Sunday, September 27, 2009

Out of Captivity

I read Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle, the story of three contractors (Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes) working in Colombia for Northrop Grunman. Their small plane crashed in 2003 and they were taken hostage by the FARC. They were rescued in 2008 in an ingenious hoax the Colombian government put together.

This is a really interesting book. The strength the hostages (both the Americans and the Colombians, and many of the latter were in captivity much longer) showed is inspiring. Surviving years and years of abuse is amazing. Their strength is admirable. Yet while reading the book, I tended not to like the three much, even while feeling horrible for their plight.

And that plight is disgusting. Their account of life with the FARC is sickening. Being chained by the neck, deprived of food, enduring jungle diseases, and facing all sorts of abuse became commonplace for over five years. That is hard to contemplate. The details themselves are fascinating and provide a lot of into insight into how the guerrillas live daily.

For better or worse, having one author for three people means their voices are mostly indistinguishable, and they jumble together. They all talk military slang--for example, they live in a "hooch," not a hut or tent, and they are helos, birds, friendlies, references to "Nam," etc. And all are entirely ignorant of Colombian politics. They derisively label Colombian hostages as "politicals" if they were politicians, as if their own jobs had no political significance. In their eyes, they were there for a job, and it was apolitical. They also know nothing of South American politics, labeling both Hugo Chávez and Ricardo Lagos as "far left of center" (p. 85).

They seemed to feel they didn't need to know much: "I was an American, and I was going to act like an American no matter where in the world I was, and that was that" (p. 183). Ego in general is very much in evidence. It begins right away, as Marc notes that when going to work in the very early morning, they all just ignore stoplights and compete to see who can arrive first. Or as Keith put it, "I could be perceived as being the alpha male. That was a position I enjoyed" (p. 185).

Ultimately, the book is a sobering reminder that the FARC is both vicious and well-equipped to continue living in the deep jungle, while the so-called war against drugs (the three men were in a Cessna looking for coca fields) is largely failing. And many hostages remain.


pc 9:01 AM  

I read a Gatopardo article a few months ago that mentioned how polarizing Ingrid Betancourt was among the hostages. Did they talk about her at all?

Greg Weeks 10:29 AM  

Yes, a good amount. One of them disliked her a lot because he felt she was too self-centered, but another got very close and liked her. It occurs to me that it is one of the rare instances where their voices were actually different. I guess because she was famous, those parts of the book seemed more gossipy and therefore less interesting to me--who was she talking to, hanging around with, etc.

Defensores de Democracia 12:24 PM  

It's Time to Confront Hugo Chavez - This Scoundrel should be contained - Great Potential for Harm in the Hemisphere - By Jorge Castaneda

It's Time to Confront Hugo Chavez
By Jorge Castaneda
The writer, former foreign minister of Mexico (2000-2003), is a global distinguished professor of politics and Latin American Studies at New York University.
September 29, 2009

It's Time to Confront Hugo Chavez

Some excerpts :

In early September, Colombia's biggest businesses surprised everyone by declaring their wholehearted support for the country's president, Alvaro Uribe, in his deepening conflict with Venezuela. If they lost the huge export market next door, well, that would simply be too bad.

For the first time, Colombian exporters of just about everything Venezuela buys, from toilet paper to gasoline, fruit and vegetables, and milk and meat, gave their president the green light to confront Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, instead of continuing to turn the other cheek, as they had been pressing him to do in the eight years since Uribe took office.

Venezuela had become a magnificent business opportunity for Colombian exporters. It produces next to nothing anymore (except oil), has a highly subsidised official exchange rate, and wields huge sums of petrodollars with which it can buy up everything in sight. While Colombia's authorities were forced to deal with Chávez's frequent insults, interventions in Colombia's internal affairs, massive arms purchases, and diplomatic tantrums, the business community profited and pressured the government to compromise. Until now, that is what the government did.

The Venezuelan lieutenant colonel has repeatedly provided sanctuary, arms, diplomatic support, and financing to the FARC guerrillas fighting to overthrow the Colombian government. He has engaged in immense arms purchases from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, most recently including tanks, fighter planes, and a submarine. He has increasingly clamped down on dissent, the opposition, and basic freedoms in Venezuela, as well as expropriating business concerns without compensation.

By systematically supporting his allies in other Latin America countries, from Bolivia and Argentina to Honduras and El Salvador, and including Peru, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Mexico's opposition, Chávez has polarised the entire Latin American continent in the same way that he has his own society. Moreover, he has implicated Venezuela in global conflicts half a world away, by allying himself with the Iranian regime and becoming one of its bulwarks.

If Colombia and Obama proceed in this fashion, their potential allies in the rest of the hemisphere might lose their fears about being left hanging out to dry. Countries like Mexico, Peru, Chile after its December election, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic all worry that if they confront Chávez, they will not only, in certain cases, lose his largesse, but also provoke him into meddling in their domestic politics. But if Obama shows that he takes the issue seriously and intends to pursue a policy of containment, these nations would probably respond favourably.

Vicente Duque

Defensores de Democracia 12:35 PM  

Bloomberg says that Piedad Cordova is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

If the Swedish Academy or the Institution that gives these prizes awards Piedad Cordova then the Nobel Prize for Peace will be devalued forever.

And the opinion of Sweden and Scandinavia will sink, for the people that know who is Piedad.

She has always being a leftist preachig against the Rich and the Government, preaching lies and extremism. Even when the Government makes great efforts to help the poorest population and achieve peace. She is a Political Agitator, not a Worker for Peace.

There is no person so far and so removed of Sainthood as Piedad Cordova.

She is not Albert Schweitzer or Mother Theresa of Calcuta.

She is always representing the Chavez Points in Politics, and the Chavez Demagoguery, Populism and Brutality.

She speaks of the Military Actions of the Colombian Armed Forces as Assessinations, even if Colombian Soldiers lose their lives in those combats. And is always fraternizing with the Murderers and Thugs of the FARC.

If Sweden awards the prestigious Nobel Prize to a political agitator that doesn't like to work in the Colombian Congress, but receives a humongeous salary for doing nothing, then many people will change the perception of Sweden and Scandinavia as paradises of learning and intelligence.

Like when Danemark ( not in Scandinavia ) said that the FARC were belligerant or something ( What Gross Imbecility !! )

So Swedish People, please don't award a prize to a Lady that visits Colombian Universities to make propaganda for Subversion, and the Crime and Murder of the FARC. In a country Colombia that has a very high standard of Free Press, Free TV and Free Radio, and where the Government is constantly criticized, many times with lies and in unjust form.

She is not impartial, she is not equilibrated or a messenger for peace. She is always accusing the presidents of Colombia of being dictators and paramilitaries and monsters. And all that is garbage.

She never condemns the violence of the FARC against the Poor, the Land Mines that kill poor peasant children or leave them without legs for life.

She doesn't condemn the FARC gas cylinders that destroy the poorest villages and kill old people, women and children.

She doesn't condemn or protest against the Terrorist Bombs of the FARC that kill hundred of Civilians. She doesn't speak of the FARC Kidnappings for Money. She doesn't condemn the FARC as narcos ( drugs are the main business of these criminals )

This lady is a bum, doesn't like to work. She is a scoundrel !!

Vicente Duque

Defensores de Democracia 12:01 PM  

I would applaud the Nobel Peace Prize for Piedad is she were moderate and didn't talk so much against the Government of Colombia and President Uribe.

But she is an extremist, a hard socialist that goes to other countries to rant and degrade the Colombian Government with a lot of lies. Like telling that Mr Uribe is a dictator that has a lot of Paramilitary Thugs at his service and that constantly kills the opposition.

The paramilitaries have been increasingly exported to the USA in chains, because they are asked as narcos or mafiosi, conspiracy to introduce drugs into the USA.

There are rotten apples in the Colombian Army ( specially in the past ) but they are being purged and contained. You can't blame the president for all the crimes in a country, and the crime rate has been decreasing at very fast speed.

Less and less Trade Unionists are killed each year.

Mr Uribe could be the devil, but he has brought peace to a country. He doesn't expect or ask for a Nobel Peace Prize. The guerrillas are 90% defeated, they are hidden in the deep jungle, away from almost all towns and villages.

They are expecting another fool as president of Colombia, someone that again gives them sanctuaries and territories, and that is why they don't surrender.

And they are miserably killed in airstrikes. With modern technology and U. S. help they don't have a chance to recover and recuperate their lost territory.

I would wish that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have an end soon. But I see a lot of problems in the Western Hemisphere with Mr Chavez and his foolish client states ( Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and perhaps Cuba ).

I hope for a peaceful future for all the Western Hemisphere : Canada, USA, Anglophone Caribbean and Latin Nations. But Mr Chavez is making that future very difficult.

Peace is the Greatest Treasure !

Vicente Duque

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