U.S. Hostages Speak Out After Captivity in Colombia
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KWAME HOLMAN: The former hostages formerly addressed the media for the first time in more than five years at a news conference in San Antonio, Texas.
THOMAS HOWES, Former Hostage: It’s a pleasure to be in the USA.
KWAME HOLMAN: Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, and Thomas Howes were held that entire time in secret jungle camps by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a rebel group known by its Spanish acronym FARC.
The three Defense Department contractors were captured in 2003 after their anti-drug surveillance plane went down in Colombia’s southern jungle.
Along with the Americans, one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 11 other Colombians also were freed in the government’s daring rescue last Wednesday.
The Americans were flown to Texas that evening and have been undergoing tests at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Their families were at their sides when they spoke this afternoon.
THOMAS HOWES: Almost five-and-a-half years ago, we fell off the edge of the Earth. My companions helped me cope with difficult conditions. During these years, our company took extraordinary care of our families, heroes carried out a spectacular rescue, and a team of caring professionals here at Brooke Army Medical Center guiding us through the reintegration process, and my heartfelt thanks to all those people. We cannot forget those that we left behind in captivity.
MARC GONSALVES, Former Hostage: There was a time that, when I slept, I would dream that I was free. That time was only a few days ago. It feels so good to be free here now.
I want to send a message to the FARC. FARC, you guys are terrorists. You deny that you are. You say with words that you are not terrorists, but your words don’t have any value.
And don’t tell us that you’re not terrorists. Show us that you’re not terrorists. Let those other hostages come home.
KWAME HOLMAN: More than 700 hostages still are held by the FARC in Colombia.
KEITH STANSELL, Former Hostage: To the government and armed forces of Colombia, their heroic actions, those of those soldiers that day, brought me home safe, and for this I thank them.
To my country who never forgot me, never, and especially to the U.S. embassy in Bogota, my heartfelt thanks.
And to you, the men and women of the media, thank you for respecting our privacy in these last few days. Thank you. I ask you please to continue to do so, please, as we proceed with our transition process back to a normal life as a family. Thank you very much.
And to Governor Crist of the great state of Florida, sir, I don’t have a driver’s license. How am I going to get home?
KWAME HOLMAN: Afterward, the medical officers who treated the former hostages said they will continue to participate in the Army’s voluntary re-integration program.