An ex-governor freed Tuesday by leftist rebels stepped from a helicopter into the embrace of the wife and son he hadn't seen for 7 1/2 years — then said President Alvaro Uribe and the guerrillas are equally to blame for Colombia's still-festering conflict.
Alan Jara, 51, looked fit but thin, wearing a gray canvas hat and carrying a rucksack across which a battered and blackened pot was strapped.
The rebels handed Jara over to the International Red Cross in eastern jungles around midday. The Red Cross then flew him to the regional capital of Villavicencio, his hometown in the eastern lowlands.
"I've rested for 7 1/2 years," Jara told reporters at the airport. "Now it's time to get to work."
'Looks a little worn out'
Jara spent a private 20 minutes with his family, including 15-year-old son, Alan Felipe, who had lived half his life without his father.
"He looks a little worn out to me," Alan said. Jara noted that he had thyroid trouble and an unspecified eye problem.
Like most newly freed hostages, Jara was quick to offer his opinion on why Colombia's nearly half century-old, class-based conflict persists.
"It would seem this country's conflict suits President Uribe and it would seem the FARC — and this is the perversity — likes that Uribe is in power," Jara said during a rambling two-hour news conference.
He said Uribe's all-out war on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia hasn't weakened the insurgents.
Jara was the fifth hostage released this week by the FARC, which also has promised to free former provincial lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez, 45, on Thursday.
He said only a negotiated solution can end the conflict.
"I feel with all my heart that Uribe didn't do anything for our freedom," he said.
Uribe did not immediately respond to Jara's accusations, but he planned to fly to Villavicencio later Tuesday to meet with him.
Uribe: Free all hostages
Uribe insists this week's hostage releases are no more than attention-grabbing antics staged by the rebels to deceive Colombians about their true intent. He and foreign governments have called on the FARC to renounce kidnapping and free all its hostages.
Jara said he would tell Uribe that a prisoner swap should be negotiated urgently with the rebels. Leftist intellectuals, meanwhile, are hoping the rebel goodwill gesture will prod Uribe to open a dialogue that might end the FARC's decades-long fight.
But Uribe has resisted. His U.S.-backed military has dealt the peasant-based army a series of hobbling blows in recent months. And last year, he put a halt to international mediation efforts.
The rebels kidnapped Jara in July 2001 from a U.N. vehicle when he was visiting construction sites in Meta, the state he governed. The ex-governor was widely liked by fellow hostages, they have said, keeping his mind agile by playing chess and giving English lessons.
The FARC still holds at least 22 soldiers and police, some for more than a decade. The government says it does not know how many hostages remain in rebel hands.
Lopez, seized in April 2002 in a daring rebel raid on a provincial assembly, is the last politician believed held by the rebels. Six others were freed in early 2008 and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was rescued in a bloodless ruse last July along with three U.S. military contractors.
Tuesday's release was delayed after Colombian military flights flew over the site where four hostages were freed on Sunday. Uribe subsequently agreed to halt all flights in the handover zones.