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Op-Ed

Colombia's Rejection of a Humanitarian Exchange

To any civilized person aware of human rights, the position of the Colombian government is inhumane, insensitive, and grossly negligent.

In the middle of wars people make humanitarian exchanges, but not in Colombia. Violence is so rooted in their history that cruelty becomes an everyday thing. Over time people have lost their sensibility for the suffering of others.

Even countries like Israel, with strict policies of non-negotiation with terrorists, are always ready to undergo humanitarian exchanges that allow them to return their citizens to their families, but in Colombia a compassionate attitude is out of the question, except for sporadic speeches.

There are 57 kidnapped people of political interest to Colombia, including three Americans, awaiting a humanitarian exchange. The guerrillas (F.A.R.C. or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) want to exchange the prisoners for 500 of their members who are confined to Colombian and U.S. jails, but the Colombian government vehemently opposes any dialogue regarding an exchange.

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The voluntary mediation of Spain, France and Switzerland has been of no help. The government blames the guerrillas for not succeeding, as if the government stance wouldn't count. Its latest excuse is to point to a failed bombing of a parking lot in the Military Superior School. The perpetrators of this crime are still unclear.

The main rationale that the government uses is that liberating these citizens would encourage the guerrillas to continue more kidnappings. The government surmises that not liberating the victims and condemning them to die in the hands of their captors, is the government's best policy against kidnapping.

To any civilized person aware of human rights, the position of the Colombian government is inhumane, insensitive, and grossly negligent. But in Colombia, the government seriously thinks that their theory is the correct formula to end kidnapping and the violent suppression of the freedom of renowned citizens. It is hard to find such a strategy being employed anywhere. Still, Colombia's government sees itself as an example of democratic values in South America.

There is a relevant fact concerning this humanitarian exchange in Colombia. Over 100 of the 500 older members of the guerrillas in prison do not want to re-join the F.A.R.C. and instead want to join the program of justice and peace that the current government designed mainly for the right wing narco-paramilitary.

If we consider that Israel is willing to undertake a humanitarian exchange of thousand Palestinian prisoners for one kidnapped Israeli soldier, the Colombian deal could be praised as a bargain.

The conditions requested by the guerrillas to negotiate and finalize this exchange is that two small southern towns be neutralized to guarantee that the negotiation is open and free and the negotiator's lives are not threatened by friendly or enemy fire, or any foul play.

The Colombian government, which has an overwhelming military force that includes satellite surveillance, drones, attack helicopters, supersonic combat planes, powerful bombs, tanks, heavy weaponry and a quarter of a million army seems unable to neutralize this area. It's important to note that the guerrilla's most advanced and dangerous weapons are small gas cylinders that they use as both explosives and cooking fuel. This task is supposed to be difficult for the guerrillas, not for the government.

The government argues that it cannot neutralize the noted area because the guerrillas will use it to rest, re-arrange their logistics, and plan new operations. I'm quite sure that the guerrillas have ways to do these things regardless of whether or not they have temporary access to the towns.

Consequently, instead of spearheading the liberation of its citizens and demonstrating that the guerrillas' conditions do not intimidate it, the government, ironically, has allowed the guerrillas to corner it for years. Besides, to deepen the humiliation, kidnapping is a daily thing in Colombia, and the guerrillas demonstrate how dead wrong the government's theory is by the fact that they have kidnapped over 1,400 new people. It's obvious that not participating on the humanitarian exchange does not increase the capability of the government to protect its citizens.

It becomes urgent that the Colombian government understands how important it is to promptly undertake a humanitarian exchange, thereby returning the freedom to those who had it and deserves it, granting happiness to hundreds of families who have experience injustice and demonstrating the higher human values for which the country stands.

José María Rodríguez González is a Colombian-American political commentator.

 


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