BOGOTA -- For more than five years, Marc Gonsalvez and two other Americans were marched through Colombia’s jungles as hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas.
Now, as FARC and government negotiators meet in Cuba to hammer out a peace deal, Gonsalvez, 40, said he’s hoping for the best, but fears the intentions of his former captors.
“I am quickly losing hope that something positive will come out of it,” Gonsalvez told The Miami Herald from his home in Stratford, Conn.
Negotiators from both sides resumed meeting in Havana Monday to plot a path that might allow the nation’s largest guerrilla group to put down its arms after 48 years. There are five points on the peace agenda, including land reform, victims’ rights and the FARC’s political future.
But the political pretensions of the guerrillas — considered terrorists by the U.S. and Colombian governments — grate on Gonsalvez.
“They haven’t done anything good for the country; all they have done is terrorize the country,” he said. “I don’t think the FARC have the right to discuss political reform or land distribution or land reform or any of that. This type of peace process should be about the terms of their surrender and what kind of amnesty they will get if they turn in their weapons.”
Founded in 1964 with Marxist underpinnings, the FARC has found support in rural areas where poverty runs high and the state’s presence is tenuous. But the group has increasingly turned to drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping to finance its survival.
Gonsalvez fell into the FARC’s hands Feb. 13, 2003, when he and four crewmates were on a military surveillance mission with California Microwave Systems, a division of Northrop Grumman.
The airplane crash-landed in guerrilla-controlled territory and was quickly surrounded by the FARC. Thomas Janis, a U.S. contractor, and Colombian Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz, were executed. Gonsalvez, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes were taken into the jungle, moved constantly, and often locked in cages and chained to trees to prevent their escape.
During the first six months, the men were kept isolated and they didn’t know if their families were aware they were alive. That routine was broken when they were taken to a small village, forced to shave and cut their hair, and dressed in military uniforms made in Venezuela. They were interviewed by a Colombian journalist and their translator was a young, pretty Dutch guerrilla “who looked like she had just come out of the city,” Gonsalvez said.
That woman, Tanja Nijmeijer, 34, is in Havana now as part of the FARC’s negotiation team. Nijmeijer joined the FARC in Nov. 2002, according to intelligence sources. Her background and command of multiple languages allowed her to rise quickly through the ranks. She was with the FARC’s top military strategist, Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas, better known as “Mono Jojoy,” when he was killed in an airstrike in 2010.
The government worries that Nijmeijer could become a powerful propaganda and recruiting tool for the FARC in Havana, as she appeals to elements of the European left. In the Netherlands, the long-haired activist turned guerrilla has been the subject of movies, books and much speculation.