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Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerrilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs

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A blistering journalistic exposé: an account of government negligence, corporate malfeasance, familial struggle, drugs, politics, murder, and a daring rescue operation in the Colombian jungle. On July 2, 2008, when three American private contractors and Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt were rescued after being held for more than five years by the Revolutio A blistering journalistic exposé: an account of government negligence, corporate malfeasance, familial struggle, drugs, politics, murder, and a daring rescue operation in the Colombian jungle. On July 2, 2008, when three American private contractors and Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt were rescued after being held for more than five years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the world was captivated by their personal narratives. But between the headlines a major story was lost: Who exactly are the FARC? How had a drug-funded revolutionary army managed to hold so many hostages for so long? Had our costly War on Drugs failed completely? Hostage Nation answers these questions by exploring the complex and corrupt political and socioeconomic situations that enabled the FARC to gain unprecedented strength, influence, and impunity. It takes us behind the news stories to profile a young revolutionary in the making, an elite Colombian banker-turned-guerrilla and the hard-driven American federal prosecutor determined to convict him on American soil, and a former FBI boss who worked tirelessly to end the hostage crisis while the U.S. government disregarded his most important tool—negotiation. With unprecedented access to the FARC’s hidden camps, exceptional research, and lucid and keen insight, the authors have produced a revelatory work of current history.


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A blistering journalistic exposé: an account of government negligence, corporate malfeasance, familial struggle, drugs, politics, murder, and a daring rescue operation in the Colombian jungle. On July 2, 2008, when three American private contractors and Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt were rescued after being held for more than five years by the Revolutio A blistering journalistic exposé: an account of government negligence, corporate malfeasance, familial struggle, drugs, politics, murder, and a daring rescue operation in the Colombian jungle. On July 2, 2008, when three American private contractors and Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt were rescued after being held for more than five years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the world was captivated by their personal narratives. But between the headlines a major story was lost: Who exactly are the FARC? How had a drug-funded revolutionary army managed to hold so many hostages for so long? Had our costly War on Drugs failed completely? Hostage Nation answers these questions by exploring the complex and corrupt political and socioeconomic situations that enabled the FARC to gain unprecedented strength, influence, and impunity. It takes us behind the news stories to profile a young revolutionary in the making, an elite Colombian banker-turned-guerrilla and the hard-driven American federal prosecutor determined to convict him on American soil, and a former FBI boss who worked tirelessly to end the hostage crisis while the U.S. government disregarded his most important tool—negotiation. With unprecedented access to the FARC’s hidden camps, exceptional research, and lucid and keen insight, the authors have produced a revelatory work of current history.

30 review for Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerrilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs

