Guillermo Gaviria, the pro-legalization governor of Antioquia state held captive by leftist rebels of the Columbian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) for just over a year, was one of 10 hostages killed when Colombian military special forces stormed a rebel camp where they were being held since early last year. Also killed were former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri, captured along with Gaviria, and eight Colombian soldiers. The Colombian government and survivors said the 10 were executed on orders of a FARC commander as soldiers neared, but the FARC has claimed they died in the crossfire of a firefight. Three other hostages -- all soldiers -- were wounded.
The botched raid and deaths of hostages have led to condemnation of the FARC from human rights groups, the US government, and various voices within Colombia, but have also resulted in criticism of the military from hostage families and calls for the government of President Alvaro Uribe to implement a prisoner exchange program with the FARC. The FARC is holding some 80 hostages at various locations, including soldiers, congressmen, former minor party presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US civilian mercenaries, which it seeks to exchange for jailed guerrillas. The raid came as the FARC was maneuvering to begin serious negotiations about a prisoner exchange.
Gaviria and Echeverri were captured by the FARC last April as they led a peace march of a thousand activists through Antioquia, once home to Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel and currently wracked by violence between the FARC, the Colombian military and rightist paramilitaries (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/234.html#guillermogaviria). At the time, then President Andres Pastrana told Reuters he warned Gaviria the FARC would grab him if he led the march, while BBC reported that Gaviria had refused a police escort.
Gaviria was not marching against the FARC, he said before he was captured, he was marching for peace. For the governor, peace also meant working to end the prohibitionist drug policies that had brought such blood and ruin to his country. Just months before his capture, Gaviria -- whom DRCNet had hoped to invite to the "Out from the Shadows" conference last February if he had been free -- joined other Colombian governors in approving a resolution calling on his government to organize an international debate on legalization. "We cannot keep our heads between our legs and continue with the same strategies of 30 years ago," said Gaviria at the time. "Colombia must lead the discussion of the issue on the international stage to commit all the countries of the world without hypocrisy or double standards," he told El Espectador (Bogota). "There are no magic solutions, and legalization is not necessarily the solution, but I believe in controlled legalization," said Gaviria (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/201.html#groundswell).
Now, Gaviria is dead, only the latest among tens of thousands to be killed in Colombia's decades-long civil war -- a war at root not about the drug trade or drug use or drug prohibition, but one where drug prohibition and the resulting lucrative black market has fueled the killing. Whether the finger is pointed at the FARC for its cold-bloodedness, the Colombian military for its rescue fiasco, or President Uribe for his tough stand against negotiations with the rebels, or "terrorists" as he calls them, Gaviria is a victim of the war on drugs.
"We've been fighting this drug war for almost 40 years now, and all the formulas for attacking the producers and traffickers have not produced the results we sought," he told the Dallas Morning news at the time of the governors' resolution. "We have not reduced the flow of drugs. We have not reduced the amount of land under illicit cultivation. And we certainly have not reduced the amount of suffering our country is experiencing."