On Sunday, July 25, Columbia’s smaller leftist rebel group abducted a Catholic bishop for its political advancement in the unstable nation, sparking criticism from Christian groups worldwide.
"The National Liberation Army of Colombia's use of terror to advance its political goals and its utilization of a religious leader as an unwilling messenger cannot and must not be condoned and permitted," commented Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP). "For too long have these actions in Colombia gone unchallenged by the international community."
According to Monsignor Fabian Marulanda - secretary-general of the Bishop’s Converence - the Bishop of Yopal, Misael Vacca Ramirez, was traveling across the eastern Casanare region with two priests and a local mayor on Saturday when members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) abducted them. The ELN, a Marxist group responsible for hundreds of past slayings and kidnappings, held the victims overnight before letting the two priests and the mayor go. Bishop Ramirez, however, they kept as a political ploy.
"We were detained on Saturday by men in uniform who said they were from the ELN," the mayor of Nunchia, Jose del Carmen Galvis, told local radio. "They told us to wait because they needed [to talk to] the bishop and on Sunday morning two others came and carried him up into the mountains."
Ramirez, like many members of the Catholic Church in Columbia, had been involved in peace efforts between the governments, rebels and other paramilitary groups in the region. Over the past 20 years, an archbishop, a bishop, at least 50 priests and three nuns were murdered; many more were kidnapped and set free.
The ELN rebels announced that they would set Ramirez free without harm, as long as talks with the government straightens out. The ELN, a group that had been trying to turn Colombian into a Marxist-like state for the past 40 years, set three conditions for “peace-talks” with the government: an accord limiting the use of land mines, the release from jail of all ELN prisoners and a bilateral cease-fire. The government has yet to heed to those demands.
Secretary General Marulanda expressed hopes that the bishop’s life will be spared.
"We are hoping it won't last long," he said. "But we request and require that Monsignor Misael's life is respected."
Meanwhile, the IRPP president Grieboski expressed a firm objection to giving into the ELN’s political ploy.
"There is never - under any circumstances - justifiable use of abduction of private citizens, especially religious leaders, to advance political goals," stated Institute Senior Analyst Charles Perin. "The international community must send a clear and resounding message that violence in any form cannot and will not be rewarded politically."
The president of Colombia Alvaro Uribe said he is willing to suspend offensive operations against the ELN, so long as the rebels declare a cessation of hostilities, but did not mention about the release of prisoners.
Together with the larger leftist rebel group – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the ELN has caused thousands of deaths each year in conflicts with the government.