  1. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Hunt

    Hostage Nation is a large-scale coverage of the abduction and release of hostages during Plan Colombia, (the Bush administration’s War on Drugs,) and a mid-level treatment of the wider subject of the Colombian Conflict. Rather than being a political commentary, it is a look at what happened, and the aggravating factors, including a detailed look at life inside the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla rebel band that has recently handed over their weapons to the United Na Hostage Nation is a large-scale coverage of the abduction and release of hostages during Plan Colombia, (the Bush administration’s War on Drugs,) and a mid-level treatment of the wider subject of the Colombian Conflict. Rather than being a political commentary, it is a look at what happened, and the aggravating factors, including a detailed look at life inside the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla rebel band that has recently handed over their weapons to the United Nations, after reaching a peace deal with the current President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos. Álvaro Uribe was president of Colombia during the events that take place in this book, and the conversion of FARC to a peaceful political party is beyond the scope of this book. So, it is a good look at where Colombia came from, and explains the current efforts to reach peace with smaller paramilitary rebel groups in Colombia today. Within the larger context of Plan Colombia, which had the goal of wiping out the guerrilla armies to win the war on drugs, the book describes the capture of U.S. government contractors (citizen military agents) Marc David Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes. It also describes the capture of a Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, who had been pleading for the kidnappings to stop, (over 3000 victims a year) before she was later captured herself. And, there were hundreds more who were a variety of politicians, soldiers, and citizens held for ransom to support the guerrilla army. The book also discusses the arrest & trial of Ricardo Palmera aka “Simone Trinidad,” Banker turned guerrilla, the highest ranking FARC member ever captured and a rebel woman who went by the nom de guerre Sonja. The political ideology of the liberals and conservatives (reversed from US stances with same name,) is covered. And, besides the negotiations and humanitarian exchange process, news events such as the December 21, 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 exploding over Scotland and the April 1, 2003 kidnapping of Jessica Lynch in Iraq, and how they affected the efforts in Colombia which largely went uncovered in the US media. It also pulls in later declassified documents, like the CIA Document that admits the US blamed the Russians for an uprising that happened during this time, to detract media attention from the very real crisis situations. The book also explains NSPD12, the hostage negotiation bill signed by Bush in 2012. Hostage Nation provided a brief history of Cocaine, and a bit of geography of Colombia. It also gave many personal glimpses of the human hostages, such as how one made a deck of cards from the pages of his journal to play solitaire since they were kept in isolation, and another drew his house floorplan in his journal, where he would each day say good morning to members of his family as he ‘walked’ through his house. I read the Audible narrated by Yetta Gottesman. That was very good, with authentic name pronunciation and accents. I read it as part of my Journey Around the World in 80 Books for Colombia. My next stop will be Ecuador, but I will be reading a couple of the memoirs (on the side) by the surviving hostages.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tess Julia

    This is a complex book written on a very complicated topic- Colombian politics and the guerrilla movements. I gave it five stars and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know what really went on behind the scenes in Colombia. I thought it gave an excellent and easy to understand explanation of the rise of the guerrilla movement FARC, and the amount of research done by the authors was astonishing. As far as the Colombian journalist Botero went, I felt very sympathetic towards him. It see This is a complex book written on a very complicated topic- Colombian politics and the guerrilla movements. I gave it five stars and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know what really went on behind the scenes in Colombia. I thought it gave an excellent and easy to understand explanation of the rise of the guerrilla movement FARC, and the amount of research done by the authors was astonishing. As far as the Colombian journalist Botero went, I felt very sympathetic towards him. It seemed to be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. If he tried to report events as a journalist, everyone questioned which side of the situation he was on. I was an ex-pat in Ecuador for three years, and living abroad is a very eye opening experience to seeing how others view Americans. Sometimes the truth is clearer from the other side, and not everything is as it seems in a world of "free press". There can be a middle ground of being able to report something, but choosing not to because people don't want to hear it, or really don't care about it. To give credit where credit is due, the Colombian military and intelligence agency did a brilliant rescue of three American hostages, 15 hostages in all. It was a move worthy of a 007, James Bond movie, and it was a gripping, well-written account.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    A book about the kidnapping of three American defense contractors who were held hostage for over five years in the jungle by FARC. It didn’t convince me one way or another about FARC and its ideology, but certainly that the US government didn’t care about them and let the trail go cold, while touting its political success once they were released.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rick Edwards

    This account of the capture of three U.S. citizens, contract employees of the government for Plan Colombia, is rich in engaging detail. It provides ample historical background and a helpful explanation of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), its origin, organizational structure, expansion, and contraction. Besides absorbing my attention during spare moments for a couple of weeks,. it has been one of the most helpful works I've read on Colombia in recent years. It does cast an unfla This account of the capture of three U.S. citizens, contract employees of the government for Plan Colombia, is rich in engaging detail. It provides ample historical background and a helpful explanation of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), its origin, organizational structure, expansion, and contraction. Besides absorbing my attention during spare moments for a couple of weeks,. it has been one of the most helpful works I've read on Colombia in recent years. It does cast an unflattering light on the U.S. government's response to this hostage situation, and its report should influence future strategy in such si

