After three days of being held hostage by a left-wing guerrilla group in Colombia, Roman Catholic bishop Misael Vacca Ramirez was set free without harm, July 28, 2004.
Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) abducted Ramirez, two priests and a local mayor earlier this week as part of their ongoing effort to replace the democratic Colombian government with a Marxist one. While the two priests and the mayor was set free the same day, ELN members held Ramirez hostage, saying they will deliver a “political message” to the government through the bishop.
Ramirez’s abduction immediately sparked condemnation from human rights and Christian groups worldwide. The Pope John Paul II described the kidnapping as a “criminal action” that is “in no way justifiable.” Humanitarian group Amnesty International expressed similar sentiments, saying, “The use of human lives to further political objectives is completely unacceptable.”
Colombian president Alvaro Uribe subsequently sent more than 1,000 soldiers into jungle-covered mountains to rescue the bishop and cut off Ramirez’s captors from their commanders.
After several days, Ramirez was set free, but was given no “political message” to deliver to the government. Ramirez explained that the soldier forced the kidnappers deep into the jungle, preventing them from communicating with their leaders who had prepared the statement to give to Uribe.
"So it turned into nothing more than a big scare for me," the bishop said, adding that he was treated well.
"I was treated well. At no moment did anybody show me disrespect," Vacca Ramirez, 48, said to reporters after stepping off the helicopter that brought him out.
Uribe, meanwhile, hailed the successful operation, and called for the hundreds of other hostages held by the ELN to be set free.
"Of course I am delighted," Uribe told reporters. "It would be nice to have a flood of similar news, which is what the Colombian people need."
For the past 40 years, the Colombian government had been engrossed in guerilla warfare against ELN and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), that claims some 3,500 lives every year. Over the past 20 years, the ELN and FARC has claimed the lives of an archbishop, bishop, at least 50 priests and three nuns.
Bishop Ramirez, like many other members of the Catholic Church, had been involved with peace efforts between the ELN, right-wing paramilitary groups and the government.