Hundreds of thousands of Colombians are expected to march throughout the country and in major cities around the world Monday to protest against this nation's oldest and most powerful rebel group.
What began as a group of young people venting their rage at the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Facebook, an Internet social-networking site, has ballooned into an international event called "One Million Voices Against FARC."
"We expected the idea to resound with a lot of people but not so much and not so quickly," says Oscar Morales, who started the Facebook group against the FARC, which now has 230,000 members. Organizers are expecting marches in 185 cities around the world.
The event is another example of how technology – such as text messaging on cellphones – can be used to rally large numbers of people to a cause. Some observers say it's less a response to the FARC's ideology than it is global public outrage over kidnapping as a weapon.
Colombia continues to be the world's kidnapping capital with as many as 3,000 hostages now being held. Anger over the practice has risen in recent months after two women released by the FARC last month after six years in captivity recounted the hardships they and other hostages endured.
Monday's protests have the support of the government, many nongovernmental organizations, and some political parties but its main battle cry of "No More FARC" has also polarized some Colombians rather than bringing them together.
While few Colombians support the Marxist insurgent army that has been fighting the Colombian state for more than 40 years, many people are uncomfortable with the message of Monday's rally. They would prefer a broader slogan against kidnapping and in favor of peace and of negotiations between the government and the rebels to exchange hostages for jailed rebels. The leftist Polo Democratico Party said it will hold a rally in Bogotá in favor of a negotiation but would not march. Some senators say they will march against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and other participants say they will be marching in favor of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Consuelo González de Perdomo, one of the two women released by the FARC on Jan. 10 said she would not be marching at all.
The families of the 45 remaining FARC hostages will not march either. "The way the march was called aims to polarize the country," says Deyanira Ortiz, whose husband, Orlando Beltrán Cuéllar, has been held by the FARC for six years. "It's not for the freedom of the hostages but against the FARC. And that doesn't serve any purpose."
Instead, the families and released FARC hostages will gather in churches to pray for the release of their loved ones and for a humanitarian agreement.
Rosa Cristina Parra, one of the original organizers of the march said the position of the hostage families is "completely understandable" and will not detract from the importance of the event. "We cannot forget the other victims of the FARC, the land-mine victims, the displaced people," she says.