On May 30 rebels of the National Liberation Army stormed the church of LaMaria in Cali, Colombia, during Mass and kidnapped more than 150 people. The children captured were soon released, but about 40 adults are still being held in terrible conditions high in the thick jungle. Evening temperatures can drop below freezing and the hostages do not have blankets or warm clothing.
Demonstrations numbering up to a half million people have been held regularly in Colombian cities of Cali and Medellin calling for the release of the hostages. The bishop of Medellin excommunicated the kidnappers July 30, including their leader who is a fallen away priest who embraced a radical form of liberation theology.
Lisa Chrustic, whose father Roy Saykay is one of the hostages still being held, has mounted an internet campaign — at http://www.bring-them-home.org — to free him and the others. Regular reports that the hostages will be freed have turned out to be false, continually dashing the hopes of the families.
Register Radio News correspondent Jay Dunlap interviewed Chrustic from her home in New Jersey on Aug 13.
Jay Dunlap: How is your family coping with your father's ordeal?
Lisa Chrustic: Well I think at this point we almost expect to be disappointed. You sort of get used to that. But you can't help but be disappointed. You're waiting for every little bit of information that you think you're going to get.
So when it was announced that the last group of prisoners was going to be released, we didn't expect that my father would be [released], but we thought we might be able to get more information about the conditions that they're living in, how they're being treated, and if they're okay.
We also do know that the groups don't really see each other, so we wouldn't get personal information about my father; we would just be able to get general information about how they're being held and treated.
You did receive one note the rebels allowed your father to write. What was in that note and what do you know about the conditions he's in?
Initially he apologized for not being able to hug and kiss my stepmom goodbye when they were separated. So that was a little emotional. But he said under the circumstances he was fine.
He didn't say anything about his treatment. What he did say was a little bit vague. But he did say that it gets very cold at night. They don't have blankets and he was asking if there was any way my stepmom could arrange to bring things to the International Red Cross. He asked for shoes because they walk. Initially when they were taken they had to walk for days through the jungle to get to their location, and they are moved constantly. [Since] these people were taken from Church, they were dressed in nicer clothes, not as comfortable shoes. So he was asking for a pair of boots and blankets and a pair of sweat pants or sweatshirt. He also said that everyone would appreciate it if she could send some deodorant.
Have they been able to get supplies like that to the hostages?
Well, actually no. Initially when the Red Cross did go up the first time — and this was when that note came out — they were allowed to bring medical supplies and things that the National Liberation Army had personally requested. But the Red Cross did then request from the families things like toiletries.
Then my stepmother did bring over a pair of sneakers and a rain poncho, so that if it's raining he could stay dry. But we're not sure. We know for sure the toiletries and things never got up there. We think she did manage to get the sneakers there before he went up the first time. They were supposed to go up two times since then and bring supplies.
Each family packed a backpack and put in things like toothpaste and shampoo and combs, just basic things they can use to keep themselves clean, but those things were never taken up.
The National Liberation Army doesn't have a good relationship with the International Red Cross. From what I understand they don't let the woman who's in charge of the operation to bring things up, so they're not very cooperative with her. Since June 12 we have not received any more notes or letters and at this point we really don't know if he's still okay.
Has this been a test of faith for you and your family?
It really hasn't been a test of faith. It's definitely drawn us closer to God. I think people turn more to God in times of crisis and need, so that's pretty natural. So while I'm not an un-religious person I certainly think I'm spending a lot more time in prayer and reflection than I did before this happened.
Tell me about the web site you've put together and what kind of support you hope to draw from it.
The web site was put together to get the information about what happened out to more people. We were very disappointed early on that there was almost nothing in the news about what was happening in Colombia.
So it was very disappointing to us that we would call our representatives in the government and no one had any idea of what happened — especially the fact that there are American citizens being held. Our mission statement, so to speak, has been that we can't let these people be forgotten. The website is part of that.
The families in Cali are working very hard to keep the kidnapping in the news. They have set a big tent near the bullfight ring and they man it 24 hours a day.
They have computers and telephones and people come to show their support.