Christian Escobar Mora/AP
Former hostage Oscar Tulio Lizcano

Despite Gains Against FARC, Colombia Faces Other Troubles

October 27, 2008 05:17 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Colombian government welcomed news of the escape of yet another FARC hostage, but still faces new opposition from thousands of indigenous protestors.

Former Lawmaker Gains Freedom

On Sunday, former Colombian lawmaker Oscar Tulio Lizcano became the 22nd Colombian hostage to escape this year from FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). He was held hostage by the rebel group for more than eight years.

“There are no words for the horror he endured nearly nine years,” Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said to the Houston Chronicle. “But luckily, he is here with us again, and we are celebrating.”

The Associated Press reported that the recently freed Lizcano emerged from the jungle looking like “a crazy man—bearded, grimy, slumped on another man’s shoulder and screaming across a jungle river.” The government soldiers who discovered him “thought I was a drunk,” Lizcano said in a radio interview on Monday, according to AP.

“You will have to excuse my incoherence,” said Lizcano during a news conference, according to the Chronicle, “but I was not allowed to talk, not even to the guerrillas who were guarding me.”

Santos said that a military operation that cut off food and ammunition to the area where Lizcano was being held aided his escape. Lizcano was accompanied by a guard who had decided to desert, and they walked through the rainforest for three days and nights before coming across an army patrol.

FARC has been fighting the Colombian government for the past 44 years, but recently has shown signs of weakening. In March, the group’s founder died, and two months later FARC leader Nelly Avila Moreno turned herself in to Colombian authorities. In July, 15 FARC captives were rescued, including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

But the Colombian government is also dealing with growing protests from its indigenous people, known as Indians, over land rights and access to government services.

Related Topic: Antigovernment protests building steam

On Sunday, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had been scheduled to meet with the leaders of a protest whose participants now number in the tens of thousands, reported CNN.

But Uribe arrived to the meeting more than three hours late because he was greeting Lizcano. By the time he arrived, “the insulted indigenous leaders had already left and the 40,000 indigenous protesters present at the University campus refused to listen to Uribe,” according to Colombia Reports.

Uribe has proposed another meeting next Sunday in Popayan, and the protest leaders are expected to decide Monday whether or not they will accept the offer.

The indigenous people began demonstrations on Oct. 10 to demand that the government provide greater land rights and improved education and health care access for the country’s 1.3 million indigenous people. They are marching from southwest Colombia to the city of Cali.

According to protest leaders, government forces have been shooting at the demonstrators, four of whom have died while 130 have been wounded. But authorities accuse the protesters of throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, and claim that about 70 security force members have been hurt in clashes.

Background: FARC

In May, the Colombian government announced and FARC confirmed that the founder of the group, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, had died in March. It had just been announced days before that the beleaguered organization’s leader, Nelly Avila Moreno, had turned herself in, in what looked to be a turning point in the government's efforts to stamp out the leftist organization.

In July, the rescue of 15 hostages from FARC, including Betancourt, was seen as evidence of a weakening in the rebel group's strength. Observers also saw it as an indication of Uribe's increasing control over Colombia.

In January, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged other nations, including the U.S., Colombia and some in Europe, to stop calling FARC a terrorist organization. The idea was widely rejected.

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