Like virtually all Colombians, former Sen. Luis Eladio Perez was elated last week when commandos tricked the country's largest guerrilla group into freeing 15 kidnap victims.
But Perez had a special reason to celebrate: He'd been chained to trees in the jungle with the three newly freed Americans and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt until the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, unilaterally liberated Perez and three other former Colombian lawmakers in February.
Now Perez is on the run, however. He flew to the U.S. on Wednesday after death threats made it clear that remaining in Colombia imperiled his life.
“It's a very sad situation,” Perez told McClatchy Newspapers from a safe house Tuesday night in Bogota. “I was just getting re-established here.”
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Perez, a close ally of Betancourt, thinks that the FARC issued the threats after a Colombian general implied that Perez had provided intelligence information to authorities who were planning last week's dramatic rescue. Perez said he'd played no role, and no evidence has emerged to contradict him.
His plight serves as a reminder of the deep and troubling problems that vex this nation, even as a poll shows that 73 percent of Colombians in the four biggest cities think in the wake of the rescue that their country is on the right track.
Colombia remains perhaps the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere. Politicians don't dare go out in public without bodyguards, right-wing paramilitary groups kill with impunity, and the FARC still sows violence with 8,000 men and women under arms.