Relatives of kidnapped and those who have disappeared meet in Bogotá to tell their stories three days before the start of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC in Norway.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Three days before the start of negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), victims of the armed conflict came together in Bogotá to demand justice and peace.
Representatives of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the country’s largest terrorist group are scheduled to begin peace talks in Oslo, Norway, on Oct. 17. Weeks later, the talks will continue in Havana, Cuba.
Sebastián Sánchez Lozado, 16, traveled about 800 kilometers (497 miles) from San José de Fragua in the department of Caquetá to the nation’s capital of Bogotá, to protest the FARC’s kidnapping of his father, Mario Sánchez, which occurred 10 years ago.
Even though he was very young at the time, Sánchez Lozada remembers why his father was taken.
“They accused him of helping the traditional political parties, which was the main reason they took him,” Sánchez Lozada said. “We haven’t heard anything since then, even though we’ve asked the FARC to give us evidence that he’s still alive.”
The story of Sánchez Lozada’s father is one of the many that were told at the First National Meeting of the Victims of the FARC, which brought together hundreds of people in Bolívar Square in downtown Bogotá.
The meeting was organized by the NGO Free Country Foundation, the Association for the Missing, the Mothers of Candelaria movement and the radio program “Las Voces del Secuestro” (The Voices of the Kidnapping).
“The relatives of the victims support talks with the FARC, but we also need to find out what happened to their parents, children, spouses and siblings who were kidnapped years ago and about whom nothing is known,” Clara Rojas, the executive director of Fundación País Libre, said during the NGO’s convocation for the meeting on Oct. 14. “The voice of the victims must be included in the talks.”
The loved ones of those abducted by FARC and other armed groups stood side by side with former hostages intent on reaching a common goal: to be heard.
One by one, they took the stage where the journalist Herbin Hoyos of Caracol Radio’s “Las Voces del Secuestro” gave them a microphone so that they could let the public know, in a few seconds, who they wanted released.
A tent was erected at the south end of the square by the Technical Investigation Team (CTI) of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to handle missing persons reports.
Rosa Emilia Aguirre is seeking information about her son, Duvorne Rodriguez, a modest farmer who, due to the lack of work in the department of Caquetá, moved to the department of Cauca to take a job picking coca leaves. Guerrilla fighters took him because they did not know who he was and believed he could fight for their cause.
Aguirre never heard from her son again.
When she recounts what happened, she breaks down into tears.
Sigifredo López, a former Assembly representative from the department of Valle del Cauca who was kidnapped in 2002 along with 11 other local representatives, also participated in the meeting in Bolívar Square.
The commander of the group that had kidnapped them ordered the shooting of all 11 of his colleagues. Seven years later, he was freed by his captors but was subsequently accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of planning the kidnapping.
A court cleared him of all charges.
“Right now, we have to remind the government that the roundtable for these talks must stand on four legs: the government, the guerrilla fighters, the victims and civil society. Without all of these groups, there can be no fair peace process. Anything else would result in talks with significant gaps,” he said.
Alexi Vargas was last in line. Her sister, Amanda, was taken years ago by the commander of the 14th Front of the FARC and has never returned.
Vargas said the victims must be heard as part of the peace process.
This year, according to the Free Country Foundation, there have been 170 kidnappings, 17 of which were carried out by the FARC. Clara Rojas, the NGO’s director, said there are many kidnappings about which they have no information.
However, she added her NGO has received information about the kidnappings of five or six foreigners, as well as cases of abductions in neighboring countries.
“Thirty years ago, it was estimated that there were 24,000 kidnapping victims,” said Rojas, who was kidnapped by the FARC in Caquetá in 2002 and released six years later. “In many of these cases, what happened to the victims was not known. In the past 10 years, that figure has dropped to about 600 cases, but we still lack a lot of information, so the estimate could go up.”