Silencing the victims Mr. Wood, please try something different in Afghanistan
Feb 132007

Four years ago today, the FARC captured three U.S. civilians, working on a Defense Department contract, whose small aircraft went down over the jungles of Caquetá department in southern Colombia. We have since heard little about the health and whereabouts of Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell.

Now is not the moment to criticize the policy that put the three men on that small plane in the first place. Nor is it a moment for empty expressions of rage or solidarity. It is a good moment to ask the following:

Of the U.S. and Colombian governments: Please don’t pin your hopes on an armed rescue of the three hostages. If such an operation were to be successful, it would be a triumph equal to the Israeli raid on Entebbe or the raid on the Japanese embassy in Peru – and neither of those rescues took place in thick jungle, behind several rings of guerrilla security.

The FARC have shown in the past their cruel willingness to kill their hostages on the first indication that a rescue attempt is underway. The recent escape of hostage Fernando Araújo, under cover of darkness in an area of weak FARC influence, was a happy but rare exception.

In this case, releasing the hostages will require more flexibility on the question of negotiating a humanitarian exchange with the guerrillas. This doesn’t mean agreeing to all guerrilla preconditions, or reaching a deal that opens the door to future kidnappings or allows freed guerrillas to re-join the group. But it does mean keeping the conversation going between intermediaries and continuing to seek agreement on the thorniest details.

Of the media: Please cover this story more. Even though there have been few new developments, please seek new information and run more regular updates. It is inexcusable that most Americans don’t know that three of their fellow citizens have been hostages in Colombia for four years.

Of the hostages’ family members: Don’t lose hope and please continue your efforts on your loved ones’ behalf. Even if you disagree on the solution (rescue or negotiation), please do more together to raise the profile of your loved ones’ situation. Anything that can keep their plight in front of the U.S. media would be a great contribution. As long as their captivity remains nearly invisible here at home, the U.S. and Colombian governments won’t feel any pressure to change the status quo and take the difficult steps necessary to seek their freedom.

Of the FARC, most of all: Maybe you think that you’re holding three strategically important intelligence agents or that you have three powerful bargaining chips in your possession. But you don’t. Your hostages are not architects of the policy you oppose – they are regular citizens who took a job because it offered a decent salary for them and their families. They are the pueblo with whom you claim to be in solidarity. Please make a show of goodwill and mercy and let the captives go. You would have nothing to lose – their military importance for you is small – and much to gain in the struggle for political credibility, which you have been losing badly.

Even if you refuse to take this important step, be more flexible in present and future humanitarian exchange discussions with the Colombian government and its intermediaries. For example, to demand a demilitarized zone in which only the FARC can carry weapons is to prolong the start of talks almost indefinitely. And please furnish some proof that the hostages remain alive and in good health.

Four years is a very long time. While the FARC bears the most responsibility, all involved must act to change the current impasse. Prolonging the status quo is simply unacceptable.

11 Responses to “Gonsalves, Howes and Stansell: four years”

  1. Jo Rosano Says:

    I agree throughly with this article. I have been fighting this same cause for four years. I am Jo Rosano, proud mother of American hostage, Marc Gonsalves. The games that are being played by Bush, Uribe and the Farc are very cruel to the hostages and their families. I say follow through with your so called negotiations. Every few months the Farc makes a proposal, Uribe agrees and then a bomb happens. It is my feeling that Uribe keeps sabotaging the talks just as he did when the Farc were going to release two policemen hostages to Alvaro Leyna. Uribe sent the military to sabotage it. The two were latter released to the Red Cross and Uribe got the credit. Uribe, and I will use the words of Ingrid Betancourt’s former husband, “is fiercely dangerous.” I know that to be true. While in Colombia, I was warned not to be to aggressive with Uribe because he is a very dangerous man. I don’t care, I said, “I’m fighting for my son’s safe release. Go ahead Uribe, try it.

  2. joe Says:

    have either family sought non government consultation

  3. chris Says:

    It is sad but true that these men have been forgotten.
    It is all about money!!! The Real owner of the aircraft and Northrop knew they had a problem with the aircraft they were using but they were and are still making millions!!
    We must not forget the men the men that have lost their lives in this war on drugs. We must never forget what our brave men and women have done for the people of the US all around the world, forget the people that sent them Rep. or Dem. its about the people on the ground doing the dirty job so we can stay safe….

  4. alexs Says:

    I just finished seeing the doc, Held Hostage in Colombia with my children and cried. We wanted to know what happen to Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell. I got online to find out pretty much nothing is happening. I pray that they come home to their families soon.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Welcome to Colombia.

  6. Art Says:

    Hope today i read the latest article on they are believed to be alive

  7. Carlos Siempre Says:

    These 3 mercenaries, paid to kill Colombians, are the scum of the earth. The only reason why they should not be shot is because they are more valuable alive than dead other than that, they don’t deserve compassion..bloody gringo criminals

  8. subbuteo sonical Says:

    Hey Carlos

    Colomian cocaine is ruining communities and societies all over the world. People are being killed all over the world ,every day because of Colombian cocaine.

    Hard working individuals and their families are being deprived of their wealth by this cancer on global society.

    I am afraid I find it hard to sympathise with you, my friend when organised crime and corruption is debilitating communites in Colombia and further afield.

    I don’t think Stansell,Gonsalves and Howes were armed and I dont think the aircraft was, so I think you are way off the mark on the “killing Colombians” angle.

    A lot of people on my country think that Colombians are killing us though the illegal trade in Cocaine. So your view entirely depends where in the world you happen to be sat.

    Stansell,Gonsalves and Howes were only doing their job, a job that folks in many places outside Colombia see as being for the good of a wider global community.

    I with those three guys safe home and will pray for them and their families. I wish the people of Colombia could be free from the cancer of the Cocaine trade.

  9. JT Says:

    They have been released today and all three of them are alive.

  10. Mariapia Ibarcena Says:

    I am so happy for all the hostages who were rescued today!!!!!!! I know that the families were frustrated after 4 or 6 years, but to release or rescue hostages from a terrorist group so big like the FARC and also being held in the middle of nowhere in a bigm, huge jungle must be very difficult, I am happy for all the families who suffered thru all these years and my best wishes to them!
    Congrats to the Colombian Goverment and President Uribe!!!!!!!!! the best!
    best wishes from Peru!

  11. Sandra Says:

    Uribe, you did it! Thank you sooooo much. I have been folowing this story for years. I am Colombian-American. A family friend of ours was kidnapped and then, thankfully released. I can not imagine the torture that everyone has been going through for all of these years. All I know if that it is a blessing to have them back and I hope that they live their lives now in peace and surrrounded with love and happiness. I am ELATED!!!!!!!!

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