Hostage Tell-All Books Fly Off Shelves In Colombia
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
A new book is stirring controversy in Colombia. It is a tell-all account written by three Americans who were held hostage by FARC guerrillas for five years. They write about life in Colombia's jungles, about the hardships, perseverance and even the petty rivalries with other captives. Their book, though, is not the only one. A slew of them have come out in Colombia, many of them bestsellers.
NPR's Juan Forero reports from Bogota, Colombia.
JUAN FORERO: Thomas Howes was a Pentagon contractor flying a surveillance plane over southern Colombia when he and his crew went down in 2003. Marxist guerrillas who've been fighting the state for decades quickly descended on the plane. They found Howes, a pilot, bleeding from a head wound.
Mr. THOMAS HOWES (Co-author, "Out of Captivity"): By the time you come to, you've got AK-47s on you, and you're a prisoner and you start a 24-day march. The idea comes into your head that if you survive, that's a pretty good book start right there.
FORERO: So, deep in the jungle, Howes took notes, recording the abuse at the hands of sadistic guards, the forced marches, trying to survive bombardments by Colombia's air force. And so did two other Americans captured with him, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell. After Colombian commandos freed them in a daring raid last year, they got to work on their book, "Out of Captivity." It's been published in the United States, but will be sold here once translated into Spanish.
The book is much more than a survival tale. It also provides intimate details about life in rebel camps: petty jealousies between hostages, romances between prisoners, and it paints a not-so-rosy picture of Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian author and politician who was considered the most valuable hostage. Keith Stansell describes her as self-absorbed, even spiteful. He says she hoarded books and food and determined bathing schedules.
Mr. KEITH STANSELL (Co-author, "Out of Captivity"): Whether they like it or not, I apologize. I don't want to offend anybody, but I did not tell any lies.
FORERO: Betancourt, who is in France writing her own book, declined to be interviewed. Though in English, the tell-all nature of the Americans' book has found its way to Colombia and rubbed some people the wrong way. Newspaper columnists and some of the more discreet of the former hostages say what happened in the jungle should stay in the jungle.
Marianne Ponsford is a former book editor who runs Arcadia, a culture magazine. She says Colombians avoid airing intimacies in public.
Ms. MARIANNE PONSFORD (Arcadia): It is considered bad taste to say things to people's faces.
FORERO: In the past two years, nearly a dozen books by or about hostages have been released here. Luis Eladio Perez was a former senator until his kidnapping. His book, "Held Hostage Seven Years by the FARC," has sold 27,000 copies in Colombia and more than 30,000 elsewhere.
Mr. LUIS ELADIO PEREZ (Author, "Held Hostage Seven Years by the FARC"): (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: Perez says people want to know about the suffering and how hostages overcame hardships. The interest in kidnapping is not new in Colombia. Abductions by the thousands have been taking place for years. The government says hundreds are held by kidnappers.
But it's been this decade when the guerrillas sought out high-profile captives to use as bargaining chips in talks with Colombia's government. Twenty-seven have been freed or rescued in the last year. John Otis has been a journalist in Colombia for 12 years and author of a book on kidnapping to be published later this year.
Mr. JOHN OTIS (Journalist): I think they're of great interest, especially to Colombians, because getting kidnapped is probably the worst nightmare for most people living down here. You're taken away from your family. You're held in horrible conditions out in the jungle. It just seems like the worst of all possible worlds.
FORERO: Still, some of the new books include personal revelations. Fernando Araujo, for instance, writes about finding his wife with another man after he escaped to freedom. And Lucy Artunduaga, who was not a hostage, recounts how her husband fell in love with another captive during his imprisonment in the jungle.
Ms. LUCY ARTUNDUAGA (Author): (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: Artunduaga said writing the book gave her inner peace and cleared her conscience. She said what's written is now written. She adds that she dedicated the book to her ex-husband.
Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota.
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