  5. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    I read this book purely as a companion to the three -- yes, three -- books I've read about the hostage situation in Colombia. I can't help wondering how many books would have been written about it outside Colombia if it hadn't been for the high international profile of Ingrid Betancourt and the fact that three of the hostages were American. The book focuses mainly on the events surrounding the capture and rescue of the three Americans, not surprisingly as it was written for the American market. T I read this book purely as a companion to the three -- yes, three -- books I've read about the hostage situation in Colombia. I can't help wondering how many books would have been written about it outside Colombia if it hadn't been for the high international profile of Ingrid Betancourt and the fact that three of the hostages were American. The book focuses mainly on the events surrounding the capture and rescue of the three Americans, not surprisingly as it was written for the American market. They obviously draw quite heavily on the Americans' book, Out of Captivity for the details of their experience, but that's not really the focus of this book. Its aim is to provide the objective account the hostages themselves couldn't possibly provide, and explain the background to the FARC and the catastrophic US "war on drugs". Their real coup was getting the collaboration of Jorge Botero, a Colombian journalist who must have more first-hand knowledge of the hostage situation than anyone outside the FARC; it was he who was granted permission to interview the Americans for their "proof of life" video, and he seems to have devoted years of his life to publicising the plight of the hostages and doing anything he could to get negotiations off the ground. Did it succeed? I found the book a bit disorganised, jumping from one topic to another and backwards and forwards in time, for no apparent reason. You do get the impression that it was written in bits and pieces over the years. But it was very interesting reading about the efforts to free the hostages from the outside. It also confirmed a lot of my suspicions about the US government: the whole point of using contractors is so that you can wash your hands of them when things go wrong, in a way you couldn't with soldiers. The companies behind the contracts cooked up cunning wheezes of sub-sub-contracting and phantom companies to keep themselves out of the headlines too. To be fair, the employer of the three hostages appears to have treated the families very well; but the treatment of the families of the three who died when their plane crashed as they searched for their colleagues was appalling. It's also clear what a farce the Bush administration's war on drugs was. The only ones who benefited substantially were the defence contractors who supplied the hardware. Other than that, it was business as usual for the growers and narco-traffickers who helped finance the FARC. I'd have liked more detail on Colombian history and the conditions driving people to join the FARC though. Finally, how naive the three Americans were. It seemed to me that their ignorance of Colombian politics and society meant they didn't really have a good enough idea of the risks of their work, or how little the US government would do when things went wrong. I was particularly intrigued by the comments of an ex-FBI agent turned private consultant, who suggested that the reason they were kept for over a week on a military base when they returned wasn't so that they could re-acclimatise and get together with their families in private -- it was to brainwash them into believing the government had done a great job, and not kick up a stink about how little had been done to free them. And you can tell from their book that it worked. Although it has its faults, I recommend this book for anyone who's read the other books on the hostages, just to add some balance and perspective.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    This is a fine book, but it really wasn't what I was hoping for. I wanted more of an overview of Colombia's drug wars and the FARC, but this is really about a specific batch of hostages. As a result, there's a lot of the same information over and over again... they weren't released, then they still weren't release, then again with the not being released. Even so, I have almost no real impression of what the hostages saw, smelled, tasted, thought or felt during their years of captivity, because t This is a fine book, but it really wasn't what I was hoping for. I wanted more of an overview of Colombia's drug wars and the FARC, but this is really about a specific batch of hostages. As a result, there's a lot of the same information over and over again... they weren't released, then they still weren't release, then again with the not being released. Even so, I have almost no real impression of what the hostages saw, smelled, tasted, thought or felt during their years of captivity, because the book gives the impression (accurate or otherwise) that it is written from secondary sources. That is kinda weird given that one of the book's three authors is a journalist who was peripherally involved in the case and is referenced third-person as a character in the narrative. From various cues, I am going to speculate that his involvement was even more peripheral than it seems. In any event, I'm sure the hostages mostly didn't want to talk about their years of captivity; that much is clearly stated herin. The result is a book focused tightly on a small set of events without once transporting me into them. Good writing is not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained on. Lacking a first-person account of being rained on, this book should have taught me something about meteorology. Instead, the political situation in Colombia seems as flat of affect as the hostages' captivity. Whatever. There are human moments here that are reasonably effective, even if they're told in clichés. Ultimately, I am left with the sense of gratitude and relief that there is finally a peace treaty between Colombia's government and the FARC, so the book clearly made an impression on me anyway. Unfortunately, I suspect the things the FARC was fighting for have merely been steamrollered over, and the enormous inequitites in Colombia will not just continue, but ramp up -- just like everywhere. Neoliberalism in action, and Marxism pussing out like it always does. Both systems appeal to the worst in human nature while pretending to appeal to the best. With things only changing for the worse -- to benefit the top .01% -- catastrophic inequity marches on. It is winning the war for human history. Shit... it's basically won. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for peace where it reigns, and war solves fuck-all. But with even shitty Marxism dead and greed ruling the world, God help Colombia and God help us all.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

