Colombia: The ELN and what the release of two captured soldiers has shown

by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh (Colombia, 18 February 2020)

Two soldiers, Jhony Andrés Castillo Ospino and Jesús Alberto Muñoz Segovia, fell into the hands of the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN; National Liberation Army).  Their capture produced the usual reactions that they had been kidnapped when in fact they were prisoners of war. When the ELN provided proof the soldiers were alive, the criticism didn’t end.  When they were freed, one would have thought that everyone would be happy.  But it turns out not to be the case; it seems that worst thing the ELN did was free the soldiers, safe and sound and, in addition, with a good attitude.

In this case, the press was annoyed by their release.  It seems that a tragic outcome was the preferred option, that two dead soldiers was a better option than handing them over alive.  But of course, as in the case of witnesses and the False Positives, those left alive talk and what they say might be uncomfortable.

The proof of life video had elements that might look like it was contrived, in terms of the soldiers’ statements, as they said things that favoured the ELN regarding their treatment of prisoners etc.  The captured soldiers were not used to speaking in front of a camera in such a formal manner though, to be honest, the worst thing about that video is the music the ELN put in the background.  It is notable that the quality of ELN videos depends on the front that produces them and the producer in charge. Though there are good productions, they are not always the best, but at the end of the day they are a guerrilla organisation and not an audio-visual franchise.

But when the soldiers were released, they could speak freely and the production fell to those who earn their daily bread in news production.  However, it all backfired.  The soldier Jhony Andrés spoke to the press and said he was happy to be able to see his family again, and it is worth pointing out that as a low-ranking professional soldier, that doesn’t happen often even though they are at liberty, as they are barely given a month to see their families.  The other eleven months of the year they spend kidnapped by the murder machine known as the National Army of Colombia.

If he had stuck to just affirming his desire to see his family, it would have been fine.  But no, whilst Segovia said that “I feel happy about how I spent time with those people, when we dealt with them, chatted to them and also the good treatment we received from them.”(1)

But as the press reported, Jhony Andrés Castillo Ospino went further than talking about good treatment: “To be honest, they treated me well from that start, you know, I felt at home with them.  In truth I have nothing bad to say about them, or about ill-treating me.” Later when he was asked how he felt about getting to see his family again, he stated: “Really happy, happy but at the same time sad as I was getting to like them.”(2)

The article quoted suggested, “The soldier may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome which created affection towards one’s captor in vulnerable situations.”(3)  Of course, the only explication for his statements is that he is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, it couldn’t be anything else.  We should clarify from the outset that this syndrome is disputed amongst mental health professionals.  It doesn’t really exist, it is fiction.  Psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who invented the condition, is a promoter of many reactionary theories on crime and prison such as zero tolerance for drug consumption i.e. the mass imprisonment that we have seen of poor blacks and Latinos in the USA.  He emphasises individual blame in relation to any crime.  In 1973 when three women and a man were taken hostage in a bank, he came along to work with the police in the negotiations.  As the hostages showed some sympathy towards the assailants, he explained it away as a medical condition, the Stockholm Syndrome, as there could be no other way of explaining it. How could they understand the kidnappers in the bank!

Bejerot rules out any concept of empathy, recognition of shared humanity and of course that a person harmed by another may see that their main real enemy is someone else and they wouldn’t be in the situation they are in if it were not for the greed of the capitalist system and that a person, even when suffering the violence of a criminal, may see in their attacker their peer and not their enemy.  More than a mental health professional, Bejerot is an apologist for the rampant individualism of capitalism where there is no society, only individuals.

Now the young soldier is just another sick person as he found that the ELN doesn’t eat newly-born children, does not torture captured soldiers and that he was better treated as a captive of the ELN than in the army where he participated “voluntarily”.  He met his peers and was well-treated.

The worst treatment is received when someone is presented as a False Positive by the National Army of Colombia, or where they torture or disappear someone.  But that didn’t happen to the two soldiers.  That doesn’t happen to soldiers who fall into the hands of the ELN, that only happens to those who fall into the hands of the National Army.  If the so-called Stockholm Syndrome exists, they are the millions who vote for Uribe, those that voluntarily join Colombia’s armed forces and not those soldiers who, having seen the reality of the country and come out with favourable declarations on the insurgency, the ELN, that does not propose to torture or disappear anyone.

Dubious syndromes can be cast aside; it can be accepted that in that soldier is the reality of those who fight on one side and another. But, at the same time, we should be clear that the future of that soldier does not look good.  Either powers-that-be will force him to withdraw his statement or they themselves will kill him in a “battle” in order to be able to say to the country, “look what the ELN did”.  In either case the life of that soldier is now in danger, not from those who captured him but from his supposed friends in the armed forces of Colombia and the media.  If I were him, I would look at demobilising and even consider exile in another country, maybe amongst those other demons and monsters in Venezuela.


(1) Kienyke, Soldado secuestrado por ELN se había encariñado de sus captores
(2)  Ibíd.
(3)  Ibíd.


  1. You write: “If I were him, I would look at demobilising and even consider exile in another country, maybe amongst those other demons and monsters in Venezuela.”
    Yes Venezuela had been pretty good until US sanctions to stop them competing with US fracked oil I imagine.
    Very good orchestra as they had got a scheme going to teach musical instruments to poor children. But now those musicians have to leave the country for work I believe.
    But here a few years back, world piano soloist Yuja Wang and Deutsche Grammophon Gesselschaft choose a Venezuelan orchestra to make a recording:

  2. A lot of this stuff will have behind it the drive to preserve “democracy.” Gaddafi of Libya was assassinated after he was getting too successful at moving towards a currency in Africa independent of the dollar.

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