Guide who helped free Israelis from Colombian kidnappers found dead
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Guide who helped free Israelis from Colombian kidnappers found dead

Argentine Berenice Blanco convinced FARC rebels to let backpackers on cannabis tour go free, but was kept behind for ransom

A graffiti referring to the FARC 36 front is seen on a billboard of the Ituango Dam, close to Ituango municipality, Antioquia Department, Colombia, taken on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Joaquin SARMIENTO)
A graffiti referring to the FARC 36 front is seen on a billboard of the Ituango Dam, close to Ituango municipality, Antioquia Department, Colombia, taken on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Joaquin SARMIENTO)

An Argentine woman leading Israeli tourists on a tour of marijuana-producing areas of southwestern Colombia was kidnapped and murdered by alleged FARC dissidents, Colombian authorities said Thursday.

The woman, Berenice Blanco, and the Israeli tourists were kidnapped last Saturday while on a so-called “Cannabis Tour.”

They were traveling in the area of Cauca when they were abducted by armed men who identified themselves as dissidents from the Sixth Front of the FARC,” prosecutors said in a statement.

The group released the Israelis three days later, but retained Blanco, demanding a $100,000 ransom from her family in Argentina, the prosecutors said.

Her body was recovered on Wednesday in the municipality of Corinto, they said.

Omer Yefet and Gal-El Yaakov, both 22, had earlier recounted the ordeal to the Israeli press, expressing worries over the fate of the guide. Both had been in Colombia as part of a post-army backpacking trip.

Omer Yefet, one of two Israelis held by a Colombian drug cartel for several hours while touring the South American country, talks to Channel 10 about his ordeal, May 23, 2018. (Channel 10 screenshot)

They said the guide, whom they referred to as “Monica,” had convinced the kidnappers that they had no money.

The cartel chief, according to Yefet, wanted 500 million pesos ($17 million), which he claimed was owed to him by the tour company that employed Blanco.

“Monica said it wasn’t even worth offering him the 300 pesos ($85) dollars that we had,” Yefet said.

“Monica did everything she could to make sure we were OK and defended us throughout. I don’t know what happened to her, unfortunately. I tried to check with the tour company,” Yefet said.

“It’s not a situation where you can ask for something, after you’ve been held for seven hours. We just left and Monica said to me with a smile, calmly, ‘I know people who can get me out of here, everything is fine.’”

The two tourists were unharmed. “They didn’t aim at us, or take anything from us.”

Blanco worked for “Cannabis Tour,” a company offering visits to areas of narco crop cultivation in the Cauca area, which is frequented by FARC dissidents as well as members of the Gulf Clan drug trafficking operation, according to authorities.

Cannabis has been grown for medical purposes under state license in Colombia since 2015, but the marijuana fields in the Cauca region have traditionally been used to finance militant groups.

Under a 2016 peace accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) disarmed its 7,000 fighters and has now become a political party.

Marijuana fields in Colombia. (YouTube screenshot)

However, the government says some 1,200 fighters have rejected the peace process and are still active in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

Yefet, who wrote a full account of his ordeal in a Facebook post, and emphasized that he himself does not smoke marijuana, is continuing to travel in South America and plans to return to Israel in around two months.

“Maybe I’ll leave Colombia a bit earlier than planned,” he said. “There are other dangerous places where people travel. I will certainly be more careful. It can happen in any place. You need a lot of luck.”

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