Colombian Insurgents Kidnap Christian Agronomist

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

FARC 34th Front holds Ahimer Velasquez and municipal co-worker hostage.

by Deann Alford

AUSTIN, Texas, April 27, 2004 (Compass) -- A Roman Catholic priest who mediates hostage crises has confirmed that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels are holding hostage the brother of a well-known Medellin pastor after kidnapping him on March 17.

Insurgents of the FARC 34th Front confirmed that they are holding Ahimer Velasquez, an evangelical Christian agronomist, and his co-worker, Luis Carlos Herrera. Velasquez, 31, is the youngest brother of Carlos Velasquez, a pastor and prominent leader of Prison Fellowship in the department (state) of Antioquia, Colombia.

Father Giovani Presiga, a priest working with Social Pastoral, the humanitarian arm of the Diocese of Santafé de Antioquia, said that rebels told him days after the kidnapping they are holding the two men.

Ahimer Velasquez works for the municipality of Caicedo, a town about 80 miles west of Medellín. In the early evening of March 17, he drove a motorcycle to pick up Herrera at a community meeting center where Herrera was holding classes for about 35 crop producers in the mountains near Caicedo.

At 8 p.m., a dozen guerrillas armed with machine guns entered the meeting and demanded that Velasquez and Herrera leave with them, Carlos Velasquez said.

The mountains are impassible by vehicle, so kidnappers mounted mules and horses and took the two men away. Carlos Velasquez said that the guerrillas loaded the motorcycle on the back of a horse and took it with them as well.

Carlos Velasquez led his brother to Christ four years ago. He said that the FARC insurgents have been “fishing” -- looking for victims who might prove to be lucrative catches for ransom.

Later, FARC realized that although both men worked for the government, neither had money or power.

“We don’t know what they want” in exchange for the men’s freedom, Carlos Velasquez said. He and Presiga believe the FARC will use the men to seek concessions from the government.

Presiga said that he has known Ahimer Velasquez for years as the two have long supported each other’s agricultural development projects in this volatile region. Presiga appealed to the kidnappers to have compassion on Velasquez as a man who carries out greatly needed humanitarian projects that help the needy.

“What we’re hoping for here is that they can make a goodwill gesture” by releasing him, Presiga said.

The priest said he’s doubtful that the government will concede any demands the guerrillas may make, yet he remains “very optimistic” that the guerrillas will safely release him.

Ahimer Velasquez and his wife of six years, Mery Gaviria, have two children: Mateo, 5, and Jerónimo, 3.

“The hope is that he be freed alive and soon because his family is waiting for him at home,” Carlos Velasquez said.

The village of Caicedo achieved dubious fame on April 21, 2002, when FARC insurgents kidnapped Antioquia Governor Guillermo Gaviria and former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri while the men were leading hundreds of peace marchers from Medellin to Caicedo. The two officials were killed a year later during a military rescue attempt.