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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.


To a large degree, his strategy has worked. Amid a fierce army onslaught, the FARC has retreated into remote regions of the country. Following last year’s rescue operation, in which the FARC lost its most high-value hostages, a prisoner exchange has been ruled out.

So now, in an effort to rehabilitate its image, the FARC has begun to unilaterally release some of its hostages.

On April 16, the rebel organization announced it would free Moncayo — under two conditions. The FARC asked that the elder Moncayo as well as Senator Piedad Cordoba, a left-wing politician who has often clashed with Uribe, be present for the jungle handover.

But Uribe feared the event would generate TV coverage and a publicity bonanza for the FARC, so he imposed his own conditions. He insisted that the FARC release all 23 of the kidnapped soldiers and policemen at the same time.

This time, the FARC said “no.”

“How much longer do we have to wait?” Moncayo said as he used a green towel to protect his shoulder from the weight of the cross. “We waited 11 and a half years for the guerrillas to agree to free my son. And we’ve now we’ve been waiting months for the government to cooperate. It’s the most unjust thing in the world.”

Still, most Colombians appear to support Uribe’s hard-line policies which have led to a sharp drop in kidnappings. Improved security has boosted Uribe’s popularity and he’s is now trying to change the constitution so he can run for a third term next year.

Moncayo’s critics, in turn, say he focuses all his wrath on the government while rarely saying a bad word about the guerrillas.

Over the past three years, Moncayo has logged more than 1,600 miles in protest walks, including a two-month trek from Bogota to Caracas, where he pleaded with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — who openly admires the FARC — to lobby for his son’s freedom.

On the road, he wears sturdy running shoes and a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Pablo Emilio. A length of chain connects his wrists and he has vowed not to remove the links until his son comes home.

Accompanied by a police escort, Moncayo logs about 15 miles a day. As he walks, he recites poetry, answers his cell phone, gives interviews and admires the Colombian countryside.

The spectacle of a bearded man dragging a cross — which is made of two bamboo poles and stuck together with masking tape and rubber bands — has caused traffic jams by gawking motorists. And Moncayo receives the occasional insult.

But as he trudged up the final mountain pass into Bogota, Moncayo smiled as a car whizzed by and the driver stuck his hand out the window to give him the thumbs-up.