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| 4/7/2010 12:00:00 AM

What Comes Next?

After Moncayo's release it seems difficult that the FARC frees the other 21 police and soldiers kidnapped 12 years ago.

When Pablo Emilio Moncayo jumped out from the helicopter that brought him back to freedom, a deep sigh of relief was felt across the country. His kidnapping had become, like few others, in a real torture for Colombians, and with his release ended 12 years, 3 months and 2 days of agony.

After Íngrid Betancourt, sergeant Moncayo had become the most symbolic figure held by the guerrilla, because his father, Professor Gustavo Moncayo, made his life a Way of the Cross, and with chains on his shoulders created a kidnapping metaphor that shocked the world.

But as his son's freedom comes to a happy end, it also leaves the country before an even more difficult reality: What will happen to the 21 hostages still held by the FARC?

The situation seems more tragic for them than for others. While Moncayo's release was always on the public agenda, for the remaining hostages the outlook is bleak because the political conditions are not fertile for a humanitarian agreement nor for other unilateral releases. The last week opened a terrible stand-by in which neither they nor anyone else knows what will happen.

The political reality is even more complex. The FARC warned that the release of Moncayo and Josué Calvo, which occurred two days before, were the last ones of the unilateral releases package. In total there were 13 since the release of Clara Rojas and Consuelo González, just two years ago. On Tuesday, when Moncayo was freed, the guerrilla stated an ultimatum: "The immediate exchange of war prisoners is the only viable way to free those that are still in the jungle".

In Casa de Nariño, the presidential palace, the picture is not rosy. President Álvaro Uribe completes his term in only four months and it's not easy that he changes his heavy hand by a generous heart. Although many believe that he would not lose anything for doing this gesture as a closure of his mandate, the President's reply on Tuesday, when the country was still celebrating Moncayo's release, was emphatic: "You can not ignore the relationship between persistence and the defeat of kidnapping in our country. I invite Colombians to keep firmness".

The only hope left is a lucky stroke from the High Commissioner for Peace Frank Pearl. Last week he told the media that the government "had been working in some initiatives" and made clear that he will do that without mediators -it means, the group of Colombianos por la paz led by senator Piedad Cordoba-, and in complete secrecy. Beyond good intentions and although things are becoming easier, it is practically impossible that the FARC allows new releases in this government. If the release of Calvo and Moncayo took one year, there is no reason to believe that a new negotiation can be done in less time.

Besides, in the hostage group there are no longer public characters such as Ingrid and Moncayo, who caused a particular pressure on the FARC and the government. This raises concerns for the hostages' families because they can become captive even for a longer time.

The story of humanitarian exchange is now at a critical point. The FARC commander Manuel Marulanda came up with that cruel idea in the mid-90's, when the guerrilla was expanding. That's why they began a mass kidnappings like that of Las Delicias in 1996, and few months later demanded to exchange hostages for imprisoned FARC members. The process has been slow. The exchange proposal started with 528 police and soldiers kidnapped, President Uribe inherited 57 and now there are only 21.

So far political calculations have prevailed. Uribe used the humanitarian exchange to hide controversies. As in 2007 when he was overwhelmed by the DAS espionage scandal and the 'parapolitic' process, and suddenly released the FARC's international spokesperson Rodrigo Granda and 300 members of the guerrilla. At that time the news agenda changed radically in the country and the main topic became the humanitarian agreement.

The FARC has also tried to use this issue for political gain. The releases began unilaterally as a gesture with Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez to win international allies. And then when the police killed guerrilla chief 'Raúl Reyes', the exchange has served as a way to produce a political effect.

It's not free that the unilateral releases ended up during the presidential campaign. Does the FARC wants to place the issue on the electoral agenda and therefore define the voting?

If that is the calculation, the guerrilla is completely wrong. It was different 12 years ago when 'Tirofijo' defined the election, and quite another today, when even the candidate from the leftist Polo party, Gustavo Petro, gives an emphatic 'no' to humanitarian exchange. The only candidate that leaves the door open to some sort of agreement is Rafael Pardo, now listed as last in the polls.

Although it is not easy to release the 21 police and soldiers, it doesn't mean that it won't happen. First, the guerrilla has a big responsibility. On Tuesday, after Moncayo's release, the United Nations and the European Union demanded the FARC to free the hostages without any consideration, and even reminded them that kidnapping is a war crime that could lead them to the International Criminal Court.

Another element that gives hope is that the hostages, speaking in terms of realpolitik, can become a win card to start a negotiation process with the next president. For the FARC, a massive release at the beginning of the government would be a powerful gesture of confidence. And for the new government this would mean to start a new dialogue era.

The worst that can happen to the new president, and of course to the country, is to let those Colombians die in the jungle.

Pablo Emilio Moncayo said who should be released. In the short speech he gave on Tuesday after his arrival at the airport in Florencia, Caquetá, he said that Colonel Edgar Yesid Duarte and José Libio Martínez lives were in danger.

Both were kidnapped 12 years ago. José Libio Martínez is the oldest of all. And in the last proof he asked his wife Claudia to let speak his son Johan Steven, when she goes on radio programs to send hope messages. The child, that doesn't know his father, has asked the guerrilla to release him. Even, during the last year, he walked 100 kilometers trying to follow the footsteps of Professor Moncayo.

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EDICIÓN 1829

PORTADA

Gran encuesta presidencial

Vargas Lleras arranca fuerte, Petro está estancado, Fajardo tiene cómo crecer y los partidos tradicionales andan rezagados. Entre los uribistas, Ramos se ve fuerte. Y Santos tiene 35 por ciento de aceptación. Gran encuesta de Invamer para Caracol Televisión, Blu Radio y SEMANA.