Hostage Deaths in Colombia Highlight the Need for More Cautious Policy


588(credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino)Last Saturday, November 26, Colombian government troops attacked an encampment of the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the department of Caquetá. Five police officers were being held there as prisoners of war, and although the episode has yet to be investigated, the attack led to the death of four of the prisoners (one managed to escape). Now the Colombian government and the mainstream media are launching a campaign to discredit the FARC, accusing the insurgents of executing the prisoners. The move is predictable. We know that part of the war strategy includes gaining the national and international public opinion. But we should remember that this tragic event is part of the overall saga of the Colombian civil war.

The Colombian state has refused to sign a humanitarian agreement that could lead to an exchange of prisoners. Instead it has tried to rescue the prisoners, as it did to some success in 2008, when the former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was freed alongside three CIA contractors and 11 Colombian policemen and soldiers. This and other successes have boosted the state position in the conflict, lowering its incentive to reach an agreement through a humanitarian exchange of prisoners.

With the recent killing of FARC leader Alfonso Cano, the Colombian government and military feel ever more emboldened. This might encourage them to take riskier missions, threatening the lives of the remaining hostages in the hands of the FARC. A more prudent and cautious policy is badly needed in the absence of a peace negotiation.



The image (above) is of Colombian Police Sergeant Luis Alberto Erazo, the only FARC prisoner to escape alive last Saturday. For more from Nazih Richani's blog, Colombian Cuadernos, visit, or see the NACLA Report July/August 2009, "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia."

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