Libio José Martínez Estrada is thirty-three years old and he has been a hostage for twelve and a half years, the longest of anyone in Colombia. He has never met his son, Johan Steeven. His then-girlfriend, Claudia Tulcán, was four months pregnant when he was abducted.
On December 21, 1997, at two a.m., the thunder of a bomb woke Libio José, then sleeping at a base in the Patascoy Peak in Putumayo, deep in coca country. Right away, Libio José and the others understood it was an attack. Artisan bombs, formerly tin cans of milk which had been filled with nails and explosives (and sometimes excrement to infect the wounds), penetrated the base.
The soldiers awaited the orders from the lieutenant, but he’d been one of the first down. Three hundred FARC warriors continued unloading their bullets.
The cries came from outside, “Give up, chulos.” Chulos, eagles, are a guerrilla name for the state’s uniformed.
Ten soldiers died, eighteen fell in the hands of the FARC, and three managed to escape.
See Libio José’s latest proof of life here.
The official number of remaining hostages in the hands of the FARC is 79, though, because many fear reprisals for reporting their loved one missing, non-official estimates put the number at 700. This includes 20 low-ranked policemen and soldiers and 17 higher-ups, corporals, sergeants, captains, which the FARC consider “canjeables” (“exchangeable”). Libio José’s corporal rank made him an “exchangeable.” The FARC aims to put pressure on the government for a prisoner exchange for 500 FARC members held in Colombian prisons.
Some radio stations allow family members to pre-record messages for hostages. Johan Steven, Libio José’s son, left a message on Caracol Radio, “For my daddy, I would like to wish you a happy birthday. I pray to ‘Daddy’ God that on your next birthday you will not be alone, that we will celebrate, the two of us, as a family, and we will have a good time. I want you to know that today we celebrated a small mass, asking ‘Daddy’ God that with his help, you will be freed. We send you many kisses and hugs and we support you in everything, daddy.”
The technology found in the FARC camp where FARC military leader Mono Jojoy was killed, the 15 laptops, 94 memory sticks and 14 hard discs, could reveal the whereabouts of the hostages. It will also hint where camps are located and so ward off future attacks.
Hurry up, bring Libio José home! But, warned the head of the Colombian police, General Oscar Naranjo, it could take months to retrieve all the information from the computers.