At night , at a rebel guerrilla camp in Colombia’s lush rainforest, Oscar Rizcano got up from a bed of leaves and struggled to move his feet. In the dark environment, you can’t see your fingers, but you can feel the humid jungle atmosphere around you. He crawled across the camp to sleep not far away, put his AK-47 submachine gun next to a soldier within arm’s reach, and disappeared into the depths of the trees.
After being kidnapped and held hostage, the 62-year-old former congressman and economics professor has suffered from malaria and severe malnutrition. His eyes were sunken deep into their sockets, and the skin was pale under his scruffy beard. The 98-month separation from his wife, two sons, and work nearly destroyed his spiritual world. He can either get rid of this shackle as soon as possible, or go to see the god of death.
Rizcano is not alone this time. The guerrilla’s 28-year-old commander, Wells Bueno Lago, who goes by the pseudonym Isacha, will also risk losing his freedom to help Rizcano escape. That evening, after setting up the camp, Isachar asked Rizcano to play a game of chess with him. During the game, Isachar looked at Rizcano with one of his good eyes (the other was blinded in the battle) and said calmly, “You will die here.”
Rizcano stared at looked at his face without making a sound.
”Get ready, old man,” Isacha said, “I’m going to help you get out of here.”
Rizcano’s escape was a risky move under any circumstances. Because he was one of the FARC’s longest-held hostages, the effort was undoubtedly doubly dangerous.
In 2002, Alvaro Uribe was elected to the presidency, vowing to crack down on rebels who have kidnapped thousands of civilians in his country for 40 years. As a result, the guerrilla group that kidnapped Rizcano was constantly shifting locations to avoid possible air strikes and ground raids. With the development of the situation, the anti-government militants became more and more divided, and the number of personnel gradually decreased. Isacha’s girlfriend also slipped away and went into hiding.
Four months ago, with the help of U.S. intelligence, a Special Forces tactic rescued three U.S. Defense Department contractors, French-Colombian politician and presidential candidate Ingrid Bay from the guerrillas. Tencourt and 11 other Colombian hostages. The rescue operation made headlines in the international media and further rattled the anti-government guerrillas. Rizcano was very weak at the time, and it may not be feasible to exchange him for the rebels imprisoned by the government. The easiest way is to kill the hostages.
8 years of kidnapping
Rizcano ‘s nightmare began one afternoon in August 2000, when he, as a recently re-elected congressman, was running for mayor for the female mayor of the city of Gzmeni, in the mountains of central Colombia. Job selection. Rizcano, with his neatly groomed hair and clean shaved beard, was a respected professor and economist at the National University of Manichalus, but he was a confident and personable political activist. It is also active between its own home constituency belonging to the countryside and the grand edifice at the top of the power in the capital, Bogotá.
With his close contacts with local farmers and migrant workers, he was not timid even though he realized that there were anti-government guerrillas operating nearby.
Anti-government militants had not been targeting politicians at the time. Their tactics are intimidating and unabashed. Harassment of barracks, destruction of police stations, and raids on villages are the main tactics of the guerrillas. At one point, their influence expanded to a third of Colombia’s territory during decades of resistance to wrest power from the government.
One day, while Rizcano, the mayor and supporters were chatting, a group of about 30 anti-government guerrilla soldiers surrounded them. “You are being held,” said one of the leaders. “Until all our imprisoned comrades are released.”
Three days later, the female mayor was released. But Rizcano was taken to the mountains and forests. He witnessed a guerrilla soldier in front of him using a machete to cut a passage out of the virgin rainforest, and he realized that his fate was much worse.
After more than ten nights of marching from camp to camp, Rizcano was taken to a jungle camp 241 kilometers east of the capital Bogota and 145 kilometers from the Pacific coastline. Here, the guerrillas isolated him in a small area and did not answer any of his questions. Later, Rizcano didn’t ask any more questions except to wash his clothes and relieve his hands. He built a makeshift shack himself out of sticks, and fell asleep, not waking up until dawn.
Two months after his kidnapping, Rizcano heard over the shortwave radio a broadcast of his wife Martha, son Juan Carlos and Mauricio begging for his release. The guerrillas then gave him a radio. So he started listening to radio broadcasts with information about thousands of people missing in Colombia. On the radio, he heard words from his family encouraging him to be strong. They also reported outside news to him and told him that they would do everything possible to get him back to freedom.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day in 2002, Rizcano heard a message written by Martha: “These days, my heart beats for you, and I miss you more and more every day.” A “world”, the pain of not being able to meet.
