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Father of children who survived 40 days in the Colombian jungle arrested for sexual abuse

Manuel Ranoque is accused of mistreating the four minors and their deceased mother

Manuel Ranoque padre de los niños rescatados en la selva colombiana
Manuel Ranoque arrives at the Military Hospital to visit the children in Bogotá, on June 11, 2023.RAUL ARBOLEDA (AFP)

Colombian police arrested on Friday Manuel Ranoque, the father of the indigenous children who made headlines in June for surviving a plane crash and 40 days on their own in the Amazon jungle. That’s according to the Attorney General’s Office, which added that the arrest, requested by a prosecutor and approved by a judge, was carried out in Bogotá. The agency has been very secretive in the case and refused to provide more information until Ranoque is brought to justice, but it has been reported that the father is accused of sexual abuse. After the children were rescued from the jungle, their maternal family began to publicly denounce Ranoque for sexual abuse and domestic violence.

The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) has custody of the four minors: Lesly Mucutuy, 13, Soleiny Mucutuy, nine, Tien Noriel Ronoque Mucutuy, four, and Cristin Neriman Ranoque Mucutuy, who turned one while they were lost in the jungle. Ranoque is the stepfather of the two oldest girls and the father of the youngest two. The director of the ICBF, Astrid Cáceres, said Friday that the siblings were doing well and were moving forward with their activities to rejoin the educational system. “The children are still in the process of establishing their rights. We are not going to expose them to any other exercise. Their history and their personal lives are their own,” she said.

The mother of the four children, Magdalena Mucutuy, died in the plane crash that they survived. On May 1, she and her children boarded an aircraft that covered the Araracuara (Caquetá) – San José del Guaviare route, a jungle area of the Amazon with limited transportation options, where trips in precarious small planes are common. The family were going to Bogotá to meet Ranoque, who had fled from the indigenous reservation where he was governor after reporting threats from the Carolina Ramírez Front, one of the dissident groups of the now defunct FARC guerrillas. After the plane crash, the children were forced to survive on fariña (a cassava flour) found in the luggage of one of the deceased, fruits from the jungle, and a package of emergency supplies dropped by the military. Ranoque, along with military personnel and indigenous volunteers, took part in the operation to rescue the children.

But when the children were finally found in June, complaints began to be made against Ranoque and the bad relationship he had with the children’s maternal grandparents. There were rumors that the little ones had hid from the rescue teams because they feared that their father would beat them for getting lost in the jungle. When the minors left the Military Hospital in Bogotá, the ICBF decided to take charge of them while it investigated complaints of ill-treatment against Ranoque. The father denied his guilt and demanded that the state hand over custody to him as soon as possible. “They are my children, not the president’s,” he told this newspaper in July.

The maternal grandparents, Narciso Mucutuy and María Fátima Valencia, claimed that Ranoque hit their daughter and mistreated their grandchildren. The grandparents have been fighting for weeks for custody of the four children. Not only against Ranoque, but also against Andrés, Magdalena’s first husband and the father of her two eldest daughters. “Now people with vested interest are surfacing. Since my daughter divorced him [Andrés], we haven’t heard from him. Now he suddenly appears,” the grandmother said in July. “When they give [the children] to me, I will take them to the Amazon,” she said, when asked about her plans.

The ICBF, which was studying the complaints, did not let Ranoque see the two older girls during the weeks they spent at the Bogotá Military Hospital. At that time, the institute was assessing various options for the children’s future. “Guaranteeing the rights of the Mucutuy children requires a reasonable period of time that allows us to protect their integrity, until the family environment is safe for their growth,” declared Cáceres in July.

The Colombian government has created a trust to manage the money that children can receive for telling their story. Producers from around the world, including several from Hollywood, have made offers to get the rights to their story, but for now they remain in limbo. Ranoque, for his part, filed a million-dollar lawsuit a few weeks ago against Avianline Charters’s company, the owner of the plane that crashed.

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