Colombia: How Many More Dead, Mr. President?

Reprinted from El Tiempo, Colombia

[Translated by Micheál Ó Tuathail]

Another hostage dead. Once again, the army, following the orders of the President, went to rescue a live hostage and brought back a dead businessman.

How many more, Mr. President? How many dead hostages are required for you to deign to consider other options? All 3,200 who remain alive?

I ask myself, Mr. President, why, according to you, your government cannot refrain from exercising its constitutional obligation to military rescues but at the same time refrains from the constitutional and ethical obligations to defend Colombians in danger?

With what criteria do you choose which constitutional obligations to comply with and which to disregard?

In order to carry out your orders to rescue hostages by force and without the certainty of their survival, the government announced that it must first consult their families and that, in some cases, they rejected your decision.

However, you have so emphatically affirmed that to consult is not to ask permission and that, in any case, the government remains firm in its decision to carry out military rescues. Mr. President, if you are going to carry out military rescues anyway, do you believe that exposing families to information based upon which they can’t make the final call is a means for you to moderate the political cost of your risky decision? But isn’t it also adding to them an inevitable sense of blame for the death of their loved ones when it occurs during these rescue attempts?

I had an enormously heavy feeling while listening to María Londoño, the widow of kidnapped businessman Diego Mejía, who was killed during a rescue. "My husband’s life is gone, but so too are the lives of those who did much damage to the country (during the operation, four guerrilla fighters died, among them alias ‘Fabio,’ one of the leaders of the FARC’s 47th Front). I hope this will serve some good," said doña María. It seems like just retribution: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. The truth is, doña María, it didn’t serve any good. What would have served us all good was to have your husband by your side and producing. Each year, the government takes down hundreds of guerrilla fighters in legitimate combat. Surely, in one of those battles, those four fighters would have fallen.

Doña María also said, "Diego couldn’t be saved because it was God’s will. The outcome wasn’t what we would have wanted, but before God’s will, we can do nothing." No, doña María, the decision to rescue your husband was neither yours nor God’s; it was the decision of a mortal. You, your husband, and the rest of the hostages have other alternatives, alternatives with higher possibilities for a safe return. But our mortal President considers these other options illegitimate and impossible.

Reading the news of Mr. Mejía’s death last Thursday, and yesterday of how we are once again overrun by mafia and paramilitaries, I have so many questions, Mr. President.

According to your own official statistics, the paramilitaries were responsible for some 1,000 kidnappings. Neither to begin negotiations nor to concede to them the generous benefits of the poorly named ‘Justice and Peace Law’ was the return of hostages demanded of the paramilitaries.

Not even today have they been heard from, much less returned.

Why, Mr. President? Why should we demand of the FARC the unconditional return of hostages but not demand the same of the paramilitaries?

Why does your government not demand that the paramilitaries unconditionally return the bodies of the thousands of Colombians they massacred and buried in mass graves? Why, in order to defend life or recover the bodies of those Colombians, have you not led a national and international condemnation and protest?

Why, Mr. President, according to your reasoning, are paramilitary kidnappings tolerable and those by the FARC not negotiable?

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