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Almost a week after the release of the father of Colombia and Liverpool footballer Luis Díaz, who was being held hostage by The National Liberation Army (ELN), the leader of the rebels has attempted to justify their actions.
Their commander Antonio García has stood firm on the ELN’s position on kidnappings citing the need for ransom money to fund their cause, adding that the guerrilla group are “poor” so there was a necessity to resort to such tactics.
Naturally such comments have not been received well in Colombia, particularly in the town of Barrancas, home to Luis Manuel Díaz and his wife Cilenis Marulanda, who were seized at gunpoint on 28 October. Ms Marulanda was abandoned almost immediately, but 58-year-old Mr Diaz, an amateur football coach, was held for 12 days.
Speaking publicly for the first time, he said he was made to walk “too much” with little sleep, while he was kept in a mountainous area. “I would not want anyone to be in that mountain in the situation I was in,” he stated in a tearful interview.
The ELN and government officials had been engaged in peace talks for almost a year before the kidnapping, for which Colombian police say four people have been arrested.
Guerrilla leader believes kidnapping an acceptable means to an end
Mr Garcia was unrepentant, even though he had said the it was an “error” to target a popular footballer’s parents, obviously underestimating the strength of feeling amongst the general public. He insisted that such kidnappings for the purpose of securing a ransom payment, were not in his opinion, a breach of the ceasefire his group had signed, which only came into force in August.
“There is no agreement in which the ELN has committed to abstaining from financial operations, including depriving someone of their freedom for economic reasons,” was his astonishing and almost delusional logic to support his groups shameful operations. He added that in order to finance itself, all of the rebel group’s units are under direct orders to “carry out military operations to raise funds”.
Then to further demonstrate the seemingly insurmountable negotiations that it will take to find a peaceful resolution, Mr Garcia actually blamed the Colombian government for not providing “a solution” and accused them of trying to “strangle the ELN financially”.
Throughout the deeply worrying period of his father being held captive, Luis Diaz was repeatedly calling for his release. He had been left out of the Liverpool side on compassionate grounds, but he had stepped from the substitute’s bench to score a vital goal shortly before the good news came through.
Upon heading his goal he proceeded to lift his shirt to reveal the words in Spanish “freedom for papa”. Obviously hugely relieved, the player was visibly moved to hear his father say in a press conference that the days he was held had been a “very difficult time” for him.
Outrage in Colombia with widespread contempt for rebel group
Mr Garcia said the leadership had ordered the release of Mr Diaz on 4 November, but a took a further five days before it actually happened. The government are still to comment publicly, but there is outrage right across the country.
Many have demanded that any peace talks should be halted completely, with others slamming the rebels and calling on them to “do an honest day’s work” instead of resorting to extortion of hard-working Colombians.
Peace prospects in tatters
Where this leaves any peace prospects is anyone’s guess, but former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe said: “with kidnappings there can be no peace”.
Sergio Guzmán, the director of Colombia Risk Analysis, said: “The kidnapping of the parents of one of Colombia’s soccer stars and most beloved public figures undermines credibility in the peace process, undermines the credibility of the ELN and worsens the government’s ability to sell Total Peace as a credible alternative to Colombia’s long history of violence and conflict.”