Like many other people around the world, I rejoice at the rescue of 15 FARC hostages in Colombia, including 3 Americans, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and 11 members of Colombia’s armed forces and police. That said, there are still more than 700 hostages being held in Colombia. I hope and pray for their release and return to their families.
I can sympathize with the original goals of FARC. Like most Latin American countries, Colombia was colonized using the system of latifundia, which granted large agricultural land holdings to Spanish settlers, who established a feudal system with the poor, indigenous people farming as serfs, at best. These countries thus developed as oligarchies, with power and wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. In most of these countries, change has been incremental, and land reform efforts have been largely blocked, sometimes in the name of foreign landowners.
Many reformists and leftists in Latin America, frustrated by the inability to effect change through democratic means, have adopted the Cuban model of armed insurrection. Thus FARC-EP emerged in the 1960s as a military force determined to overthrow the Colombian social, political, and economic structures. In an effort to raise money, FARC entered a long-term alliance with drug processors and traffickers. The United States, seeing a dual threat, has been aggressively supporting the democratic government of Colombia in its struggle against FARC.
Another tactic has been kidnapping. More than 300 children have been kidnapped since 1996. Sometimes the victims have been summarily shot (see, for example, the killing of three Native American Rights activists in 1999), but most have been held as bargaining chips. As I said, more than 700 men, women, and children remain in captivity.
So, although I can sympathize with the group’s original aims, it seems to have long since morphed into more of an organized criminal organization whose original aims have taken a back seat to its desire for power.
Maybe some good can come out of all of this. Unlike the Western hostages held in Lebanon in the 1980s, these people have not been fixtures of the nightly news. Most Americans were probably unaware that any of their fellow citizens were being held in Colombia.
Seeing Ingrid Betancourt’s smiling face yesterday lifted my spirits considerably, but I understand that as long as anyone remains captive and as long as a child is forced to carry a gun for the narcoterrorists, this isn’t going to be over.