    From http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2010/... I read Victoria Bruce, Karin Hayes, and Jorge Enrique Botero's Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs. Given how much it focuses on the three American hostages and Ingrid Betancourt, all freed in 2008, I would say the best way to characterize the book is as a companion to Out of Captivity (here is my review of that book from a year ago). Hostage Nation provides the Colombian context that Out of Captivity mostly ignored. R From http://weeksnotice.blogspot.com/2010/... I read Victoria Bruce, Karin Hayes, and Jorge Enrique Botero's Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs. Given how much it focuses on the three American hostages and Ingrid Betancourt, all freed in 2008, I would say the best way to characterize the book is as a companion to Out of Captivity (here is my review of that book from a year ago). Hostage Nation provides the Colombian context that Out of Captivity mostly ignored. Reading both gives you insight into how the FARC operates and all the many different voices involved in hostage negotiations. Some of the most interesting parts of the book come from interviews with FARC guerrillas. The details--both historical and contemporary--about Simón Trinidad and his capture stand out in that regard. The authors provide a sense of why people become fanatically attached to the FARC, and the nature of their ideological rigidity. I kept thinking of Néstor Kirchner's perfect recent quote: the FARC "are so back in time, that they are even far behind the Cold War." Ultimately, though, despite the subtitle it really is not a book about the "failed war on drugs." The brief epilogue with statistics about coca cultivation, etc. is the only time the authors center on that. I do think the drug war is failing, but this book doesn't really expand on the argument. The fight against the FARC is intertwined with the drug war, but they are not synonymous. Winning or losing battles against the FARC tell us very little about the flow of narcotics. It does serve as a well-written reminder, though, that all the contract work that U.S. citizens find in Colombia creates problems. In particular, the contractors feel like they are protected by the U.S. government, whereas the U.S. sees them as much more expendable precisely because they are contractors.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Lu

