Released politician pays an emotional visit to UNDP Colombia

02 Apr 2009

Alan Jara (front, in brown jacket) visited UNDP's office in Colombia.  He was freed this past February, after being held hostage following his abduction in 2001.
Photo: UNDP Colombia

Bogotá - With a heartfelt welcome, UNDP Colombia received Alan Jara, former governor of the Meta department, with warm embraces and a special tribute.

Jara was liberated by the FARC this past 3 February, after being held hostage for seven and a half years following his abduction on 15 July 2001, when he was forced from a United Nations security office vehicle while traveling in the company of then UNS Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Lars Franklin. The kidnapping took place on the road between the municipalities of Lejanías and Villavicencio, where a symbolic event had just taken place celebrating the desire for reconciliation of the communities of the Meta region.  The events provoked a strong statement from then Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanding his release.

Jara was governor of the department of Meta, one of the most conflict-ridden areas in the country with guerrilla groups, drug trafficking, paramilitarism, poverty and corruption. Because of these conditions, UNDP has designated Meta as one of the target regions for Redes, a UNDP project that focuses on social peacebuilding in areas of conflict within Colombia.

During his meeting at UNDP, Jara told poignant stories about his life in the jungle to UNDP staff members and representatives from other UN agencies, including UNIFEM, UNHCR, OCHA and UNIC, about his experiences while in captivity: the isolation of the hostages, the fear of Army bombs, the sadness of endless days without his family and of children growing up without their parents, and the anxiety of a liberation that was years in the making.  Still, the hardships failed to destroy his sense of humor, love for life or his desire to be productive even in the midst of adversity.  In fact, Jara took advantage of his time in captivity to share his knowledge, teaching Russian and English to his fellow kidnapped victims, and soldiers and policemen who are still interned in the Colombian jungle. 

A particularly emotional moment at the meeting occurred when Jara mentioned Franklin, a then-representative of the organization who tried to prevent his abduction by stepping between the guerrilla members and Jara. UNDP Colombia Resident Representative Bruno Moro presented Jara and his wife, Claudia Rugeles, with a copy of Franklin’s biography published by UNDP. Jara and his wife took then expressed their gratitude to the UN for its behind-the-scenes efforts to secure his release, which took place 3 February thanks to the hard work of the group Colombians for the Peace, the ICRC and the government of Brazil. The entire country was moved that day by the images of Jara descending from the Brazilian helicopter, after a nearly eight-year absence, and falling into the arms of his wife Claudia and his son Alan Felipe, who is today an adolescent.

Ex-governor Jara expressed his support for an eventual political dialogue with guerrilla groups, with the purpose of protecting the lives of those still in captivity.