Saturday, June 2, 2012

Out of Captivity and into Controversy

Romeo Langlois, surrounded by FARC fighters,
films his own liberation. (Photo from AFP)
French journalist Romeo Langlois was released this Wednesday by FARC guerrillas who'd helm him for more than a month - and immediately started talking nice about his former captors.

It's not the first time that a just-released kidnappee has praised the guerrillas, in what could be intepreted as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. But in Langlois' case it's particularly understable, if not justifiable. After all, Langlois voluntarily entered the arena of Colombia's conflict as part of his work, and spending a month on close terms with the guerrillas in a non-journalistic relationship relationhsip is many a reporter's dream. And this month-long kidnapping, Langlois has transformed Langlois from being one of many correspondents working away in developing nations into an internationally-known figure. It's sure to open doors to juicy job offers, make him an authority about Colombia's armed conflict and land a juicy contract for a book or a movie. (If you hear hints of jealousy from me, a former journalist, you're probably  not far off.)

And the guerrillas had every motive to be nice to Langlois, who, they knew, would become a sort of spokesman for them. In return, Langlois said the guerrillas had "treated me like a guest" and that the guerrillas should take into account the guerrillas' points of view.

In response, Ex-President Alvaro Uribe called Langlois a guerrilla sympathizer, which Langlois denied.

Caged FARC kidnappees who
didn't have it so great in captivity.
Langlois has perhaps overlooked the fact that the guerrillas would not have been in a position to be nice to him at all if they hadn't attacked the military unit he accompanied, killing several soldiers, and then held him for more than a month in the jungle. If Langlois had been one of the businessmen, soldiers or politicians whom the guerrillas have often kidnapped, he wouldn't have been treated so kindly nor received so much attention.

When Langlois reports on his experience, he should balance his accounts of the FARC as gracious hosts with information about how the same guerrilla gang also plants land mines, recruits children (including a group of 13 kids during Langlois' own captivity), forces women guerrillas to have abortions, traffic drugs and has kidnapped many other civilians, who don't have quite as good a time as Langlois did while torn for years from their friends and family.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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