”How miserable I felt when I woke up alone,” Rizcano wrote in a poem to his wife. Anti-government guerrillas sent it to the Colombian news media in a hostage “proof of living” package. “I see the dawn in my sleep / My heart bleeds for my lost freedom / Ah, I look forward to the arrival of the goddess like the voice of my love.”
2003, after the kidnapping of 3 American contractors , the Colombian government has stepped up its attacks on the rebels. So the anti-government guerrillas gave up their fixed hiding place. In order to avoid the reconnaissance of the planes and the informers among the jungle dwellers, the guerrillas took Rizcano around a large area. Dense jungles, steep mountains, and rushing rivers have left their footprints.
The monotonous environment overwhelmed Rizcano: every leaf, every tree, every stream looked so similar. Everyday life is the same. On better days, Rizcano and the guerrillas could eat lentils, rice, and a soup of monkey meat that he had to hold his nose to drink. At other times, he can only drink some salt water to prevent dehydration. “At night, a guerrilla would put roasted rat meat in my boots, and I had to eat them to fill my stomach.” He later recalled that
Rizcano was often sick, malnourished, Dehydration, urinary and digestive tract infections have plagued him. Without a mosquito net, he contracted malaria, which was accompanied by chills, headaches, nightmares and fatigue. He moved slowly and was in pain all over his body. During each transfer, the guerrilla soldier only had to walk two hours, while he needed six. Sometimes when he stopped to rest, they also stopped and waited for him; and if they lost patience, they dragged him away on a woven hammock. In another “Proof of Living” package to his family, he wrote: “I need more courage to endure pain than death.
” getting weaker. Finally, the guerrilla soldiers demanded that he throw away some of the books they had previously given him, including Homer’s Iliad, the Odyssey, and Neruda’s poetry collections. So he had to rip some of his favorite chapters from the book and stuff them into a plastic bag he kept in his pocket.
At night, Rizcano sometimes prepared some reminder notes for academic speeches, and then wrote the names of some of his former students, such as “Carlos” and “Juan”, on pieces of paper and pinned them to the ground with small wooden sticks. When Rizkano modelled on history, geography or world leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, the soldiers guarding him felt that something must have been wrong with his spirit.
By June and July 2006, the rebels had lost their basic conditions in the 40-year civil war against the government. Government military forces killed and captured several mid-level guerrilla commanders. The rate of kidnappings has dropped to one-tenth of what it used to be. After Rizcano’s son, Mauricio, won his father’s seat in Congress, the rebels kidnapped Rizcano’s other son, Juan Carlos. However, due to the persistent search by government forces, the rebels released him soon after.
A deserter from the rebel group that kidnapped Rizcano revealed to the authorities where Rizcano was hiding. So government forces immediately surrounded the area, cutting off the supply line of the rebels. Airplanes circled over the forest all day, searching for clues, and intelligence experts monitored the air contact information of the rebels at any time. In this situation of encirclement and suppression, the guerrillas had to constantly move places 24 hours a day.
Facing an extremely unfavorable situation, the rebels decided to get rid of Rizcano, who had become a burden. He was told that in the event of an encounter with government forces, he would be killed. However, Issacha has other plans: he wants to make Rizcano a “stepping stone” for him to find a way out.
The Colombian government has long offered a reward of $400,000 for rescuing Rizcano—enough to keep any rebel fighter reintegrated into society.
Isacha , dark-skinned and stocky, has been with the rebels for 12 years, but he’s tired of this chaotic life and starts to miss his family and girlfriend. Of course, Isacha did not dare to express his opposition publicly, and often pretended to be very fierce on the surface, such as giving various orders loudly to ask Rizcano to execute, and not allowing Rizcano to wash his clothes… … But at night, when no one can see him, he would take the initiative to chat with Rizcano. After a long-term exchange, and the two grew up in coffee-growing areas, their relationship gradually became closer.
Issacha began to take care of Rizcano’s safety during the transfer, and he would tell Rizcano how to protect himself in the event of an air strike. In the event of encounters with government forces, he decided to either release the hostages or die with his accomplices.
At this point, while sitting face to face playing chess, he asked his captive, “Can you hold it?”
At first, Rizcano thought Isacha’s temptation was a trap. “Yes, I can hold it,” he replied hesitantly.
”Now is a chance, or there will be no more, old man.”
At 9 p.m. that night, Isachar led Rizcano through a jungle and galloped toward a river. Issacha calculated that he would have three hours to escape before other rebels found out they were missing. At the river, Isachar asked Rizcano to walk on dry stones by the river, so that those who came after him could not follow their tracks. Rizcano just took a few steps when he stumbled and fell into the water.
