After six days in captivity, Spanish journalist Salud Hernández has been freed, various Colombian news media outlets reported Friday afternoon.
Hernández was reportedly handed off by members of the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group near the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
“I am supremely grateful to the church and to my colleagues,” she said to media following her release. “Thank you to everyone who has prayed, who has been with me. I am perfectly well, there is no problem.”
Hernández also confirmed to El Tiempo that she had been held against her will the entire time. “I would not make my family suffer,” she said.
“Catatumbo is an area abandoned by the Colombian state, with tremendous social problems and I’m not sure how they’re going to be resolved,” said Hernández in a press conference shortly after she was freed.
Officials with the local Catholic church handled the situation, according to El Espectador.
“She is in good condition, which guarantees that we will continue working for peace and looking toward Catatumbo not with angry eyes or as a vipers’ nest but rather as a place where good people live and a place of peace,” said Gabriel Ángel Villa Vahos, bishop of the nearby town of Tibú.
Hernández went missing six days ago in Colombia’s Catatumbo region, a remote part of the country long known for it’s ties to criminal groups including the ELN and the Los Pelusos organized crime gang.
“I haven’t changed my opinion about you. I haven’t changed my opinion about kidnapping,” she said in the Friday press conference regarding the ELN guerrilla group. “Kidnapping is the stupidest thing that there is.”
Hernández also challenged locals to abandon coca cultivation as a way to make ends meet.
On Friday Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released a joint statement demanding that Hernández and two journalists from the RCN Noticias network be freed.
The RCN journalists who lost contact Tuesday, Diego D’Pablos and Carlos Melo, had been working on a report related to the disappearance of Hernández on Sunday.
Spain’s ambassador to Colombia Ramón Gandarias Alonso de Celis was reportedly traveling to Catatumbo Friday afternoon to personally oversee the situation.
Hernández has covered Colombia’s internal conflict for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper as well as for El Tiempo as a columnist for nearly two decades.
She had been working on a story in the Catatumbo region when she disappeared from the town of El Tarra on Saturday. She missed a flight to Bogotá on Sunday, which raised concerns about her wellbeing.
By Sunday afternoon, President Juan Manuel Santos had ordered the full force of Colombia’s police and military to find and return Hernández to safety. Santos traveled to Catatumbo on Friday.
“I want to celebrate the return to freedom, it’s something that fills all Colombians with happiness. But I also want to demand the freedom of the two RCN journalists,” said Santos on Friday.
The incident shocked the country given that the ELN had formally announced plans to enter peace talks with the Colombian government on March 30. The ELN has still not officially claimed responsibility for Hernández’ detainment, although various Colombian officials including Santos and Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, have asserted the guerrilla group’s involvement.
Both RCN journalists were still presumed in captivity as of Friday afternoon, but Hernández reportedly told journalists that the other two would be freed over the weekend.
“A reporter cannot report on El Tarra from Bogotá,” said Hernández on Friday. “Journalists must be allowed to work.”