Colombian authorities working to free the kidnapped father of soccer star Luís Díaz

President Petro sent his chief peace negotiator to Cuba for talks with the ELN guerrilla group’s commanders

muestras de apoyo a la familia de luis diaz
People march in Barrancas, La Guajira, to demand the release of Mane Díaz, the father of soccer player Luis Díaz, kidnapped by the ELN two days ago.STRINGER (REUTERS)
Juan Diego Quesada

In the last 24 hours, the kidnapping of the father of Colombian soccer star Luis Díaz, who plays for Liverpool in the English Premier League and on Colombia’s national team, went from being a security problem to a matter of state.

Military intelligence informed Defense Minister Iván Velásquez on the evening of November 1 that a National Liberation Army (ELN) unit was responsible for the kidnapping, undermining the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the guerilla group. A crisis cabinet was promptly set up in the Nariño Palace and a communiqué, made public on November 2, was drafted, in which the government demanded the immediate release of Mane Díaz. It was also decided that Otty Patiño, who leads the peace delegation for the left-wing President Gustavo Petro, would travel without delay to Cuba to meet with the ELN’s commanders.

According to the soccer player’s entourage, it was during the night of November 1 that President Petro phoned Luis Díaz in England to tell him that his father had been abducted by the guerrilla group, assuring him that the government was doing everything it could to secure Mane’s release. On November 2, the soccer player received another call announcing that the release was imminent. “The process was already underway, and the father is on his way back. Nothing is being negotiated here. There is no option but to release him immediately,” according to a member of the negotiating team, who stresses that this is not a deal, but a non-negotiable demand from the president.

President Petro has been as firm in the face of this abduction crisis as he was when he told the ELN at the start of the year that there were two paths open to them: that of Camilo Torres, a guerrilla priest, ELN militant and pioneer of the Liberation Theory who died in combat in 1966, or that of Pablo Escobar, the drug trafficker who rocked Colombia in the 1980s with an army of hired assassins. The path of virtue or the path of blood and crime. The ELN was offended, froze the peace talks and demanded the president recant. Petro refused, but with the negotiating skills of Senator Iván Cepeda and the peace commissioner, Danilo Rueda, the talks got back on track. This new unforeseen crisis jeopardizes Petro’s entire peace project, which involves the ambitious idea of disarming all illegal groups and tackling the underlying causes of violence, once again pushing the president out of his comfort zone.

Both Luis Díaz’s parents were kidnapped on Saturday, October 28, in their hometown of Barrancas in the Guajira region, close to the border with Venezuela. They were at a gas station when armed men on motorcycles abducted them. In the following few hours, roadblocks were set up around Barrancas by the army and police, securing the release of Luis Díaz’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda. However, Mane Díaz remained in ELN hands in a region renowned for its difficult terrain of desert landscapes, and the Serranía del Perijá mountain range.

Authorities initially thought that the abduction, which has triggered a huge national and international response, had been committed by a criminal gang. There was speculation that Mane may have been taken to Venezuela. It is now believed that he is being held in the Perijá mountains. On Thursday, November 2, Otty Patiño issued a communiqué, revealing who was in fact behind the kidnapping: “We demand the ELN immediately release Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz, and we remind them that it is their entire responsibility to guarantee his life and integrity… We remind the ELN that kidnapping is a criminal practice, in violation of International Humanitarian Law, and that it is their duty during the current peace process, not only to stop the practice, but to stop it indefinitely.”

The kidnapping has taken place in the middle of a ceasefire between the ELN and the government that should last until February. The state delegation believes that the guerrillas are violating the agreement, but Pablo Beltrán, the chief negotiator for the rebels, once insinuated that the ELN does not consider kidnapping to fall within the stipulations. However, the ELN appears to have miscalculated. The whole country has rejected the abductions, putting more pressure on the ELN at the negotiating table, where talks have been going on for the past year. While Petro is running out of patience, the ELN is running out of credit. The countdown for the release of Mane Díaz is on.

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