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News of a Kidnapping is an emotional retelling of one of Colombia’s darkest eras

Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash

*Content Warning: Discussion of violence*

After becoming the main name in magic realism with titles such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez returns to his journalistic roots with News of a Kidnapping, based on the retellings of the victims who entrusted the writer to tell their story.

Amazon Prime released a titular show adaptation of the book in August and it gives a small glimpse of background information in order to understand the complex situation that led to the events. There is a QR code at the beginning of each episode with a link to a WhatsApp message conversation with a bot that has further information. However, here is a deeper background dive into what you need to know before watching.

Noticias de un Secuestro (News of a Kidnapping) is based on real events in Colombia in 1990. In the 90s, Colombia was on its way to being one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Drugs plagued the country, and there was an ongoing conflict between the right and the left which would soon overlap with the war on drugs campaign in the United Statesthat would follow it for decades. At the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, the government was trying to find a way to end his and other drug traffickers’ influence on the country.

The government then had a plan to extradite drug traffickers to be tried in the United States. The drug traffickers, led by Escobar took the name of “Los Extraditables” (The Extraditable) and started kidnapping high-profile journalists and politicians in order to avoid being sent to the United States. In November of 1986, “Los Extraditables” released the phrase that would be used throughout their terror attacks. “Preferimos una tumba en Colombia a un calabozo en los Estados Unidos” (We prefer a grave in Colombia than a dungeon in the United States).

“The Extraditables” had a number of terrorist attacks late in 1989 in the span of five months; including the assassination of liberal leader and presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, and the bombing of an Avianca airplane that killed 107 passengers.

This is where the story starts. The book follows the story of different victims, but the show mainly follows Alberto Villamizar, a politician and diplomat whose wife Maruja Pachón, a journalist and politician, and his sister Beatriz Villamizar, also a journalist, are kidnapped in Nov. 1990. Alberto then does everything in his power to work alongside the president and others to negotiate and get them back safely. There is a connection that is believed to have targeted these individuals, Maruja’s sister is the widow of Galan, the presidential candidate that was assassinated the year before.

There are other kidnapped victims that the show follows such as Diana Turbay, lawyer and journalist and daughter to ex-president Julio Cesar Turbay whose story is just as gripping as Alberto and Maruja’s, and many other victims who are barely shown on the show.

This is an emotional story. It will either have your heart racing or it’ll stop it, the suspense and the thrill is well paced. It’ll play with your heartstrings as it shows the lengths humans are willing to go jumping back and forth with morality. It also shows how human behaviour is greatly influenced by material pressures which are often a result of policy. It shows how some people clearly didn’t want to be involved in these kidnappings, but they had no other choice. Overall, the show is worth watching. A harrowing look back at the darkest years in Colombian history.

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