Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s an immense pleasure and honour for me to be with you tonight. It’s kind of magic, because two months and three days ago, I was still in the jungle; I was chained to a tree and I just couldn’t think or just imagine that I would be addressing this very important conference today.
It is an honour because I am very aware that there is not any reason that I can think of to be honoured with this price; but I receive it with an immense joy, happiness and humility also, because I think by being with you today here, I am receiving this price in the name of those who are still suffering in the jungle of Colombia and of those in the world that are living in similar conditions and who cannot speak for themselves freely.
It is so important for me to tell you that during all these seven years in the jungle, the only way I could have contact with the world was through you, through all the journalists, through all the media that were everyday giving us that link with the world.
So, in a way, I am here saying thank you to you for giving me this price, but at the same time, I am thinking that this price should belong to you; I should be the one giving a very big price to all those who make people know about the suffering of others.
When you are confronted with a situation, like the one I lived through, there are many thing you think about in a different perspective: in a way, I was – and my companions in the jungle still are – part of a game that tricked us.
In the game of war-lords and, when your life is at stake and others have to take decisions of what is going to happen to you, then you begin to think about things in a different way and I would like to share those thoughts with you. We are all confronted with making choices during the course of our lives: we make choices in our daily lives, in our family lives, in our professional lives – we all make choices.
But, the thing is that there are two ways of making choices. You can choose according to interest – your interest, the interest of your community, the interest of your country, the interest of the world – or, you can choose according to principles and values.
And, I think we should always choose according to principles and values.
This is something very easy to say and I know everybody says it today. But sometimes you’re confronted with principles that are rejecting each other – they are the opposites. In any case, I could see how the decision was bound to two values: One, the interest of states, the interest of fighting terrorism; and, the other, the value of life.
The value of the life of individuals – not so precious for the people taking decisions on our lives. So, if I would like to say something today, it is that, whenever you have to take a decision, think of me. Remember that it is very easy to be politically correct, but there is something else that is more important than being politically correct; which is, moral and spiritual correctness.
And, when you have to choose, always, always choose life.
Even, if there are other principles that could seem at that moment, more important. Today, the world is confronted with the War on Terrorism; we speak about casualties, collateral damages, statistics.
That’s not true – we’re not statistics. Behind every number, there is a tragedy, a human tragedy. So, it’s important that we understand, what we do has to deal with human lives and that, perhaps, it is true that we cannot change the world, but, we can change the life of one individual.
And, I believe that by doing so, we’re beginning to change the world.
The media – all of you – changed my life.
I was abducted for 7 years and I was forgotten, until the day you decided to talk about our fates – the fate of those, who’re abducted in Colombia; and, when you spoke about my family, about my personal story, you were changing my life.
The exposure that I had in the media during all those years was a life-guarantee for me. I wasn’t killed when I tried to escape; they re-captured me. It was because the eyes of the world were, through you, on them and on their decisions. I believe that it is very important that you understand, how powerful the media is in the life of those who suffer. You can really make a difference. So, perhaps, by saving one life, we’re saving one world and principles and values – we’re making the difference.
For me, it is also very important to stress that in the world of confrontation we’re living in today, the options we have taken are, perhaps, not the ones we should have approached. In the war against terrorism, we are saying that we have to oppose terrorists with force, with arms, with war. Those are the tools of the criminals – we have a better tool, which is: dialogue.
We cannot accept our world today to be in a state of craziness. We cannot just say that the solution is to use war and weapons to solve problems.
I say this because, in the way I was saved or rescued by the Colombian army, there was what I believe to be a difference made by the pressure the media and the dialogue that Europe and the government of Colombia held on our case.
If the media, if the governments of Europe, if all of you hadn’t fought for us, probably, the rescue operation would have been a bloody affair.
Because the world, because you, demanded to preserve our lives, they were able to make this incredible operation that was done without fighting, without bloodshed and I think this is important to understand that the pressure we all created made decision-takers to change their ways in solving this problem.
You did it for me, we have to do it for the others who remain in the jungle, for those who’re still hoping that they will be free and alive one day.
I think that the world we’re in is different from the one our forefathers knew: in the past, you could speak about a problem and wait until time would solve them.
It is not the case today.
Our generation has to confront very serious problems and has to give fast solutions. I am thinking, for example, about climate change. When I was a child, we wouldn’t have spoken about the problems of pollution and energy scarcity – it was so far away. Today, we have to come up with an answer – to many problems. And, I think about my fellow hostages, who are still in the jungle. The solution for them is not just to wait for time to pass by. Time will not be the solution for them.
We need to act, we need to force a solution, we need to speak for them. We need to make a difference and that’s why being with you today and receiving this price, is so important for me.
Because I am sure that with your help, we will get a quick solution.