”Are you okay?” Isacha pulled Rizcano ashore and asked in a low voice.
There was a dog’s barking in the distance, and Rizcano couldn’t help breaking out in a cold sweat.
They slipped under a barbed wire and Rizcano’s shirt was torn. Seeing this, Isacha immediately ripped off the rag head hanging from the iron thorn – he knew, otherwise the people who came to arrest them would definitely use the rag as a clue. After walking a few hundred meters, a steep hill lay in front of me. As the two climbed up, Rizcano was so tired that he fell to the ground from time to time. Issa found a branch to use as a crutch for Rizcano, and pulled the professor up the ridge with the help of the crutch.
At dawn, they did not dare to continue walking, for fear that some locals who were sympathetic to the rebels would report their whereabouts to the rebels. After descending into a valley, the soft core of a palm tree trunk became their sustenance. When Rizcano fell to rest in a ditch, Isacha took his rifle and climbed the tree to observe the movement around him.
The next night, the two set off again. As Isachar walked, he watched the man he had taken hostage: Rizcano’s feet were swollen and his body was covered with scars.
”Old man, can you make it through?” Issacha asked.
”I can hold on.”
But near the end of the night walk, Rizcano was walking and plunged headlong into a grassy ditch, gasping for breath. Seeing this scene, Issa had to retreat and wait for him.
”Don’t make a sound!” Issacha, who was sitting beside Rizcano, suddenly hissed. “They’re here! Get down.” Twenty or thirty rebel soldiers came quietly along the path they had just passed, and kept looking around. After a while, they crossed the ditch from a distance of more than ten meters. Walk forward, and finally disappear out of sight.
Another day passed, and in the second half of the night, Isacha led Rizcano along the stream to the foot of a high mountain. He tells Rizcano to follow his footprints to confuse those who follow them. After another walk, Rizcano was sweating and exhausted.
”I’m very thirsty, rest for a while.”
Issacha gave Rizcano a dissatisfied look. “Which way do you choose? Do you rest here and die, or move on.” Rizcano then walked again with difficulty.
Beside a cave with a flowing stream, Isacha plucked a large leaf from a tree, rolled it into an ice cream roll, sprinkled the lemon juice powder he brought with him, and poured it into the water.
”You don’t mind if I stir with my fingers. Old man?” The
two smiled at each other and started drinking lemon juice. Fulfilling the Promise
On the third day, Isacha and Rizcano stood on a small hill and caught a glimpse of a river below, along which a road was built.
The destination they are going to – a military base, is located on the other side of the river. When Isaac pointed to the military base and was about to say something, Rizcano first sat on the ground, then stood up and hugged his travel companion. “My friend forever!” he cried. “You finally saved me.”
Rizcano saw a group of soldiers marching across the river, and he waved his arms and began to shout, “I am a hostage being taken!” Falling and getting up again, the soldiers heard his cries and thought he might be a lunatic or drunk. Issacha now raised his rifle and waved it in the air, attracting attention. The soldiers who discovered this situation realized that the shouting person was not the enemy, so they let out a small boat and rowed towards the opposite bank.
Issacha recalled the rumours he had heard before that government forces tortured or killed deserters from the rebels after they caught them. “Don’t forget me, old man,” he said, and hid in the bushes.
”I’ll help you,” Rizcano exclaimed as he struggled to climb into the boat. Subsequently, several government soldiers rowed the boat to the other side. As soon as the boat docked, Rizcano informed the soldiers of his name and pointed to Issacha, who had reappeared on the other side of the river, “I can’t abandon him…”
”If I don’t speak coherently, please Forgive me. Because that’s what I’m used to talking about now.” Rizcano told reporters who came to interview on the day he was rescued. In his stammering account, he begged the authorities not to forget the hostages who were still kidnapped and “slowly destroyed in the jungle”.
Rizcano has now retired from college and is no longer involved in any political activity. He often wrote poetry and spent the rest of his life peacefully with his wife and son. Under his active lobbying, Isacha, who was detained by the military, was released and received a $400,000 bonus. Finally, he helped Issacha and his girlfriend settle abroad.
”I’m going to settle in France,” Issacha said when he met reporters with his girlfriend not long ago. “We must have our own future.”
Ingrid Betancourt, a former hostage who had been kidnapped, recently traveled to Paris from Bogota with Isacha and his girlfriend. Recently, during a visit to eight Latin American countries, she advised local government officials that they should conduct serious negotiations with rebels in order to achieve national reconciliation. In a conversation with reporters, she pointed out that Issacha’s bright future is a strong revelation for other anti-government elements: release the hostages as soon as possible, give up armed confrontation, and return to normal social life.