¡Damos gracias a Dios por la liberación del Sr. Luis Díaz! 🙏🏽Con él ya se encuentran Mons. Francisco Ceballos, obispo de Riohacha y Mons. Héctor Henao, delegado para las relaciones Iglesia-Estado, quienes conformaron la comisión humanitaria encargada de facilitar su liberación. pic.twitter.com/KK6SOvcyca
— Conferencia Episcopal de Colombia (@episcopadocol) November 9, 2023
The search operation for Luis Manuel Díaz included hundreds of military and police personnel, with air and land patrols scouring a forest bordering Colombia and Venezuela, and Colombian officials speculated that he could have been taken across the border, beyond the reach of police, who offered a $48,000 reward for information leading to his rescue.
Díaz’s father is a well-known figure in Barrancas, where he served as an amateur soccer coach and trains young players.
The younger Diaz is a 26-year-old Colombian international who signed with Liverpool in January 2022 for a reported fee of around $63 million. He has four goals in 12 appearances across Premier League and Europa League competition this season.
As the search for Luis Manuel Díaz continued Oct. 31, hundreds of residents in Barrancas marched through the town demanding his release. Some wore T-shirts bearing his image and carried white balloons and posters.
Armed groups that operate around Barrancas have been known to use kidnappings and the subsequent ransom money to fund their operations. Across the country, kidnappings have been on the rise in recent years, with the number of abductions spiking 93 percent from January to June, according to the Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the Colombian police. Colombian authorities have said no ransom demands for Díaz were made.
Last Thursday, the government said the guerrilla group National Liberation Army, known as Ejército de Liberación Nacional — or ELN, was responsible for the kidnapping.
That assertion comes against the backdrop of Colombia’s six-decade internal conflict, which began in the late 1950s as the guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) clashed with the government. Over time, the conflict grew to feature a wider array of armed groups including leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitary groups and drug cartels. The ELN, the country’s largest remaining rebel group, has been fighting the state since 1964, and exerts control in rural parts of north and southwest Colombia.
Over six decades, the conflict has claimed more than 450,000 lives.
Following a major 2016 peace agreement between the government and the FARC, Colombia saw massacres, kidnappings and other crimes fall to their lowest rates in recent history. However, violence later surged as other armed groups filled the void, capitalizing on pandemic lockdowns to deepen their control across different regions of the country.
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Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, has sought to quell rising violence since coming into power in August 2022, promising to broker “total peace” with the country’s armed groups. Public testimony and data suggest limited improvement so far, though murder rates have dropped slightly. Still, Petro’s government earned a major victory when it struck a deal with the ELN in August for a cease-fire meant to last six months — with the hope of forging a more lasting truce down the road.
Previous attempts at a cease fire between both parties had faltered, as they did most recently in 2019, after ELN members orchestrated a car-bomb attack that killed 22 police cadets.
In blaming the ELN for the Díaz abductions last Thursday, one government official called the situation “very serious,” and said the kidnapping violated the cease fire. Later that day, ELN representative Juan Carlos Cuellar said the group would free Díaz “as soon as possible.”
“We remind the ELN that kidnapping is criminal, violates international humanitarian law and that its duty in building the peace process is not just to stop (kidnapping) but to eliminate it forever,” Otty Patino, the government’s lead peace negotiator, said in a statement.
The Díaz family was relatively quiet throughout the ordeal, with Luis Díaz initially limiting his public responses to commenting and promoting support for the family’s cause on Instagram. His sister, Gaby Díaz, told CNN the family did not offer official statements per instructions from authorities.
Luis Díaz missed two games while granted time away from the team. He rejoined Liverpool teammates in practice late last week and made his first appearance since the kidnapping on Sunday, scoring a late equalizer against Luton Town. After the goal, Díaz lifted his jersey to reveal a shirt with the words “Libertad para papa,” or “Freedom for dad.”
In a statement released shortly after the match, Díaz pleaded for his father’s release, saying “every second, every minute our anxiety grows.
“My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, anxious and have no words to describe what we are feeling. This suffering will only end when we have him home with us. I beg that they free him immediately, respecting his integrity and ending this painful wait. In the name of love and compassion we ask they reconsider their actions and allow us to have him back.”
Diana Durán contributed to this report from Bogotá.