July 7th, 2008
08:53 PM ET

Don’t forget the other hostages

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/07/art.hostagesplane.jpg caption="U.S. contractors Keith Stansell, left, Marc Gonsalves, center, and Thomas Howes sit in an aircraft in an unknown location in Colombia after being rescued."]
Karl Penhaul
CNN Correspondent

The last thing any Colombia watchers were expecting was a hostage rescue.

The Colombian military had bungled so-called "blood and fire" missions in the past. As soon as the FARC rebels realized the army was coming in on foot or in choppers they would either kill their captives or ultimately the hostages would end up dying in the ensuing crossfire.

The jungle is most definitely the guerrillas’ home turf. I flew over the region where many of these hostages were being held in November. No roads, the only "highways" were rivers. One of my companions described it as looking out over a “sea of broccoli”.

From the air it was easy to understand how easy it must have been for the insurgents to conceal their hostages for years at a time.

The plan sounds so simple it seems ridiculous but it worked. The army took a page straight out of the rebels’ play book. They disguised themselves as a humanitarian aid mission, sent a number of bogus orders to rebel commanders and simply showed up and collected the FARC’s prize hostages – no questions asked, no shots fired.

The Israeli media praised the rescue as a "jungle Entebbe" – harking back to Israeli commandos’ famed "raid on Entebbe" back in 1976. But there are lingering questions. The Colombian operation was a covert infiltration and penetration operation. Colombian government ministers deny any ransom payments and are picking their words carefully. But my sources close to military intelligence tell me the government may have paid FARC human couriers several million dollars for switching allegiances.

Amid the euphoria, don’t forget the hundreds of other hostages still held by the FARC – 700 by some estimates, chained by the neck to trees or each other for years at a time. It seems likely the only way out for them is some kind of political negotiation between the warring sides.

Few would agree with the FARC’s stance on hostage taking – Cuba’s Fidel Castro disagrees with the tactic as well as it being a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. But there is most definitely a war going on here.

The Americans were part of that war – even if you believe the official version – they were flying along the line where drug war blurs into anti-guerrilla war. Many of the Colombian security force members were captured in combat.

We know from experience that it's the victors who write the history books. Already we're hearing predictions about the imminent defeat of the FARC and analysis that the FARC has become little more than a cocaine cartel devoid of ideology.

All sides in Colombia's war – including some in government circles have been tarnished by drug ties.
And whether the FARC are defeated or simply implode after a string of recent defeats, the root causes of their uprising will not have been resolved.

Poverty is still rampant here. And political power is concentrated largely in the hands of wealthy families and small elites.

Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Claudia Pascual

    As a daughter of 1st generation Colombian immigrants to the US I am forever grateful to my parents for instilling in us such great love for their country. I have had to defend Colombia against criticism from people who have never visited our beautiful country all of my life. Doesn't Ingrid think she does Colombia a disservice now, especially when the eyes of the world are on us, by running off to France immediately after her release and then stating she will not be part of the July 20th Independence Day march in Colombia because she fears for her life? Does she think her co-captives, most of whom belong to lower income levels, have the same opportunities she does to get whisked away in French government planes? Doesn't this inequality in places such as Colombia breed contempt in the masses that are trying hard not to believe in what the FARC preaches? I advice her to talk the talk and walk the walk if she ever wants to think about running for president of Colombia.

    July 9, 2008 at 7:19 pm |
  2. Megan Dresslar

    Thank you for correct the map. You're right, my mistake not Mexico. correct South America. thank you for telling me. 🙂
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    July 9, 2008 at 5:39 pm |
  3. Jhonny Urrego

    I'm proud of been colombian.Thaks President Uribe and Armed Forces!!
    Viva Colombia!!!

    July 9, 2008 at 5:30 pm |
  4. Michelle

    Bonnie, I agree with you. I have watched all the media coverage on all the spanish news stations regarding the freed hostages. They report on EVERYTHING that is going on with the release of these hostages. But the media here is more interested in Madonna and Britney Spears personal life than the release of all these poor men. I think it is so sad that people are more interested in gossip then in what is going on in the world. I wonder how these men feel.

    July 9, 2008 at 9:14 am |
  5. Laurie

    After that heart rending, passionate talk by Ms Betancourt as soon as she walked off the plane, I kept waiting to hear from the 3 Americans. Then when we finally heard from them, they thanked the American Embassy in Bogata, which apparently was not involved in the rescue. I never heard them thank the Colombian government for the brave, daring and fabulously successful rescue. Seemed strange.

