partial, however, since the group’s last communication to the guerrillas had asked for much more: that they release all of their hostages and renounce the practice of kidnapping. The FARC refuses to do that, returning to its insistence on a prisoner exchange.
The announcement nonetheless may contain a shred of hopeful news about what could be happening within the guerrilla leadership. We do not know if the FARC have been in internal agreement about whether holding civilians hostage for years was a strategy that made any strategic sense. Whether those who held this barbaric view were the entire leadership or just a powerful majority, though, one thing is apparent: another hostage release in exchange for nothing is a clear defeat for them. And that is good news.