Luis Díaz’s father, who plays for the Liverpool football team, was released after being held captive by a Colombian guerrilla group for 13 days.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) surrendered Luis Díaz Sr to the Catholic church and the UN on Thursday afternoon, putting an end to nearly two weeks of global speculation about his location and increasing anxiety for his well-being.
On 28 October, Díaz Sr and his wife were kidnapped by a group of armed individuals in their hometown of Barrancas in the La Guajira state in northern Colombia. While Cilenis Marulanda, the mother of the footballer, was released shortly after, Díaz Sr was taken away on a motorcycle.
According to sources, he was reportedly kidnapped by the local mafia. However, the real identity of his abductors was disclosed on November 2nd when government officials negotiating with armed groups stated that the ELN, the oldest active guerrilla group in the country, was responsible for holding him captive.
On Thursday, Díaz Sr was seen on local TV channels arriving at an airstrip in Valledupar, located in Colombia’s Cesar province, after disembarking from a helicopter.
The government’s representatives at peace negotiations with ELN expressed their satisfaction with the release of Díaz Sr and stated that he is unharmed. However, they also condemned the kidnapping, stating that it should not have occurred.
“The current progress with the ELN has been unprecedented thus far. However, our team believes that the abduction of Luis Manuel Díaz has jeopardized our negotiations and thus, it is imperative for us to make decisions to eradicate kidnapping,” stated the spokesperson.
On 2 November, the leaders of ELN promised to release the 56-year-old, bringing hope for his quick release. However, Díaz’s family, as well as Colombians and football enthusiasts worldwide, were left in anticipation for almost a week before receiving news of his freedom.
Gustavo Petro, the president of Colombia, previously expressed disapproval towards the armed rebels for endangering the life of Díaz and hindering progress in peace talks with the government.
Petro informed journalists in Washington DC last Friday that the [ELN’s leadership] has shown a desire to release him at the earliest opportunity. However, as time goes by, the situation for Mr. Diaz becomes increasingly perilous.
The family of Díaz requested evidence this week to confirm his current state, as concerns for his well-being increased.
The ELN has accused the Colombian armed forces of causing delays in the search for Diaz, as they have been searching a mountain range near the border with Venezuela for any clues about his location.
The individual responsible for securing his release and whether or not the armed rebels were compensated for freeing him remains unknown at this time.
Díaz Jr joined Liverpool from Porto for €40m in January 2022, quickly proving himself one of the club’s most talented players and the Colombian national team’s brightest star. The 26-year-old was absent from Liverpool’s squad against Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest but returned to play Luton on Sunday, scoring an injury-time equaliser.
The capture of Díaz Sr by the ELN has drawn attention to the guerrillas’ human rights abuses and could potentially disrupt peace talks with armed groups in Colombia. In June of this year, the ELN made a commitment to a six-month ceasefire with the government and promised not to hold civilians captive.
According to Sergio Guzmán, the head of Colombia Risk Analysis, the abduction of the parents of a popular soccer player and public figure in Colombia is damaging to the trust in the peace negotiations. It also weakens the ELN’s credibility and makes it more difficult for the government to promote Total Peace as a viable solution to the country’s long-standing issues with violence and turmoil.