    July 8, 2008 at 10:20 pm |
  6. Laurie

    Luz: You are absolutely correct that we all need to improve our knowledge of geography. Mexico, just so you know, is considered to be in North America. It is not part of Central America.

    July 8, 2008 at 10:12 pm |
  7. Bonnie

    I am wondering about the fact that we have hardly heard from or about the three U.S. hostages that were also rescued in Columbia.

    July 8, 2008 at 7:16 pm |
  8. Mary Jones

    I saw the video of Ingrid Betancourt speaking in France – saying she "owes everything to France." What do you think Colombia's reaction to this statement is?

    July 8, 2008 at 12:17 pm |
  9. Erasmo Sonderriis

    The "root cause" of Colombia's troubles is the world's suididal prohibitionist approach to drugs, which literally sends Colombian soldiers to die to protect the rich countries' drug addicts against themselves.

    The free world, led by the US, has decided to award the monopoly on the hugely profitable drug trade to criminals, ranging from the FARC to the Taliban. Every time a drug shipment is intercepted by the DEA, the US government is in effect helping to prop up the price of ilegal drugs, keeping the business profitable for groups like the FARC.

    Legalising and regulating drugs would be the most devastating blow to FARC, the paramilitaries and criminals all over the world.

    July 8, 2008 at 12:04 pm |
  10. Richard

    To Lena in Canada,

    Clara was released voluntarily in January 2008 along with 2 other hostages. She is the mother of the infant Gonsalves mentions in his brief. Clara has since recovered her son On February 2008 3 other hostages were freed voluntarily. These 2 releases had interventions done by Venezuela's presidente Chavez

    July 8, 2008 at 9:09 am |
  11. Michelle

    Clara was released a few months ago through negotions with the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez and the Farc. Clara was released along with a couple other law makers that were captured years ago. While there Clara gave birth to a baby boy who was taken away from the Farc and put in an orphanage. They have since then been reunited.

    July 8, 2008 at 9:05 am |
  12. Genevieve

    American hostages, apparently at the exception of Gonsalves, did not behave as should have. Gonsalves is a legitimate person who can speak about the unhumanity of FARCs. In Betancourt's own words the worst enemies in the jungle were men.

    July 8, 2008 at 3:52 am |
  13. Patricia

    The operation was sucesful. The Government offer to pay 5 times more the ammount of money that someone in europe said. Minister Santos said : We offer to them US$100 millions dollars, they did not accept. We will be happy to let the world know that they accept it. Why not? This is not the first operation that Colombian army attempt. Many other operation in the past failed. Colombia has learn to know its enemy. For more than 52 years Colombian army fight them. Remember not so long ago Colombia fought three enemies: FARC, ELN. PARAMILITAR AND THE DRUG CARTEL. Believe it, Colombian army is getting better and better. Give the credit to them, they deserved it.

    July 8, 2008 at 3:00 am |
  14. Luz

    Dear Megan D.,
    I'm a naturalized U.S. citizen, originally borned in Colombia. It sadens me to find U. S. citizens whom like you, believe that Colombia is Mexico.
    I hope the education systems in the United States of America, takes kids to a point where they can at least learn the names of every single country in the Continent of America. Mexico is a Country located on the southern border of the United States (it is part of Central America, along with honduras, salvador, Guatemala, Panama, etc)
    Colombia is a country in South America. (yes a complete different country...) (Next to the countries of Venezuela, Equador, Peru and Brazil) Please all of you reading. Grab a map of the CONTINENT of America, and learn a bit more of geography Today.
    By the way, you live in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and along with you in North America, there is an additional country named Canada.
    Thank you!

    July 8, 2008 at 2:47 am |
  15. Sheila Adams

    Why can't (WE the PEOPLE) we see a valid, undoctored, birth certificate for Barack Obama or .....Barry Dunham? Even US voters must prove who they are. What is he hiding??? Even if he WAS born in Hawaii as he insists, his mother doesn't meet the requirement to have been a citizen five years AFTER she turned sixteen!!! So he is not a natural-born citizen! He should NOT even be running. This is all so upsetting to me. He was up to some really dirty tricks in Chicago in order to get elected State Senator. He just has way too many negatives in his past.... and present!

    Please make him prove his natural-born status. How does he even get passports? What names has he used in that respect?

    Anderson, PLEASE do whatever you have to do to MAKE Obama prove beyond a doubt that he is truly eligible to become the POTUS! sba

    July 8, 2008 at 1:55 am |
  16. Ronald Cox

    Thank you for your coverage of the hostages, those rescued as well as those who remain in captivity. I hope and pray the rest will be released as quickly and with as little loss of life as possible. I am watching CNN for this FARC hostage story. Your political coverage is bizarre – its more about strategies than ideas or even facts. Anyway, thanks for the FARC coverage.

