The mother of U.S. military contractor Marc Gonsalves -- held prisoner in a Colombian jungle prison for the past five years -- says for the first time in a long time she has a sense of hope; one that came with the December release of two female hostages through the intervention of a Colombian senator and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"God chose the two of them to do his good work. We surrender ourselves to God and wait patiently. That is what's got me through this nightmare," says Rosano, 59, who at times has been an outspoken critic of the way the United States has handled the hostage situation.
On Feb. 13, 2003 -- five years ago today -- Gonsalves was one of three Department of Defense civilian contractors in a small single-engine plane flying a high-risk drug and terror war reconnaissance mission over Colombia's cocoa growing region.
Whether through mechanical failure or guerrilla gunfire, their plane fell from the sky, and Keith Stansell, Tom Howes and Gonsalves fell into the laps of members of a FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla convoy.
The contractors' American pilot was killed by the guerrillas who have waged war against the Colombian establishment since the 1960s; so was their Colombian military intelligence escort.
And the three Americans have remained hostages ever since, part of a group of terrorist bargaining chips that includes former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. They are hostage not just to the guerrilla group, but to a prisoner exchange program between the guerrillas and the Colombian government, which holds about 500 members of FARC, that in this case just isn't working.
"As long as the hostages are linked to the prisoner exchange program, they can never expect to be released. In order to stimulate conversation, they need to be delinked," says former FBI hostage negotiator Christopher Voss. FARC and the government of Colombia in the past made halting efforts to exchange prisoners, but those fell through because FARC would not guarantee that once freed, the prisoners would not return to the battlefield.
Voss was part of the FBI team that initially prepared a counter-kidnap negotiation strategy. But "the FARC never initiated a negotiation," says Voss. "The only thing we could do was try to prepare the families in case FARC started to ask for something substantive."
The original contractor's mission on Feb. 13, 2003, was to fly a single-engine Cessna loaded with sophisticated photographic equipment over vast jungle tracts to search for illegal drug activities and, some sources say, guerrilla movements.
Weeks later, on March 25, a plane on a mission to track the captives hit a tree. Three more Americans were killed.
Media accounts soon disclosed that the missions, conducted for the U.S. Department of Defense by a tiny company owned by giant military contractor Northrop Grumman, were suspected of being high-risk for some time, and that former pilots for the company had warned against the single-engine flights over rough, jungle-canopied terrain.
The defense giant brought in an outside risk management firm in an effort to see if they could obtain the hostages' release. Those efforts too went nowhere, official sources said.