FARC rebels deftly used both the capture and release of journalist Romeo Langlois for propaganda purposes and took advantage of his French nationality to seek the involvement of the Hollande government in any peace talks with the Colombian government.
After holding him for 33 days, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released Langlois on Wednesday to members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, former Senator Piedad Cordoba, and a representative of the French government in the village of San Isidro in the southern department of Caqueta, where he addressed members of the press.
Langlois was taken by the rebels on April 28 after the military unit he was accompanying on an counternarcotics mission came under attack by the FARC’s 15th Front. Three soldiers and a police officer were killed in the attack.
Langlois spoke of his captors in relatively positive terms, saying he had never been mistreated or tied up, and told those gathered that the guerrillas had always treated him “like a guest.” El Tiempo notes that, upon returning to Bogota, the reporter said the only thing he missed during his time in the jungle was the feeling of being cold.
In a press conference Thursday in Bogota, Langlois said the FARC had "scored a goal" with his kidnapping and release, using him for political motives. According to the AP, the FARC freed Langlois “on their movement's 48th anniversary on a specially built stage, hanging pro-peace banners in this remote southern hamlet and organizing a barbecue." Langlois also denied reports that he had been wearing military uniform at the time of his capture, an assertion the rebels used to claim that he was a “prisoner of war.”
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In releasing the journalist, the FARC doubtlessly hoped to gain positive press coverage. Their reputation has been marred by their participation in the drug trade, and by their heavy use of kidnapping as a tool to exert political pressure and extort funds. In December, they executed four hostages, men who had been held for up to 14 years, when the army launched a rescue effort. The rebels' statement earlier this year that they would cease kidnapping for ransom was met with skepticism by many.
This skepticism was fueled further by the FARC's early characterization of Langlois as a "prisoner of war." During the release, guerrilla commander Calacho Mendoza publicly apologized for this error.
On the whole, the rebels got everything they could have hoped to get from the incident. By demanding the presence of a representative of Hollande's government for Langlois' release, the FARC managed to internationalize the incident. And Langlois used his time in the spotlight to advocate for peace, reminding the press and members of the humanitarian team of the brutal reality of war in Colombia, which he characterized as “the poor killing the poor." (See video report from Al Jazeera, below.)
“The government has sold the idea that this conflict is over, but it isn’t," said Langlois. He also told reporters that the guerrillas are "tired of war," and had given him a letter to present to the French president, presumably asking for his help in facilitating peace negotiations.
While the Colombian government publicly says it will not negotiate with the FARC until the guerrillas declare a ceasefire, the rebels are likely hoping that outside pressure will force the state's hand.
A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.