A person walks in front of a mural in the family home of Colombian soccer player Luis Diaz, in Barrancas, department of La Guajira, Colombia, 03 November 2023. EFE/ Ricardo Maldonado Rozo

In Barrancas, neighbors of Liverpool star Luis Díaz anxiously await his father’s release

Hugo Penso Correa

Barrancas, Colombia, Nov 3 (EFE).- On Friday, the 35,000 inhabitants of Barrancas, a mining town in northern Colombia where Luis Díaz, a striker for the English club Liverpool and the Colombian national team, was born, waited for the early release of his father, Luis Manuel Díaz, who was kidnapped last Saturday.

Following Thursday’s revelation by the head of the government’s delegation for peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Otty Patiño, that the kidnapping was carried out by this left-wing guerrilla group, hopes have been raised that the Premier League star’s father will soon be released, precisely because the group is involved in peace negotiations.

“I hope Mr. Mane will be released soon. Barrancas has never been an unsafe town, and this damages everyone’s image,” César Medina, a shopkeeper in this torrid city in department of La Guajira, told EFE.

The footballer’s parents were kidnapped on a road in Barrancas on Saturday while traveling in their car, but the mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was released hours later under police pressure.

Since then, at least 250 police and military personnel have been searching by land and air for the player’s father in a large area of southern La Guajira, on the border with Venezuela.

The pride of the people

Colombians know the name Barrancas for two reasons: the massive El Cerrejón open-pit coal mine, one of the largest of its kind in the world, and the violence that has gripped the region for years, where leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and local organized crime groups led by former governor Kiko Gómez have dominated everyday life for decades.

In this context, the rise of Luis Díaz as a wholesome soccer star of Wayúu Indigenous descent has become a point of pride for the community.

“I am ashamed in front of the world. Colombia is still an insecure country, and poor Lucho over there (in England) must be very worried about the fate of his father,” says Carmen, a neighbor of the family, who says she is waiting for the release of “Mane,” as the striker’s father is known, to greet him.

Everyone in town knows the Díaz Marulanda family’s house, and in front of it, under the shade of matarratón and laurel trees, a group of journalists from Colombian and international media ask the relatives who come and go if there is any news. Everyone’s answer is the same: “We’re still waiting.”

Caution is the norm in the statements of family and friends, so as not to say anything that could jeopardize the release of Luis Manuel.

Astor Alarcón, a local journalist who organized a sit-in to demand his release and who was preparing a welcome for him on Friday, stated that “the most important thing is that he be released in good health, for the good of all the people and especially for his family.”

While this expected moment arrives, the authorities continue to comb the surroundings of Barrancas in search of the father of the town’s most beloved son.

The General Command of the Armed Forces issued a statement in response to information that it had stopped the search, stating that “this is not true.”

The press release added that “on the contrary, efforts have been intensified with the arrival of more uniformed specialists in anti-kidnapping actions and differentiated capabilities for search and rescue.”

However, Luis Díaz’s father is not the only kidnap victim in the hands of the ELN; according to official data, 32 people have been victims of this crime by the guerrilla group this year. EFE

Several people leave the family home of Colombian soccer player Luis Diaz, where a large poster hangs with the image of his father, Luis Manuel Diaz, kidnapped last Saturday, in Barrancas, department of La Guajira, Colombia, 03 November 2023. EFE/ Ricardo Maldonado Rozo