    July 8, 2008 at 1:20 am |
  17. Abe Duarte

    I disagree with the blog because the cause of insurgency in Colombia is not poverty anymore, it is the money that comes from drug trafficking. There are countries that are poorer than Colombia and there is no war there. Other insurgent Colombian groups like the EPL, ELN, ERP or M-19 have either disappeared, have been neutralized or have negotiated over the years. The only thing keeping the FARC alive is the money from drugs, 200 million dollars a year from some estimates. Colombia has done some huge leaps in the economy in the past few years, without violence i can´t imagine who much more progress we could have seen.

    July 8, 2008 at 1:16 am |
  18. Kareem

    The US government has been holding hundreds of suspects in Guantanamo which include many who were kidnapped by the CIA (rendition program). Among the prisoners few were children as young as 15 years old. In 2003, the US military confirmed that they were holding children. Omar Khadr who was only 15 years old and a Canadian citizen was captured in Afghanistan and imprisoned in Guantanamo. Just a Kid.

    Among the prisoners who were tortured, abused and held without trial for more than 6 years, the US government held a reporter from Al-Jazeera. Just a reporter with a camera. After 6 years, they released him without charging him with anything.

    Need I to say more?

    July 8, 2008 at 1:00 am |
  19. Matt

    To answer Lina's question, Clara was released in January of this year by the FARC in a deal brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

    Full story here:


    July 8, 2008 at 12:46 am |
  20. Edgar


    Clara Rojas was released by FARC more than six months ago. She met Ingrid after she was rescued last week, but apparently, there were serious issues and differences between them during captivity and there is some distance between them now.

    July 7, 2008 at 11:38 pm |
  21. Karl penhaul

    Hey Lena. thanks for commenting. Clara Rojas was released in early january in what the FARC billed as a unilateral goodwill gesture to President Chavez of Venezuela. She had a baby boy in captivity, purportedly fathered by one of the guerrilla fighters. There's no indication it was rape but I hear the FARC have court-martialed and killed other guerrillas who they suspect of trying to start sexual relations with the hostages. Clara's child was taken from here and put in a government foster home by the guerrillas themselves when there were tensions in the guerrilla camp and the child got sick. Another amazing story. But it seems Clara and her son Emmanuel are now bonding. They're both living in Bogota. Clara has been lying pretty low and seems to be taking her time to heal

    July 7, 2008 at 11:28 pm |
  22. Lena. Canada

    Karl – Question for you – I caught the HBO/CNN documentary on Ingrid Betancourt this weekend and your reports since the release of these hostages have been absolutely incredible. Thank you for sharing your reporter’s notes with us.

    I was confused by one thing though, and maybe you’d know the answer – they previewed two “proof-of-life” videos of “Clara” – Betancourt’s Campaign Manager, however, what’s happened to her since. There’s been no mention of her and she did not seem to be apart of the folks who were rescued – do you know what her status is currently?

    Please Stay Safe, and please keep us updated on this incredible story. Our thoughts are always with you for your continued safety and the rest of the hostages still in captivity.

    July 7, 2008 at 10:52 pm |
  23. Lilibeth

    Let's hope that a rescue mission is possible for the others still held captive. Whatever happens, they are the true heroes of last week's rescue. Their fate is uncertain..I pray for their safety everyday.

    Edmonds, Washington

    July 7, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  24. Brandon Holmes

    Yeah it is amazing, however, with the media making this such a big deal, the other hostages stuck in the jungle are probably being tortured right now. The FARC have televisions, and they will hear of how they were tricked. Pray for those who remain.

    -Brandon Holmes

    July 7, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  25. Sebastián

    the hypothesis of the objective causes of the conflict is outdated and has been contested in political science, Poverty and political elites exist all over the world and that doesn't cause the armed conflict and the existence and mainteneance of narcoterrorist guerrilla groups like FARC. The answer to them is not so easy as the "rampant povery, and the concentrated political power"


    July 7, 2008 at 10:27 pm |
  26. Megan Dresslar

    That is so amazing to see them to rescued from FARC. I'm so proud of our heroes Colombia goverment, president Urbie, and our president Bush get them out of Mexico. I knew that they fooled or tricked FARC. It was so awesome to see them news coference this afternoon! I cheered to my heroes 3 men to see reunion with their family and friends! I can't image they are so healthy and emotion! I hope they are doing great today!
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    July 7, 2008 at 9:03 pm |

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