About Kidnap Radio
I was 19 when my father was kidnapped in Colombia. It was 1999. My mother came to my college campus to deliver the news and I flew to Bogota to be with my family for a few weeks. (My mother is American, my father’s Colombian and they divorced when I was 5.) After that, except for brief trips for a wedding and a funeral, I didn’t go back to the country where I was born until I traveled there to report this piece in the spring of 2009.
I was able to make the trip thanks to Jay Allison. I met Jay in Woods Hole through Ibby Caputo, a dear friend and a former intern at Atlantic Public Media. After hearing part of the story of my father’s kidnapping and rescue, Jay suggested I undertake this project and guided me along the way.
I asked my father to meet me in Bogota for a long weekend in April so that I could interview him. I had heard bits and pieces about the kidnapping in the intervening years – when I would visit our family– but in the course of our interviews I realized I had known very little about what he’d endured: All I knew was our family’s side of the ordeal.
My father’s kidnapping began on November 22, 1999 and ended August 13, 2000. He was kidnapped by the FARC and kept in 38 different places, spending the first months of his kidnapping alone, with only his guards and a radio, for company.
After talking to my dad, I went on my own to the radio station in Bogota, Caracol Radio, that had sent out messages from my family to my father, and continues to send messages to hostages from their families every Saturday night from midnight to 6 a.m. The show is called Voces del Secuestro, or Voices of Kidnapping. (There are several other stations in Colombia that send messages out on other days of the week). The host, Herbin Hoyos, is a journalist who started this program in 1994, after he was briefly kidnapped and scolded by another hostage for not using the radio to reach out to hostages.
Since then, Hoyos has broadcast messages from the family members of the kidnapped every weekend, despite threats from the FARC and assassination attempts (the most recent sent him into exile in Europe this fall). Today, around 50 messages go out on every show; at the height of the kidnapping craze, there were as many as 100, much shorter messages.
As I sat in the radio station listening to the messages, which are somewhere between prayers and diary entries, I noticed that many of the people calling in to the station were talking to relatives who had been gone for several years, sometimes for as long as a decade. Like my dad, they were kidnapped because the FARC and other groups, including right-wing paramilitaries and gangs with no political agenda, had made kidnapping a major industry in Colombia. Unlike my dad, these people hadn’t come back.
Some were almost certainly alive, like the soldiers and policemen held as political prisoners in the war between the FARC and the Colombian military. But others whose names were on the radio – civilians, by and large – were missing and unaccounted for.
Their families became the focus of my piece. Thanks to Maria Isabel Campos, the producer of Voices of Kidnapping, I was able to reach more than a dozen of these families in Bogota, including Ismael and Amalia Marquez. This couple has been keeping track of all the kidnapped families since their son, Enrique, was kidnapped in 1999. When I asked Amalia for help reaching others, she took out a tattered address book and turned to a page with my own family’s name and phone number.
It was chilling to uncover this corollary to my life – our life – this family of people who are bound only by the loss of a family member and a radio show. I dedicate this piece, Kidnap Radio, to them. They opened their doors to me, and taught me whatever it is that I have tried to convey with it.
From Print to Radio
This is not my first encounter with radio – in 2006 I took a radio ...
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