On February 13th, 2003, four U.S. defense contractors and a Colombian police officer crashed in the jungles of Southern Colombia. Within moments, they were surrounded by members of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, also known as FARC. Two of the five men were killed and the other three Americans – Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves – were taken hostage, and what was a routine surveillance flight looking for cocaine labs turned into a nightmare without end.
This documentary tells their story.
The three employees of the defense contractor Northrup-Grumman found themselves trapped in the crossfire of a domestic civil war, and abandoned by the Bush administration – casualties of a foreign policy that uses private companies to conduct anti-drug operations outside the reach of international and U.S. law. Held Hostage in Colombia is based on exclusive footage of interviews with both the men and their captors in a remote jungle prison. Its director, Jorge Enrique Botero, is one of the few journalists to ever enter a FARC prison camp. The result is a compelling human drama that reveals an enormous political tragedy, and the countless victims of a thirty year U.S. war on drugs. It's been more than five years since that Cessna went down in a remote jungle in Colombia, but very little has changed for Stansell, Howes and Gonsalves.
BREAKING UPDATE: Hostages released! Please see this article from the New York Times.
Update: In October 2007, the FARC recorded "proof of life" videos of the three American hostages. Neither Marc Gonsalves nor Keith Stansell spoke on camera. Thomas Howes sent a message to his wife and children. February 13, 2008 marked the 5th year of captivity for the three Americans.
Luis Eladio Perez, a Colombian politician held hostage for over 7 years - sometimes in the same camps as the three Americans - and released February 27, 2008, recounted some of the horrendous conditions of captivity. Hostages are surrounded by barbed wire fences, chained by the neck to other hostages or to trees. They are often taken on long marches through the jungle, and many have contracted jungle diseases.
Their diet consists mainly of rice and pasta. For the last six months of his captivity, Perez was chained by the neck day and night to American Thomas Howes. The FARC continues to demand an exchange of prisoners for the freedom of the hostages. The US and Colombian governments have refused their demands.