Police and Military Personnel Rescued in Operation JaqueSpeak about Their “Rebirth”
By Dialogo June 23, 2009Bogotá, 20 June (EFE).- The eleven Colombian police and military personnel rescued almost a year ago in Operation Jaque spoke today about their "rebirth" and about how they struggle daily to rebuild their lives after having been kidnapped by the FARC, in some cases for more than a decade. The commander of the Colombian armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla, brought them all together today in Bogotá for a small recognition ceremony, and each one spoke about his life in freedom. Major Juan Carlos Bermeo got married recently, Sgt. Amaón Flórez is studying French, and Police Sgt. Julio César Buitrago says that he is catching up on new technology. They share many things, but one above all: the desire to make up for the time that the FARC took away from them prior to 2 July 2008, the day they were rescued by the army, together with former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. contractors. "Sometimes you want to do more than you can, trying to make up for lost time," EFE was told by Major Bermeo, who has finished a semester of university studies and has taken various courses during the last year, besides getting married. For Sergeant Flórez, who admits being "filled with happiness," has been most important to reunite with his loved ones in the last year, because, he comments, in the case of a kidnapping lasting over ten years like his, "the family falls apart; some go in one direction and others in another." Flórez told EFE that the experiences of captivity cannot be forgotten in a year, but he believes that things are going "very well" for him, and he is concentrating on his studies and on moving forward "helping" the country. "What is most important is being reborn, starting over," emphasized Sergeant Buitrago, who upon recovering his freedom was faced with the fact that his daughters were already almost teenagers and who therefore acknowledged that "it's not easy to get close to them; they didn't grow up with their dad." Buitrago, amazed at the "technological advances" that have taken place since he was kidnapped, explains that he has an email account and an account on the social-networking site Facebook. In addition, he thinks that Bogotá, his home, "appears more organized. You don't see as much poverty, as much garbage" as before. "On the social level it has changed a lot, the same as with security," in his opinion. Sgt. José Miguel Arteaga's plans are to study veterinary medicine and have "about three" children with Nancy Torres, his wife, whom he met a few days after Jaque Operation in the bank where she works. At the moment he is studying systems management and French, and he says that both Nancy and his family have been his great supports in overcoming the difficulties of returning to freedom. Sgt. William Pérez, a friend and nurse of Betancourt during her captivity, knows those difficulties very well, given that for him adjusting to life outside the jungle continues to be a "long" and "difficult" process. "You can't find things to talk about with your family. We didn't talk about the kidnapping," he commented to EFE. He also indicated that he has been able to eat very little for a month, that he has been unable to watch television because it gave him a headache, and that he woke up in the middle of night when he heard the sound of an airplane. According to Pérez, who still has occasional nightmares, "more aftereffects" of the kidnapping will probably appear with the upcoming first anniversary of Jaque Operation. "I talk to Ingrid (Betancourt) every week," Pérez revealed, adding that he maintains a friendship with her and is pained by the criticism that the former presidential candidate has received from other fellow captives. With regard to the hostages still held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Major Bermeo is optimistic and believes that they will recover their freedom soon. Along the same lines, Sergeant Flórez expressed the opinion that it is indeed possible to put an end to the FARC and to other groups "on the fringes of the law" that have done a great deal of damage to Colombia, for which reason he appealed to all his fellow citizens for unity and "greater efforts" to obtain peace. "The guerrillas have no arguments any more for not freeing those who are there." With the rescue of Betancourt, who was "their trophy," the FARC "have nothing with which to pressure or blackmail the state," Buitrago reflected. "There's only going to be one Jaque Operation, but there are lots of people working every day to bring back home those who are left," Sergeant Pérez stated.