A Nation Kidnapped

The editorial published in the Colombian newspaper Diario del Sur on July 6 (“A Slap in the Face of Violence”) was ecstatic: “Never before, in spite of the violence that has oppressed us during so many years, has Colombia lived a day like yesterday: historic and unforgettable in every aspect.”

At noon on July 5, Colombians throughout the country poured into the streets to show their outrage at the news that 11 provincial politicians had been killed while being held by leftist rebels. A human chain was formed, with participants wearing white tops. My colleagues in the capital, Bogotá, and in the south of the country, where we have humanitarian projects, say that everyone was waving white scarves. White balloons were launched everywhere. Press agencies estimate that, with more than one million participants, this was the largest public protest since October 1999, which was also – sadly – a demonstration against violence and kidnappings.

But, while the killing of the 11 congressmen from Cali region – attributed to “crossfire’” during an attack by an “unidentified military group”the leftist rebels – provoked shock and anger, there was no agreement on how to solve the chronic problem of “El Secuestro” (The Kidnapping). Some Colombians demand a “humanitarian accord” – an exchange of prisoners for hostages – and reject “blood and fire” rescue attempts. Others oppose “ceding the territory” (setting up a demilitarized zone, where any such exchange could take place) and demand of the government “firmeza, siempre firmeza!” (to be “firm” and go after the rebels).

As is often the case in armed conflicts, civilians suffer the most. The July 5 protest reminded us of the 3,000 kidnappings since the start of this four-decade conflict, but Colombians could form human chains and release white balloons for many other reasons.