Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt took the stage and shook her hips to a Colombian superstar’s guitar riffs, leading the crowd in chants of “Freedom for all!” at a concert Sunday dedicated to captives held by Colombia’s FARC rebel group.
Thousands of people turned out for the free concert at Paris’ Place du Trocadero, which was awash in the red, yellow and blue colors of the Colombian flag.
Juanes kicked off the show, which coincided with Colombia’s independence day, with an emotional rendition of the South American country’s national anthem. Spanish singer Miguel Bose and other musicians took part in the concert.
Juanes was joined onstage by Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician who was freed earlier this month after more than six years of captivity at the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
“A page has been turned,” Juanes told The Associated Press, referring to Betancourt’s rescue July 2 in a daring operating by the Colombian army. “But the book remains open and it’s a heavy one.
Latin America’s last major rebel army holds dozens of hostages in jungle jails, some for more than a decade. Colombia’s government estimates the rebels have 700 hostages, but acknowledges that tally includes people kidnapped since 1996, many of whom have likely died.
For “all those who are waiting for the miracle of their release, we must continue to mobilize,” said Betancourt, a former Colombian senator who was kidnapped while campaigning for the presidency in 2002. Her family’s tireless campaigning helped make her a cause celebre in France, with President Nicolas Sarkozy making her liberation a foreign policy priority.
In addition to the concert in Paris, rallies were held across Colombia and in 40 cities around the world, including London, Miami and New York.
In Colombia, hundreds of thousands of people clad in white and chanting “No more kidnapping!” attended marches and concerts. Colombian musician Shakira performed in the jungle border city of Leticia after singing the national anthem at a military parade presided over by President Alvaro Uribe, with the presidents of Brazil and Peru attending.
“Today is a historic day. We unite, unite our voices in a single shout: Liberty!” Shakira said.
Uribe said 120,000 musicians were taking the stage in cities and villages across Colombia.
During the Paris event, Betancourt also spoke out for other prisoners held throughout the world, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in her native Myanmar, and Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas-allied militants in 2006.
Speaking in Spanish, Betancourt addressed a message to FARC leader Alfonso Cano.
“Wherever you are in the jungle … understand that this is no longer a time to spill more blood,” she said. “It’s time to put down the weapons and exchange them for roses.”
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who had campaigned for Betancourt’s release, urged her supporters to continue their mobilization.
“We don’t have the right to not build on the joy of finding Ingrid free,” said Delanoe, a Colombian flag wrapped around his shoulders. “Our duty is still to fight for freedom, notably the freedom of the hostages in Colombia.”
A bold ruse by Colombia’s military succeeded in spiriting Betancourt and 14 other hostages to freedom. Days after her liberation, she flew to France, where she received a hero’s welcome.
Beatriz Barrera, a Colombian who has been living in France for four years and attended the Paris concert, said she wanted to send a message to the FARC that “enough is enough.”
The 40-year-old domestic worker said she was touched by how many people had turned out for the concert.
“We feel the support of the French and it’s great,” she said. “We Colombians know we’re not alone.”