Former Colombian Prisoners Recount Torments

Met the Pope to Thank Him for His Prayer

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By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, JUNE 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- After Wednesday’s general audience, Benedict XVI greeted a group of Colombian men who for 14 years were prisoners of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

After their meeting with the Pope, they spoke with the press from the Colombian embassy to the Holy See, recounting some of the torments of their years as captives.

With chains around their necks which transformed them into human lightning conductors, they were hungry and humiliated. Friendship with the guerrillas ended when they received an order to kill the hostages. Reading the Bible, faith in Jesus and Mary, and knowing that the Pope was praying for them, were reasons for faith and hope. 

The Colombian ambassador to the Holy See, César Mauricio Velásquez, who organized the meeting, said that “the group of uniformed men who greeted Pope Benedict XVI experienced, during the long years of their abduction, days of light and darkness, but they were able to maintain their faith and hope. And today they wish to say to the world that they want to live the experience of forgiveness as a liberating act.”

Velásquez, a notably younger ambassador than most of those accredited to the Holy See, emphasized that “one cannot pretend to implement peace agreements when there is hatred and rancor in hearts.” 

“All those who are here have advanced on the road of forgiveness from whence they wish to reconstruct their lives and they have expressed this to Benedict XVI,” he added. “We launch a cry of hope for all kidnapped persons, no more kidnappings.”

As they were introduced, the two policemen and four military men spoke about their experience. They thanked the Colombian ambassador for the possibility they had of meeting the Holy Father.

José Libardo Forero of the Colombian police force was kidnapped in 1999 in Puerto Rico Meta and liberated in 2012. He was the first to speak. He described the guerrilla’s assault on his barracks, the resistance that lasted two days, until, left without munitions, they were captured and kept in cages for a time. Some escaped and others were killed. In total, they endured 14 years of captivity. “Now we are in a process of readapting ourselves to civil and normal life,” and “to do so, we follow a protocol, which is not easy,” he said.

“I studied the Bible a lot, as did my companion; we were confident that we would meet with our families. When we were kidnapped sometimes we heard on Radio Caracol that the Pope was praying for us and this gave us much encouragement; thanks to this we never lost hope.”

He indicated another particular to ZENIT: that “the guerrillas professed themselves openly to be atheists, as they were indoctrinated by their leaders, although one could see that many of them, deep down, believed in God.”

“We were chained in pairs and by the neck. Lightning struck near my companion, Moreno. I was semi-paralyzed for several days because, as we were tied to the earth, we were transformed into human lightning conductors.” In 2001, he added, “we escaped and were in the jungle for one month, but on meeting peasants and asking them for help, we were handed over again to the FARC.” In addition to hunger, they suffered illnesses. “If we asked for an aspirin they told us there weren’t any, but if the leader asked for chains and locks, they provided them the next day.”

Jorge Trujillo Solarte, the other policeman who was imprisoned, added other particulars. “We suffered humiliations and insults, they trampled on us many times, we had so much hunger and sicknesses, malaria, etc. I lost my home and the love of my daughter, and this makes one almost lose one’s emotional stability. Abduction is an atrocious and abominable crime,” he said. “I thank Jesus and Colombia and our families for the support they gave us, as well as the support of several countries.”

Sergeant Luis Moreno stressed that “at some moment my hope was extinguished, but my love for my family and for people, as well as the voice of encouragement that we heard, helped us.” He recalled that while he was kidnapped one of his dreams was, “I’m going to meet the Pope. Today I was able to fulfill that desire.”

Luis Arturo Arcia, an officer of the army, said: “I was away from my family and institution for 14 years, but I never lost faith that one day I was going to get out. Eighty-three soldiers were killed in the battle. Two of us survived. Forty-three were kidnapped and 17 disappeared.”

Luis Alfonso Beltran, another army officer, captured in 1998, said that the world they found on their return was very different: children now adults and in turn with their own children.

They also suffered friendly fire: “We were bombed on two occasions and the army came within 500 meters of us to liberate us; it was the day of the presidential [elections]. I want to thank Our Lord who has marked a path for us. Only He knows why all this happened,” said non-commissioned army officer Robinson Salcedo.

Salcedo told the journalists “that here the Colombian guerrilla is not known. They sell an image that is different from what they are. I would like you to see the number of mutilated military men that exist.” And he was disconcerted when he learned “that some governments such as that of Sweden receive them as refugees.” “They’re not good people; they killed our companion Peña, who was sick — and they didn’t want to hand over his body — and also elderly people,” he added.

During the questions and answers they indicated that in the beginning FARC was very sure of what they were doing. Now, instead, many have left; the army is attacking them hard and they are diminishing although they continue to fight but no longer in direct combat but rather by attacking the patrols with mines.

In regard to kidnapped women, they said they were not raped and that there was a certain respect for sexuality, but that they knew about abortions and three women prisoners were pregnant and they even saw a newborn child. Political women were treated less harshly, for example, they were not chained. Women guerrillas, instead, were treated like men, and “for them, the word love or feeling doesn’t exist.”

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