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HomeSportsLiverpool footballer Luis Diaz's father kidnapped: A family's account

Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz’s father kidnapped: A family’s account

Josher Jesus Brito Diaz was unfazed when his phone rang. As the man in charge of his cousin’s charity — the Luis Diaz Esperanza Foundation — and part of the Liverpool winger’s immediate circle, life is always busy. Such is the reality of being in the first family of La Guajira, the remote region in northern Colombia that calls Diaz its most famous son. On Sunday, October 29, Josher’s uncle Gaby was up for election to a council seat in Barrancas, a town dominated by the Cerrejon open-cast coal mine where both Josher and his footballer cousin were born. The Saturday had been a day of frantic activity for Josher — driving, carrying and fetching. Diaz’s parents, Luis Manuel Diaz and Cilenis Marulanda, had also been assisting. “We were preparing for the elections the next day,” Josher tells The Athletic. “Organising the logistics, transporting people to the polling station. My phone kept ringing, but I had no idea why. “I picked up 30 minutes later. That’s when they told me: ‘Your uncle Luis has been kidnapped’.” Over the next 12 days, Josher took on the responsibility of becoming the intermediary between police and the Diaz family at the heart of the biggest story in Colombia and world football. These stories do not always end happily — but, last Thursday, November 9, Luis Manuel was released by the ELN (National Liberation Army/Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional), a left-wing guerrilla group described as a terrorist organisation by Colombia, the United States and the United Nations. This week, Diaz returns to Colombia for the first time since the kidnapping as his national team hosts Brazil in a World Cup qualifying tie in the northern city of Barranquilla on Thursday. Diaz’s father, nicknamed Mane, once sold street food to pay for his son to travel for trials in that city — he would eventually join Atletico Junior, Barranquilla’s biggest club, at 17. Even after his son’s success, Luis Manuel continued to live in Barrancas, where he had founded a small soccer school for the children of workers at the imposing Cerrejon mine — one of the largest in the world. That one school has evolved into around 15 different programs. After his son, Luis Manuel is one of the most popular and high-profile figures in the region, and the community united in the search for him and rejoiced at his rescue. Last Friday, Luis Manuel gave a short, tearful press conference in which the 58-year-old briefly described his order as “a very difficult time” in which he was made to walk “too much”. Now, for the first time, the family reveals the full details of the kidnap and the release — of being carried deep into the jungle on mules and stolen motorbikes, and tense negotiations. Luis Manuel and Cilenis were abducted near a petrol station, where they were forced into a car by a small group of men and driven towards the nearby border with Venezuela. When Josher arrived at the scene of the crime, the pursuit sprang into action. “I went out with the car to the place where it happened,” says Josher. “My uncle’s daughter was there, she explained to me and we immediately activated: ‘Let’s go to such and such a place, some to this side, some to that side, some to that side’. “We left (to search)”.

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