Kidnapped Father of Colombian Soccer Star Is Freed


The father of Luis Díaz, a Colombian soccer star for the English club Liverpool, was freed on Thursday after he was kidnapped by a guerrilla group, Colombian officials said.

“We report with joy the release of Don Luis Manuel Díaz,” the Colombian government’s commission for peace talks said in a statement on Thursday morning. “We hope that he will soon regain his tranquillity, disturbed by an act that should never have happened.”

It was not immediately clear what was exchanged, if anything, for the elder Mr. Díaz’s freedom.

Both of Mr. Díaz’s parents were kidnapped on Oct. 28 by armed men from a gas station in their hometown, Barrancas, Colombia. His mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was rescued hours later, but her husband, Luis Manuel Díaz, remained captive.

The Colombian national police and the military mobilized to find Mr. Díaz amid fears that the kidnappers might have taken him from Barrancas, which is in La Guajira, a region of northern Colombian, across the border to Venezuela.

Five days later, the National Liberation Army, a guerrilla group, took responsibility for the kidnapping. The outfit, known as the E.L.N., is the largest remaining rebel group in Colombia’s 60-year internal conflict and operates in the countryside.

In an announcement published by local news outlets, José Manuel Martínez Quiroz, who was identified as the commander of the northern front of the E.L.N., said the group had commands with “economic missions and one of them” took the elder Mr. Díaz, who is known as Mane. But it said he would be freed because he was the family member of “a great athlete whom all Colombians love.”

Although kidnappings for ransom and extortion in Colombia have resurged in recent years after a lull, E.L.N.’s initial statement did not make any demands in exchange for the release of Mr. Díaz.

Three days later, the E.L.N. blamed the Colombian military for the delay. In a statement, the group said on Sunday that it was trying to avoid incidents with the Colombian authorities but that the area remained militarized with flyovers and arriving troops. The situation, it said, “does not allow the execution of the liberation plan quickly and safely.”

The following day, the military announced that it was withdrawing from the region where Mr. Díaz, who local news reports say is 56, was believed to be held. But when he had still not been freed by Tuesday, Otty Patiño, Colombia’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the E.L.N., told reporters that there was “no excuse” for the delay. He said the guerrilla group had been in contact with the United Nations and Roman Catholic Church.

The kidnapping captured the attention of a country of nearly 52 million not just because soccer is the most popular sport there, but also because it stoked concerns about increasing insecurity and whether the government was doing enough to stop it. In public pleas and in marches in Mr. Díaz’s hometown, Colombians called for his father’s release.

The Colombian government, under President Gustavo Petro, had been negotiating a peace treaty with the E.L.N., and a six-month cease-fire was to begin in August. But after the elder Mr. Díaz was kidnapped, Mr. Petro said that the E.L.N. had committed an act that “goes against the very peace process.”

The E.L.N.’s top commander, Eliécer Herlinto Chamorro, known by his nom de guerre, Antonio García, said in a statement, according to local reports, that the elder Mr. Díaz’s kidnapping had been “an error” and called his son, 26, a symbol for Colombia.

The younger Mr. Díaz, who is known as Lucho, has shone for his country’s national team. He rose from playing for his local Indigenous team to larger clubs in Colombia, eventually landing at Liverpool with a contract worth more than a reported $60 million. Mr. Díaz’s father was a gifted amateur player in Barrancas and trained his son.

The Liverpool player sat out the first game after his father’s kidnapping but returned to action on Sunday. After scoring a late game-tying goal in a 1-1 draw against Luton, he pulled up his jersey to reveal an undershirt that read, “Freedom for Papa” in Spanish.

After the game, he pleaded for his father’s release.

“Every second, every minute, our distress grows,” he wrote in a statement. “My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, anguished and without words to describe what we’re feeling. This suffering will only end when we have him back home.”


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