U.S. Mom: Chavez Only Hope for My Hostage Son

Three U.S. contractors are still being held hostage by FARC guerrillas.

Feb. 13, 2008— -- 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.

High-level Justice Department sources involved in the U.S. drug wars in Colombia and the U.S. efforts to combat FARC in its role as a narco-terror organization say that the high-risk, civilian missions should never have taken place. According to these sources, those DoD-sponsored missions created potential obstacles to the effectiveness of the Drug Enforcement Administration in their battle with FARC and put the hostages at risk as the U.S. began extraditing FARC members on drug charges.

For two years after the capture of the three Americans, the only news of their fates came from intermediaries linked to the International Red Cross or the Catholic Church.

Then in 2005, a team of documentarians released their film, "Held Hostage in Colombia," and for the first time, there was solid "proof of life."

In December 2007, footage seized during the capture of FARC guerrillas, provided fresh proof that the Americans were still alive.

In January, two female prisoners were released after six years through the intervention of leftists Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"We are more optimistic than we have been," said Victoria Bruce, one of the team of three documentarians who produced "Held Hostage in Colombia." "Two people have gotten involved that have really changed the dynamic... They have opened a dialogue, and they have gotten hostages released, and they have expressed an interest in getting the Americans out as well. Sadly, the U.S. government doesn't want anything to do with Chavez. This is the only avenue we have, and basically we have closed the doors on these guys."

If she has one message for her son, Jo Rosano told ABC News, it is that he "stay strong, be strong, keep your faith and trust in God...and that I love him very very much...I am waiting here with my arms way stretched out."

"Northrop Grumman continues to engage with various agencies and departments of the U.S. Government, the U.S. Congress and others in an attempt to foster conditions that may lead to the safe, timely release of our three colleagues," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

"Throughout this ordeal, the company has and will continue to provide support and assistance to the hostages' families, such as continuance of full salary and benefits and access to various other company benefits, resources and services," Jack M. Martin, Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems director of public relations, said in the statement.

"Meanwhile, all of us at Northrop Grumman continue to hope and pray for the day when Tom, Keith and Marc are safely reunited with their families back home in the U.S."

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