Colombia: millions march to demand captives’ release

Millions marched in cities across Colombia July 5 to demand the release of all the estimated 300 captives in the hands of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and other armed groups, and that the remains be turned over of 11 lawmakers recently killed while in the FARC’s hands. At midday, nearly the entire country came to a halt for five minutes as bells, sirens and cries sounded in unison. The protests were led by President Alvaro Uribe.

Marches were held in each of Colombia’s 32 departments, and an estimated 3 million participated. The banner at the head of the march in Bogota read “Freedom without conditions now!” Colombia’s Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Sáenz held a special mass in support of the mobilization at Bogota’s cathedral. Solidarity marches were held in 19 countries in Latin America and Europe, including Argentina.

Government offices in Colombia closed for five minutes at noon, and the Supreme Court of Justice magistrates appeared on the building’s balcony too greet the crowd below with white handkerchiefs. The Stock Exchange also briefly closed at noon. Some dissident voices in the march were seen dressed in white outside the congressional offices at Plaza de BolĂ­var, with signs reading “No to rescue by blood and fire.”

The FARC considers 46 captives—including ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, her running mate Clara Rojas, and three US contractors—”exchangeables” (“canjeables”) for 500 of its militants held by the government. FARC is demanding the demilitarization of two municipalities in Valle del Cauca within 45 days to negotiate the exchange. Before the protests, Uribe announced he would not cede “even one millimeter of the national territory” to the FARC. (La Nacion, Argentina, July 6)

See our last posts on Colombia and the FARC.