The father of Colombian international footballer Luis Diaz, who was abducted last Saturday, is believed to be in the custody of the ELN, the last active guerrilla group in the country, with whom the Colombian government is currently engaged in peace talks, authorities confirmed on Thursday.
“Today we officially know that the kidnapping” of the father of the Liverpool football club forward “was carried out by a unit belonging to the ELN,” said Otty Patiño, the government’s official negotiator with the continent’s largest rebel group, in a statement.
As of Thursday, the ELN (National Liberation Army) had not claimed responsibility for the kidnapping through its traditional communication channels.
Luis Manuel Diaz, aged 56 according to Colombian media, and his wife Cilenis Marulanda, who has since been released, were abducted on October 28 at a gas station in Barrancas, their hometown near the Venezuelan border (northeast). The assailants, armed and riding motorcycles, carried out the kidnapping.
According to authorities, the kidnappers have not contacted the family to demand a ransom for the hostage’s release, and the prosecutor general, Francisco Barbosa, has mentioned that the victim “could be” in Venezuela.
The ELN operates in these border areas, which also serve as a refuge for dissidents from the FARC guerrilla group who did not sign the 2016 peace agreement, as well as paramilitary groups and common criminal organizations.
Over six decades of civil conflict, Colombia has witnessed approximately 38,000 kidnappings, predominantly by armed groups that fund their operations through ransom money and drug trafficking, as Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine.
During the initial search, at least 200 police officers, soldiers, commando members, cartographers, and aircraft pilots were involved.
The government demands the “immediate release” of Luis Manuel Diaz and reminds the ELN “that it is entirely responsible for ensuring his safety.”
Luis Manuel Diaz was an amateur coach at Barrancas’ sole football school, where his son showed promise from a young age. He played a significant role in the rapid rise of his 26-year-old son, known as “Lucho,” the first Colombian of indigenous origin to reach the pinnacle of global football. Indigenous people make up 4.4% of the country’s population.
Luis Diaz has earned 43 caps for Colombia and transferred to Liverpool from the Portuguese club FC Porto last year for €60 million. He has played in eleven matches this season, scoring three goals. The forward was ranked 17th in the 2022 Ballon d’Or (not among the top 30 this year) and was one of the top scorers in the 2021 Copa America.
Around a hundred people dressed in white took to the streets of Barrancas on Thursday, chanting “Free him now,” and placards demanding his release were displayed throughout the town of nearly 40,000 inhabitants.