Captive Radio

by Lauren Rosenfeld

“My Juan, the hope of seeing you again has sustained me—it has been my grandest dream throughout these 67 months and 28 days.  We have not stopped praying for the miracle of your return, my son.  And each passing day, I clutch onto your memory.  I put photos of you in many places—photos of you with that ever-present smile.”

                                    -Myriam Torres de Mora, Bogotá, September 10, 2011

Those words struck me when I first listened to The Voices of Kidnapping radio program. I felt a pang in my heart and a shudder through my bones when I heard this message from Myriam Torres de Mora to her kidnapped son.  I could not get her voice out of my head—or the voices of the dozens of other mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, sons and daughters who call into Bogotá’s Caracol radio station each week to speak to their captive loved ones.  Those voices inspired my journey to document the stories of families marred by kidnapping in Colombia, who desperately seek a way to cope with separation and find it through the airwaves.

I traveled to Colombia last winter to produce the short documentary, Captive Radio, for my master’s thesis at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.  The film follows two families that use The Voices of Kidnapping radio program to communicate with their loved ones held hostage by rebel guerrilla groups in Colombia. 

Guerrillas, paramilitaries and criminal gangs have kidnapped more than 20,000 people during four decades of civil conflict in Colombia.  The rate of kidnapping has decreased in the past decade, but hundreds of victims are still missing.  Colombia’s largest rebel guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, publicly renounced the kidnapping of civilians earlier this year.  And just this month, the Colombian government began a round of much anticipated peace talks with the FARC.  But human rights groups and civil society organizations claim that rebel guerrillas still hold civilian and military hostages.  The afflicted families demand information about the thousands of disappeared and freedom for all remaining captives.

Every Sunday morning from midnight to 6:00am inside the Caracol radio studio, the energy is high and producers buzz in and out of the sound booth as families wait their turn on the phone lines.  Herbin Hoyos directs the production of the show—the longest-running radio program for families of kidnap victims in Colombia. Week after week, for more than 17 years, Hoyos and his team have provided an outlet for people like Myriam Torres de Mora to reach out to their lost family members.  It’s the middle of the night and she and her husband are exhausted, their voices strained.  But they never miss the six-hour window as dawn breaks on Sunday morning to call into the show and speak to their son, Juan Camilo Mora—who they believe was snatched in a city parking lot by FARC guerrillas in 2006 and taken into the jungle. 

Myriam holds a small red notebook filled with the year’s weekly messages.   With her husband Rafael by her side, Myriam addresses their son, “My Juan, there are moments in life when it is not necessary to speak. But our emotions speak through a tear, a whisper, an embrace, in which we find solace.  It is so difficult to carry on a normal life.  I ask myself ‘what is normal when there is so much violence in this country, poverty, the displaced, kidnappings, disappearances, hunger?’…Your absence, Son, has marked our lives with pain, uncertainty—not knowing how you are—this emptiness that we feel in our hearts.  We miss you so much, my love.”

Myriam and Rafael look forward to this moment all week, every week. Since Juan Camilo was kidnapped, their only solace is prayer and the belief that he hears their messages on the radio.  They know from the testimony of former kidnap victims that many captives have access to radios—even in the far reaches of the dense jungle.  For some hostages, radios are a reward for good behavior and their only connection to the outside world.  Many who have been released or liberated over the years credit The Voices of Kidnapping for preserving their sanity and giving them strength to endure captivity.

Noemí Julio, who also appears in Captive Radio, has watched proof-of-life videos of her kidnapped son, Major Guillermo Javier Solórzano.  Guillermo sits in front of a camouflage background.  He is a handsome 31-year-old with dark hair and dark eyes, in seemingly good health.  “Today is my one-thousandth day without freedom.  It has been difficult and painful, but also comforting spiritually and I feel stronger.  I always listen to you, Mom, on the weekend programs. I am punctual, as you are.  The messages fill me with happiness and strength to continue on and not falter in this difficult battle. Through the magic of the radio, I hear what is happening in your lives.”

When people ask me what drew me to this story and why I pursued it, I think about the Moras, Noemí Julio, Guillermo, and the hundreds of families they represent.  For me, this story reaches far deeper than Colombia’s complex political history and conflict.  It is about human connection, blind faith, and the persistence of hope through hardship. 

“Captive Radio” is being screened at international film festivals and is nominated for a 2012 International Documentary Association Award.  The film will screen in the CLAS Conference Room, 2334 Bowditch Street, Tuesday, November 27 at 5:00pm.  The director will be present for Q&A.  For more information, visit: http://www.captiveradiofilm.com.

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