Leftist rebels have freed a Spanish correspondent and two other journalists who went missing in a lawless region of Colombia, ending a week-long saga that recalled some of the darkest days of a long-running conflict the South American nation is trying to move beyond.
“Thank you to everyone who prayed for me,” Salud Hernandez-Mora, a long-time correspondent for Spanish newspaper El Mundo, said on Friday in her first comment upon being freed.
Rebels identifying themselves as members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, handed her over to a delegation led by Roman Catholic clergy in the volatile Catatumbo region. Hours later, two other journalists from Colombian network RCN were also freed by the rebels.
Hernandez-Mora said she was working on a story about coca growers when, while on a lonely street, she was approached by a man on a motorcycle who took her equipment. He identified himself as a member of the ELN.
Later she was invited to retrieve her belongings and went in search of the guerrillas on the back of a motorcycle.
She said she was aware of the risks, but thought it might result in an interview with a rebel commander.
When she crossed paths with the rebels, she was informed she was going to stay with them for a couple days and said she knew right away that she was being taken hostage.
“I’ve always been imprudent, because a reporter needs to be imprudent or they’ll miss half the things,” Hernandez-Mora said during an improvised news conference in the city of Ocana.
The incident shook Colombia, because the ELN in March had agreed to join the much-larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and pursue a peace deal with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government to end half a century of fighting.
Santos, who has demanded the ELN renounce kidnapping and free its captives in order for those talks to begin, celebrated Hernandez-Mora’s release from Catatumbo, where he had traveled earlier on Friday to personally oversee the search efforts for the journalists.
In addition to her work for El Mundo, Hernandez-Mora is one of Colombia’s most-prominent columnists, admired and reviled in equal measure for her outspoken conservative views against Santos’ peace efforts.
Her disappearance last weekend while on assignment shocked Colombians who have experienced dramatic security gains in recent years as Colombia’s half-century conflict winds down.
Hernandez-Mora was last seen Saturday last week arguing with an unidentified man and then taking a motorcycle to an unknown destination. The two journalists from the RCN network went missing 48 hours later while covering the search for the Spanish journalist.
The release on Friday night of Diego D’Pablo and Carlos Melo came as loved ones were holding a religious vigil in their hometown of Cucuta. D’Pablo’s adolescent daughter broke down in tears when she spoke live on TV for the first time with her father.
Hernandez-Mora said she was treated well by her captors. The biggest menace she faced during her captivity was boredom and the regular flyovers of army helicopters and intelligence aircraft — part of a huge military deployment to locate the journalists.
She said her captors transferred her to a different location each night, including abandoned buildings and rural homes.
“I spent the day looking at the sky, when there was a sky. And looking at the roof, when there was a roof,” she said.
The Jamaica-sized Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia is among the country’s poorest, most marginalized backwaters. It is a major coca-growing area and a corridor for cocaine smuggling to Venezuela, with the state able to maintain only a few militarized strongholds.
In addition to the ELN, remnants of the Popular Liberation Army are still active in the area, as is the much-larger FARC.
“Catatumbo is an area abandoned by the Colombian state, with tremendous social problems and I’m not sure how they’re going to be resolved,” Herandez-Mora said.
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
‘LEAST WE CAN DO’: The gesture was made famous by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality that targeted minorities They are images that surprised and moved Americans: police officers taking a knee alongside protesters in the most widespread civil unrest to rock the US in decades — and in doing so embracing an anti-racism gesture denounced by US President Donald Trump. As Trump pushes for a crackdown on often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, police officers from New York to Los Angeles to Houston, Texas, are making gestures of solidarity with demonstrators incensed at the latest case of an unarmed black man dying while in police custody. “I took off the helmet and laid the batons down. Where do