Manuel Díaz, the 56-year-old father of FC Liverpool forward Luis Díaz, has been handed over to Colombian authorities by his captors from the National Liberation Army (ELN). The release of “Mane” Díaz after 12 days as a hostage of the Maoist guerrilla took place in the foothills of the remote Serranía del Perijá. Manuel Díaz has been taken at gunpoint on October 28.
Accompanying the release were representatives from the United Nations’ Verification Mission, Catholic Church, and Public Defenders Office. Manuel Díaz is being escorted to the capital of the department of César – Valledupar – in a Red Cross detailed helicopter assigned to the humanitarian mission.
The father of the Premiere League player was expected to have been released from captivity last weekend, but according to the guerrilla, military operations in the northeast of Colombia prevented his hand-over. Manuel Díaz was kept in a camp along the Colombia – Venezuela border. In a statement issued by ELN, the organization’s Central Command (COSE) had warned the national government of President Gustavo Petro that a large swath of area covering La Guajira and César “remains militarized, with overflights, troop landings, and an intense search operation.”
According to ELN, “the situation hinders the rapid and secure execution of the liberation plan, where Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz’s safety is at risk.” On Monday, the Army began withdrawing troops from the Venezuela border as confirmed by Colonel Giovanni Montañez. Defense Minister Iván Velásquez disclosed to news outlets that Mr.Díaz was being held in the remote and mountainous Serranía del Perijá, shared by both Colombia and neighboring Venezuela.
Manuel Díaz was kidnapped with his wife Cilenis Marulanda at a gas station in Barrancas (La Guajira). The footballer’s mother was released that the same day, given widespread national and international condemnation. Luis Díaz had repeatedly posted messages on social media asking for the liberation of his father. “Every second, every minute, our anguish grows; my mother, my siblings, and I are desperate, anguished, and without words to describe what we are feeling,” stated the footballer. The athlete then scored an equalizer on Sunday in a match between FC Liverpool and Luton Town, where he displayed to a full stadium a T-shirt under his uniform with the phrase: “Freedom For Dad.”
This emotional display at an international sporting venue, and growing concerns from Colombians that the ELN did not provide any proof of life since his abduction, resulted in the guerrilla accepting in a letter dated November 5, that that “understood the anguish of the Díaz Marulanda family, and will abide by their word to release him unilaterally.” The letter was signed by ELN’s Northern Front José Manuel Martínez Quiroz.