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A Colombian's quest

Video: The father of a soldier held prisoner symbolically crucified himself to call attention to the plight of Colombia’s hostages.

Moncayo set off last week on a five-day, 70-mile march from an army base to Bogota to call attention to the plight of Colombia’s hostages. (John Otis/GlobalPost)

GRANADA, Colombia — With chains on his wrists and an eight-foot-long wooden cross bearing down on his left shoulder, Gustavo Moncayo stopped on the side of the road to catch his breath and massage his aching muscles.

But the 57-year-old high school teacher insisted his burden was light compared to the suffering his soldier-son has been subjected to for nearly 12 years as a hostage of Marxist guerrillas.

Angry at what he views as the Colombian government’s lack of interest in the case, Moncayo set off last week on a five-day, 70-mile march from an army base to Bogota where he intends to stage a theatrical protest across the street from the presidential palace.

“I intend to crucify myself,” said Moncayo, who has become a local celebrity for his cross-country walks to call attention to the plight of Colombia’s hostages.

Though his act is symbolic, Moncayo’s outrage is real and profound.

His son, Army Corp. Pablo Emilio Moncayo, was taken prisoner during a 1997 firefight and is one of 23 soldiers and policemen still being held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the nation’s largest rebel group known as the FARC.

But in the wake of last year’s dramatic sting operation by the Colombian Army — that freed three U.S. military contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt — the FARC no longer holds any big-name prisoners and the hostage issue has faded from the spotlight.

“It’s a terrible thing because no one is paying any attention,” said Olga Gutierrez, who offered Moncayo cold soda and a block of cheese as he marched through Granada, a village just south of Bogota.

Government officials claim they are doing all they can but insist they will never give in to rebel blackmail, which they say would simply embolden the rebels to take more hostages. The FARC has long kidnapped civilians for ransom to fund its 45-year-old war against the government. But the group began taking so-called “political hostages” in the late 1990s. By seizing politicians, policemen and soldiers, the FARC tried to force the government into trading them for imprisoned rebels.

In a proof-of-life video released in June 2007, a crew-cut Corporal Moncayo, looking depressed but otherwise healthy, pleaded with the Bogota government to cut a deal for his freedom.

“Why not negotiate with the FARC?” he said. “Why rely on force when that’s not the solution?” he said.

But Uribe, whose father was killed in a botched kidnapping attempt in 1983, has refused to give in to the rebels’ demands and has instead ratcheted up military pressure on the FARC.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/colombia/090904/crucify-protest-hostages