In September, 1990, publisher Hernando Santos Castillo received word that his son Francisco had been abducted. His first reaction was to say “Thank God.” In many parts of the world, such a response might have been unthinkable, yet in the Colombia of Gabriel García Márquez’s News of a Kidnapping it was understandable. Abductions had become epidemic—but so had killings. As the author notes, “News of a kidnapping, no matter how painful, is not as irremediable as news of a murder.”
In News of a Kidnapping (originally published in 1996 as Noticia de un secuestro), García Márquez takes on the task—he calls it “the saddest and most difficult of my life”—of detailing the Santos abduction and nine others perpetrated in Colombia beginning in August, 1990. He describes this collective kidnapping as a “gruesome drama” that is only one component of a vast “biblical holocaust that has been consuming Colombia for more than twenty years.”
García Márquez offers a disturbing glimpse of that national calamity, focusing on the abductions while surveying the circumstances that enabled Colombian militants and drug traffickers like Pablo Escobar Gaviria to attain warlord and even folk hero status, amassing fortunes and entering mainstream politics while masterminding assassinations and kidnappings. According to García Márquez, their ascendance sent a clear message to the public: “The law is the greatest obstacle to happiness; it is a waste of time learning to read and write; you can live a better, more secure life as a criminal than as a law- abiding citizen—in short, this was the social breakdown typical of all undeclared wars.”
One of the most problematic outgrowths of this breakdown was the extradition policy that allowed Colombians to be taken from their homeland and tried in the United States. Extradition had resulted in the removal and imprisonment of drug kingpins as powerful as Carlos Lehder Rivas, but it also had raised the stakes of Colombian discord. Using the slogan, “We prefer a grave in Colombia to a cell in the United States,” the traffickers, who became known as the Extraditables, seemed willing to deploy all the means at their disposal—kidnapping included—to strengthen their influence and stay out of the reach of the U.S. judicial system.
Such was the backdrop of the abductions documented in News of a Kidnapping, which began just after the inauguration of President César Gaviria and just before the convening of a Constituent Assembly intended to bring about the first major Colombian reforms in decades. As their primary victim, the Extraditables targeted an individual closely associated with Colombia’s government and mass media—Diana Turbay, director of the television news program Criptón and daughter of former president Julio César Turbay (who had signed the extradition treaty). They ensnared her under the pretext that she was being escorted to an interview with the leader of the Army of National Liberation guerrilla movement. Also taken were five of her colleagues: editor Azucena Liévano, writer Juan Vitta, German journalist Hero Buss, and cameramen Richard Becerra and Orlando Acevedo.
At the end of September, two more people—Marina Montoya and Francisco Santos—fell into the hands of the Extraditables; like the other abductees, they were linked by family, friends, and occupation to leading politicians and the mass media. Marina, the sister of Colombian ambassador Germán Montoya, was abducted by three armed men. Francisco was the editor- in-chief of his father’s newspaper, El Tiempo; his abduction cost the life of driver Oromansio Ibáñez. In November, a group of armed men abducted Maruja Pachón de Villamizar and her colleague and sister-in-law Beatriz Villamizar de Guerrero on their way home from work at Colombia’s agency for film promotion. Their driver, Angel María Roa, was killed in the process.
Torn from their daily routines, estranged from their loved ones, and held captive by masked criminals, the abductees underwent profound psychological and physical duress. García Márquez conveys a sense of their displacement by integrating extensive journalistic reporting with “literary” devices—tinkering with chronology, withholding important details, and even introducing “red herrings.” Ultimately, his narrative illustrates how the lives of all the involved parties changed in the wake of the kidnappings, which resulted in Marina’s and Diana’s deaths before the release of the last two hostages, Maruja and Francisco, in May of 1991.
(The entire section is 1883 words.)