(Associated Press) – DUITAMA, Colombia – It’s one of the most heart-tugging tales of Colombia’s long civil conflict: Rebels appear at the jungle home of a poor farmer carrying a 7-month-old boy with bandaged left arm.
The farmer tells them that the medicine man they seek isn’t around. They leave the baby anyway, and promise to return the following day. But they don’t. The abandoned child won’t see his hostage mother until an emotional reunion after she is finally freed from captivity three years later.
Now an award-winning movie about the case has itself become a part of the drama.
Clara Rojas, who gave birth to Emmanuel in 2004 while a hostage of Colombia’s main leftist rebel group, has asked a court to prevent the film, “Operation E,” from being shown in the country, saying it would harm her child and “the free development of his personality.”
A ruling could come this week in a case that has brought Rojas under criticism from anti-censorship advocates including writers, film critics and even President Juan Manuel Santos, a former newspaperman.
Rojas was campaign manager for presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt when the two were seized by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, in 2002.
Her story of a jungle relationship with a still-mysterious rebel and childbirth through a difficult Caesarean section, of having the baby taken from her and of their tender reunion, has long enthralled Colombians, whose nation was especially traumatized by rebel kidnappings in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Rojas objects to the movie’s focus on the farmer, Jose Crisanto Gomez, who she says held her son “captive” for seven months before turning him over the Colombia’s child welfare agency.
The Spanish and French filmmakers say they were intrigued by Gomez’s story because he claimed not to have known until Rojas’ release that the fair-skinned baby brought to him by rebels was born to a political hostage.
Officials have doubted that claim, initially protecting Gomez then prosecuting him.
The government put him in a witness protection program in late 2007 after the FARC came to him demanding he return the baby. But in May 2008, four months after Rojas was freed, he was jailed on charges including kidnapping, rebellion and giving false testimony.
Last April, he was freed, having never been tried, though the chief prosecutor’s office is appealing Gomez’s release.
Rojas, a 49-year-old attorney who runs a foundation that assists relatives of kidnap victims, declined to discuss the matter with The Associated Press. But her court action has created an uproar among Colombia artists who say freedom of expression is at stake.
A leading exponent of that view has been Santiago Gamboa, a Colombian writer who was on the jury of the Biarritz, France, film festival that gave a best-actor award to the man who plays Gomez, Luis Tosar.
“Clara Rojas can’t say that Gomez is bending the truth because Clara Rojas doesn’t own the truth,” he said.
President Santos agreed with Gamboa in a Dec. 29 tweet. “We should not begin to censor any expression of art, as a film can be.”
Gomez, 44, is a small, stocky man who denies ever being associated with the FARC, saying they were simply “the authority” in the area, where he grew coca, the basis for cocaine.
He has had a tough time since taking his family away from his farm in San Jose de Guaviare after rebels came looking for him to try to get back Emmanuel, who had wound up in a foster family until the state finally tracked him down.
Gomez’s wife left him, though he continues to live with her father, the medicine man, and his seven children in Duitama, a peaceful dairy town north of Bogota known for its cheese.
But the film has been a boon for Gomez.
Its producers paid him an undisclosed sum to serve as an adviser, even while he was still in prison, said one of them, Farruco Castroman of Spain’s Zirco Zine.
And last year, he spent three months in Europe at screenings of the film, including at the San Sebastian festival in Spain.
Castroman said the filmmakers tried to negotiate with Rojas and offered her 1 per cent of box offices receipts in Colombia. He said she wanted 1 per cent of global receipts.
Shortly after the film was released in Europe last year, the legal action began.
Gomez, meanwhile, is looking for a job, and promoting the film to whomever will listen.
“You understand it’s not a documentary, he said. “It’s a film with lots of nuance, that provokes thought.”