Embassy hostage’s wife weathers long wait

LIMA, Peru (AP) It’s a ritual. Every day, Beatriz Gumucio steps onto a 14th-floor balcony of a Lima apartment building to look down at the Japanese ambassador’s compound and the mansion where her husband is captive.
In seven weeks of torturous uncertainty since her husband, Bolivian ambassador Jorge Gumucio, and 71 others were taken hostage by leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas, she has seen the compound’s grass wither to a dusty yellow.
“I stare and I pray, and I hope he can feel me,” Mrs. Gumucio says.
Her nights are fitful, almost sleepless. She listens to the radio and flicks through TV channels, looking for anything she might not know about the fate of her Jorge.
Her appetite has waned, and she eats lunch only to accommodate house guests. She’s smoking again, but hides it from her disapproving teenage son.
She seeks solace in religion, attending Mass each morning at a church on the same block as the ambassador’s residence. She knows as she prays that her husband is near, just beyond those walls.
It’s always noon Mass on Sundays because that’s when the liturgy is celebrated inside the compound. “He knows we are praying at the same time together,” she says.
Besides Ambassador Morihisa Aoki of Japan, Gumucio, 57, is the only ambassador still captive. That’s because Bolivia holds four Tupac Amaru rebels on kidnapping charges. Bolivia refuses to free them, and rebel leader Nestor Cerpa, who earlier released most of the more than 500 hostages seized Dec. 17, has told Gumucio he’ll be there until the very end.
Trying to ease his wife’s burden, he crams household instructions onto the one-page notes he may send through the Red Cross, writing ever smaller as space fills, telling her to remember this, don’t forget that.
His special concern: medicine for his 8-year-old granddaughter, who is dying from irreversible brain damage suffered several years ago in a faulty medical procedure.
Mrs. Gumucio tries to send upbeat responses to his “love letters.”
For him, she compares herself to Bolivian heroines who fended off a Spanish attack on Cochabamba, her husband’s ancestral city, while their husbands and fathers were away fighting for independence from Spain.
That, she figures, will impress her husband, a historian who has written three books on Bolivia. “So he will know I’m tough, trying to be tough,” she says.
As lonely as she is, Mrs. Gumucio says her solitude can’t be compared to his. At least she has the couple’s four children. She has her friends, the diplomatic aide sent to assist her and the weekly therapy session for the families of the hostages. Cards, letters, faxes and electronic-mail messages pour in from compatriots back home.
No comparison, she reminds herself, to his almost two months living a prisoner’s routine: Get up at 6 a.m., eat a light breakfast, write letters or read, do chores such as scouring bathrooms or carrying trash to the door, eat his Red Cross-supplied, special diabetic lunch and dinner, endure evenings illuminated only by candlelight.
The family was briefly cheered when he waved through an iron window grate, an unexpected response after daughter Maria Elena, 33, persuaded journalists on a nearby rooftop to play a tape of Bolivian music through a loudspeaker.
Later, watching TV video of the incident, they noticed how much weight he’d lost. Sadness returned.
“It’s a long wait. They’re tired, they’re bored and they’re lonely,” Mrs. Gumucio says in the English she perfected when her husband was Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations.