Monday, October 04, 2010

Hostage Nation

I read Victoria Bruce, Karin Hayes, and Jorge Enrique Botero's Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs.  Given how much it focuses on the three American hostages and Ingrid Betancourt, all freed in 2008, I would say the best way to characterize the book is as a companion to Out of Captivity (here is my review of that book from a year ago).  Hostage Nation provides the Colombian context that Out of Captivity mostly ignored.  Reading both gives you insight into how the FARC operates and all the many different voices involved in hostage negotiations.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book come from interviews with FARC guerrillas. The details--both historical and contemporary--about Simón Trinidad and his capture stand out in that regard.  The authors provide a sense of why people become fanatically attached to the FARC, and the nature of their ideological rigidity.  I kept thinking of Néstor Kirchner's perfect recent quote: the FARC "are so back in time, that they are even far behind the Cold War."

Ultimately, though, despite the subtitle it really is not a book about the "failed war on drugs."  The brief epilogue with statistics about coca cultivation, etc. is the only time the authors center on that.  I do think the drug war is failing, but this book doesn't really expand on the argument.  The fight against the FARC is intertwined with the drug war, but they are not synonymous.  Winning or losing battles against the FARC tell us very little about the flow of narcotics.

It does serve as a well-written reminder, though, that all the contract work that U.S. citizens find in Colombia creates problems.  In particular, the contractors feel like they are protected by the U.S. government, whereas the U.S. sees them as much more expendable precisely because they are contractors.


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