Colombia: The groups holding people for ransom

Advocating for peace and compassion, Pope Francis calls for the release of all hostages held by armed groups in Colombia.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis on Sunday prayed for “the unconditional release of all those kidnapped” in Colombia.

“I invite you to join me in my prayer for the unconditional release of all those currently kidnapped in Colombia,” the Pope said at the end of his Sunday Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square.

Kidnappings in Colombia

Pope Francis’ appeal for the release of hostages comes at a time in which the Colombian government appears to have reached a deal with the two main groups conducting kidnappings in the country.

Colombia has faced longstanding issues with kidnappings and hostage-taking by different armed groups, often for political leverage, financial gains, or other motives. These kidnappings are ordered by various armed groups, including the militant guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army) and dissident factions of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

FARC

FARC, previously a militant organization, engaged in peace negotiations resulting in a historic peace deal in 2016, leading to their disarmament and transformation into a political party. However, sporadic dissident factions continue illegal activities, including occasional hostage-takings for monetary gains or to exert influence.

Negotiations for safety

Efforts by the government to secure the release of hostages often involve complex negotiations, including possible concessions and agreements on both sides. These negotiations aim to ensure the safe return of hostages while trying to maintain progress toward peace and stability in Colombia.

Pope Francis, while praying for the safe release of hostages, added that “this gesture, which is a duty before God, will also favour a climate of reconciliation and peace in the country”.

Deals

On 17 December, the ELN committed to suspending kidnappings for economic purposes, a deal that was reached during the end of the fifth round of negotiations with the government in Mexico City.

As part of this commitment, on 20 December, the group released the former mayor of San Calixto, Yadil José Sanguino Manzano, who had been held for 35 days, according to the office of the High Commissioner for Peace.

The FARC-EP’s Central General Staff (EMC) also said it will renounce kidnapping for economic ends and will resume peace negotiations with the government in a new cycle to be held in Bogotá between 9 and 18 January 2024.