Our thoughts are with the family of Pablo Moncayo, a Colombian Army corporal taken captive by the FARC guerrillas in December 1997. Early this morning, the FARC issued a communiquÃ© announcing that it would unilaterally free Mr. Moncayo to opposition Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba and to his father, Gustavo Moncayo, a leading advocate of a negotiation to free the guerrillas’ hostages. Senator CÃ³rdoba says the release could take place within twenty days.
Corporal Moncayo was 18 and engaged to be married when the FARC captured him during its takeover of a military base in Patascoy, Putumayo. He is now 30, and his ex-fiancee, whom he told in a proof-of-life video to “live her life” without him, is now married with two children.
Gustavo Moncayo, the hostage’s father and a soft-spoken schoolteacher from NariÃ±o department, became known as the “peace walker” after walking the length and breadth of Colombia’s territory to raise awareness of the hostages’ plight. In all public appearances, Moncayo wears chains that recall those the guerrillas attach to their hostages at all times.
His advocacy of a negotiated prisoner exchange has earned Moncayo the ire of Colombia’s right wing. Fernando LondoÃ±o, President Ãlvaro Uribe’s first interior and justice minister, once wrote a column in the El Tiempo newspaper calling the hostage’s father of spreading “Marxist venom through Colombia’s veins.”
Gustavo Moncayo learned of the FARC’s announcement of his son’s impending release this morning, when a radio station called him in the northern Colombian city of Sincelejo. [MP3]
I think this is great news, I’m in Sincelejo, and I didn’t know this news. This took me by surprise, just a moment ago. I thank God for this infinitely big moment. The emotion is so great that it clouds my mind, my [inaudible]. We must fight for the liberation of all. And it hurts because I know that the soldiers and police are dying out there, and I will keep fighting for them.
In December 2001, the FARC refused the request of a boy dying of cancer to see his father, a police hostage. That they are now willing to reunite Corporal Moncayo with his father is a sign of progress, of sorts. We can surmise that at least some elements in the FARC leadership are conscious of the irreparable damage the group’s practice of kidnapping and hostage-taking has done to its reputation and credibility.
But nobody has anything to thank the FARC for. Even after they free Moncayo, the guerrillas will still be holding 21 police and military personnel hostage, many of them since the 1990s, to pressure for a prisoner exchange. They hold an unknown additional number of Colombian civilians for ransom.
It is important that the Colombian government be open to peaceful means to free the remaining 21 hostages, such as a humanitarian negotiation. But it is even more important that the FARC put a definitive end to the unspeakably cruel practice of kidnapping, once and for all, and release its remaining captives.