Former Hostage Calls Ingrid Betancourt 'Disgusting'

After almost a month on the march, the new hostages reached the first of many jungle camps where they'd be kept. They were put in cages, and forbidden to speak to each other. By that point they had discovered that their captors were both young and frighteningly naïve.

"You have these kids who are just brainwashed and brought into this thing," Stansell said. "They will, in one second, turn on you and kill you if they have to. In another second, they're just playing yo-yos."

"They had never seen Americans except for on TV," said Gonsalves. "Movies like 'The Matrix.' And they actually believed that what they saw on TV was real, you know. And, and one of them even asked us how it was that we could dodge bullets like they did in the 'Matrix' movies."

FARC Soldier: 'Our Orders Are to Massacre You'

Living conditions at the camps were severe. The captives often slept on a tarp in the mud, and bathed periodically in a river. The jungle with its thick growth felt like a cave, and though they were now living outside, the men went weeks without ever seeing the sun.

They did see strange jungle creatures, from snakes to scorpions to "gigantic ants which bite, but they also sting," Gonsalves said.

The men were given meager meals of rice and watery soup. To fight off starvation, they ate turtle, monkey ... and everything in between. To survive, all three clung to thoughts of home and loved ones. For Howes, it was his 5-year-old son Tommy Jr. at the bus stop on his way to school.

For Gonsalves, it was the smell of shampoo in his 9-year-old daughter's hair.

"Memories can be a good thing and they could fuel you, fuel you to survive. But they can also be a bad thing because they can be very painful," he said. "And that memory about smelling my daughter's hair was something that caused me immense pain because I missed her so much."

In July 2003, five months after they were captured, the FARC guerrillas arranged for a journalist to videotape the hostages to prove to the world they were alive. They hoped the images of the three men would force the U.S. government to negotiate for their release, a violation of American policy. The men were dressed in clean clothes and brought to a shack for the interview.

One at a time, the hostages pleaded against any armed rescue attempt. They did not believe they would survive it.

"The translator said, 'Hey, you know, if the U.S. comes to rescue you guys, our orders are to massacre you,'" said Gonsalves.

And while the cameras were rolling, the men found out that three colleagues and friends had tried to rescue them and that their plane had crashed.

"It was like somebody had just laid a blanket of death on us," Gonsalves said. "And it's like death upon death and you start to wonder, 'OK, when is it going to be my turn, when am I going to die here?' It could be at any moment."

The journalist played Gonsalves a message from his mother from her home in Connecticut.

"It was just so painful to see home which, at that point, had become a fantasy because it was so far away," he said. "The thought of freedom was just so far from reality."

Before they were taken back to their jungle prison camp, the men were given a chance to record what may be their final words to their loved ones back home. Gonsalves pleaded with his wife Shane not to forget him. Stansell told his children in Florida to be brave.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...