iOS app Android app More

Libio Jose Martinez, Colombian Hostage, Faces Another Lonely Christmas

Libio Jose Martinez

RODRIGO ALMONACID   12/23/10 01:55 PM ET   AP

BOGOTA, Colombia — Not until Johan Steven Martinez began school at age 4 did he learn why he had never met his father.

"I realized that all my friends were arriving with both parents," he said. "I didn't understand so I asked my mom and she told me everything."

Martinez was in his mother's womb 13 years ago this week when his father, Pvt. Libio Jose Martinez, was captured in a dawn rebel raid on a frigid mountaintop called Patascoy in southern Colombia.

Now the father is the longest-held captive of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Yet he is not among five captives who the FARC recently announced it plans to release in the next few weeks.

There is no explanation for why these particular captives are to be freed. The longest-held among them is police officer Guillermo Solorzano, seized by the FARC on June 4, 2007.

Colombia's hostages now number just a few dozen and include no foreigners or big-name politicians. They are getting limited attention these days, especially with the country suffering from record flooding.

The anniversary of the capture of Johan's father on Dec. 21, 1997, was barely mentioned in the local media. And that angers him.

"I don't see that they're doing anything for him. I don't see them fighting for his release," he said of the government in a phone interview with The Associated Press from his home in the southern city of Pasto.

President Juan Manuel Santos has demanded that the FARC free all its captives as a condition for initiating a peace dialogue, continuing the previous administration's hard line.

But the rebels, who lost their military chief in September in a government bombing raid, have shown a preference for piecemeal releases. Those get them a few days of headlines.

But they hardly provide leverage for an insurgency badly battered in recent years and embarrassed by a pair of stunning rescues. Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. military contractors and 11 others were freed in July 2008 by a bloodless ruse. A commando raid rescued police Gen. Luis Mendieta and three other security force members last June.

Santos' predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, refused to accept FARC conditions for large-scale prisoner swap that might have ended the ordeal of Libio Martinez, who is now 34.

But many Colombians are puzzled why the FARC insists on keeping such soldiers captive.

"I don't think anyone has an answer," said Rafael Nieto, a former deputy justice minister. "The only strategic value I can conceive of is that (Martinez) and the others who've been held so long represent a greater possibility of pressure for the government than those more recently captured."

In March, the FARC released a soldier captured along with Libio Martinez on Patascoy – one of 14 people the rebels have released unilaterally since early 2008.

That man, Pablo Emilio Moncayo, gained renown more than two years ago when his schoolteacher father walked halfway across Colombia to demand his release, ending the journey by camping in Bogota's central square, where he engaged Uribe in passionate debate on behalf of a prisoner swap.

Johan has mimicked the Moncayo march on a smaller scale – twice he has marched on his father's behalf, most recently 45 miles (70 kilometers) in July with scores of other demonstrators.

His scant familiarity with the father has come through letters and proof-of-life videos, the last of which came in June.

In his letters to the son he never met, Libio Jose advises him to read a lot and even recommends books. One of them, "Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela," became Johan's favorite book, he said.

The son says while it's painful not to be able to converse, to hug, to simply spend time with his father, at least he can speak to him through the radio programs Colombian hostages faithfully tune into in their jungle prisons.

"I tell him about my life, what's been going on in the past few days," said Johan. "I tell him about my victories, my defeats."

A psychiatrist who studies such cases, Edwin Herazo Acevedo of the Institute of Investigation into Human Behavior in Bogota, says Johan Steven's relationship with his father is mostly symbolic.

"They don't know each other in real life. And that's why the boy has a constructed image of his father." But that doesn't mean, he added, that Johan Steven isn't prone to fits of anxiety or insecurity due to his worries over his father's plight.

For now, the 8th grade student who is fond of soccer and says he wants to be an air force pilot, must endure another Christmas without his father.

"We're going to pray very hard so that God and the Virgin Mary might cloak him with their grace and bring him back home as quickly as possible."

FOLLOW HUFFPOST WORLD

Filed by Cara Parks  |