The Dark Side of the Mountain (Fran Kay/Hushion House $19.95).
[BCBW 1996] "South America"
The Dark Side of the Mountain (Fran Kay/Hushion House $19.95)
While building a road in a cold and mountainous region of Colombia, Eric Leupin, a Canadian born engineer, was kidnapped at gunpoint by Marxist guerrillas on January 31, 1975.
To mark the 20th anniversary of his release from a 20 month ordeal, Leupin has published his memoir, The Dark Side of the Mountain (Fran Kay/Hushion House $19.95).
At 42, Leupin was manager of Reforestaciones Ltda, a small company which planned to supply wood to a large pulp firm. “I didn't think they would ever kidnap me because we thought we were doing good work,” he says.
One of his employees was murdered; then Leupin was led on a gruelling trek to a remote hideout by members of FARC, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia. As an Honorary Consul for the Netherlands, Leupin was held for ransom, under constant surveillance.
“From the beginning I have been determined to be as difficult a prisoner as I can get away with,” he writes. “... I think it best for me to isolate myself as much as possible and to keep conversation to a minimum. Under no circumstances should there be a chummy attitude, no matter how hard this is for me.
“Only in this way can I maintain the relative respect that the guards have shown towards me up to now. I should ignore them and I should never break down in front of them.”
Leupin was afraid one of his captors might inadvertently pass along confidential information about FARC which might later place him in danger.
Leupin was fed and clothed as well as circumstances allowed. He was also allowed to keep an extensive journal (later confiscated) and a transistor radio. He concentrated on making wood carvings, writing a cartoon strip, inventing a board game and reading two books lent to him by the camp intellectual — One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez and A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.
Leupin also read guerrilla training manuals which allowed him to cleverly deduce his approximate location. By constructing dummies under his bedcovers, Leupin was twice able to make intricately planned escape attempts. Once he managed to flee into the jungle for eight hours. Leupin pinned his remote hopes for rescue on devising coded messages hidden within the letters his abductors forced him to write. The letters had to be sent to prove he was still alive.
When Leupin's desperate wife was finally able to conduct secret negotiations with FARC via Leupin's uncle — because she herself was being watched by the police and her phone was tapped — the first payment attempt to FARC was thwarted by the army.
Abductions and kidnappings were so common in Colombia that a national curfew had been decreed by the government in June of 1975. It was illegal for private citizens to pay ransom to kidnappers — and still is.
After the ransom was finally paid surreptitiously, Leupin was allowed to walk out of the jungle with his wood carvings, some boiled eggs, some bread, some orchids and some bus money.
“Panic struck me,” he recalls. “I felt scared and helpless. The uncertainty of how Ann and the children would react to seeing me again after such a long time had me extremely worried. Would the children recognize and accept me?”
Leupin stealthily reunited with his wife at a friend's house on October 2, 1979, avoiding the police. He arrived first and hopped into the shower. His wife Ann stepped into the shower fully clothed to embrace him.
The day after his arrival, the local radio station suddenly stopped broadcasting a soccer match from Cali's large stadium. When Leupin's release was announced to the crowd, there was a tremendous uproar by the fans. “It was so loud,” Leupin recalls, “it was heard all over the city.”
Intensive media coverage followed. There was a press conference with more than 100 reporters. A documentary film was made and Leupin published a memoir El lado oscuro del nevado. Leupin and his family left Colombia thirteen years later, in 1989, after visiting British Columbia for their 25th anniversary holiday in 1988. Leupin and his wife currently operate Drummond Lodge Motel in Williams Lake.
[Leupin's communist captors were ideologically similar to the Tupac Amaru group which recently took hostages in Peru. They were well trained, dedicated and relatively respectful of their prisoners. Leupin monitored the Peruvian stand off by reading Colombian newspapers on the Internet. He approved of President Alberto Fujimori's hard line stance.]