    very informative historical account of the origins of FARC and the events that have brought us to today... going back to the Liberal and Conservative political parties that dominated Colombia 60 years ago leading to a civil war with atrocities committed (and continuing to be committed) by both sides as they evolved to the status of today. very interesting and detailed personal histories of many within FARC's high command from Manuel Marulanda and Sim�n Trinidad to Mono Jojoy... highly feared men very informative historical account of the origins of FARC and the events that have brought us to today... going back to the Liberal and Conservative political parties that dominated Colombia 60 years ago leading to a civil war with atrocities committed (and continuing to be committed) by both sides as they evolved to the status of today. very interesting and detailed personal histories of many within FARC's high command from Manuel Marulanda and Sim�n Trinidad to Mono Jojoy... highly feared men who have been all over the news of the last 2 decades. I always love reading about modern history that is so recent that the events and their impacts remain vividly within my memory. Includes the background leading up to the Colombian army's attack on a FARC camp just South of the Ecuadorean border that killed Raul Reyes and sparked a major spat among OAS states (with Ch�vez mobilizing tanks to his Western border) and the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and the 3 Americans in captivity. 2 lingering questions remain... just what exactly is the real story with Jorge Enrique Botero? He has been painted as a FARC sympathizer, a heartless bulldog reporter, and in this story (for which he is a co-author) just a man trying to use his position as a journalist with access to FARC to do the best that he can to bring some help to hostages. As always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but all of his actions (with open-minded context) do seem very reasonable. The 2nd is what solution is there for the drug trade/terrorist problems that linger today? There is plenty of blame to go around, as this book reinforces but does little to offer a solution (which I have no idea either). They hint at legalization of cocaine as being able to make a huge impact albeit with many other problems.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    I didn't like the title of this book when I picked it up and was convinced it would disappoint, but I was again looking for more information on Colombia and so I read it anyway. Also, it was the first book I've checked out from the local library in a long time, but that's what happens when the only bookstore goes out of business. OK, I ended up enjoying the book, but I still think it was poorly titled and barely makes a case that the war on drugs is a failure, only really delving into that topic I didn't like the title of this book when I picked it up and was convinced it would disappoint, but I was again looking for more information on Colombia and so I read it anyway. Also, it was the first book I've checked out from the local library in a long time, but that's what happens when the only bookstore goes out of business. OK, I ended up enjoying the book, but I still think it was poorly titled and barely makes a case that the war on drugs is a failure, only really delving into that topic at all in the epilogue. The title doesn't even mention it, but this is mostly a book about the kidnapping of three specific Americans who were held hostage for almost 6 years. It spends chapters talking about FBI hostage negotiators and the families of the three men back in the US. At one point the authors are actually critical of the fact that public attention for Colombia's hostages waned after the "celebrity" Americans were released, but the authors barely spent any attention on hostages not from the USA or named Ingrid Betancourt. The detail that made this book so intriguing was that it was written with the help of Jorge Enrique Botero, a Colombian journalist had deep inside access to the FARC on several occasions and who continued the fight to bring attention to the plight of so many hostages through his activities in Colombia and in the USA. Overall, it's a fascinating look into the inner workings of the FARC and the most high profile hostage case in many years. It just has a bad title.

  10. 5 out of 5

    La Petite Américaine

    This book takes out all of the emotion, anger and drama found in the hostage memoirs of Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas, and the three Americans all held in captivity by the FARC. While highly sympathetic so some questionable characters such as Piedad Cordoba and Hugo Chavez, the writers give an excellent and consice history of the FARC and how the organization has held the nation of Colombia captive for over 40 years. This is an easy read, a simple statement of the facts as they are, and it prov This book takes out all of the emotion, anger and drama found in the hostage memoirs of Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas, and the three Americans all held in captivity by the FARC. While highly sympathetic so some questionable characters such as Piedad Cordoba and Hugo Chavez, the writers give an excellent and consice history of the FARC and how the organization has held the nation of Colombia captive for over 40 years. This is an easy read, a simple statement of the facts as they are, and it provides valuable insight to what really went on behind the scenes in securing the release of some of the most famous hostages in history. A must read for anyone interested in Colombia but too lazy to audit a Latin American history course.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    I'm heading to Colombia in a few weeks and wanted to be better-informed on the history of the conflict there. This book was a well-researched, objective account the guerilla conflict, the war on drugs, and the U.S. involvement in Colombia that traces everything back to the founding of the country itself. Not only is it interesting, but the authors are great storytellers, so I was never bored while reading. It focuses a lot on the kidnapping of the three American contractors, and leaves out some I'm heading to Colombia in a few weeks and wanted to be better-informed on the history of the conflict there. This book was a well-researched, objective account the guerilla conflict, the war on drugs, and the U.S. involvement in Colombia that traces everything back to the founding of the country itself. Not only is it interesting, but the authors are great storytellers, so I was never bored while reading. It focuses a lot on the kidnapping of the three American contractors, and leaves out some more recent events (although I can't quite remember the publication date of the book). But still, it is really informative, and I definitely recommend it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jose Laverde

    This book is a great companion to Ingrid Betancour's book of captivity. It fills in all the gaps of what was happening in Colombia, US, and FARC during the 7 years of Captivity . This book did a great job of exploring FARC movement and identifying major players involved. The book tried to get into all the players involved in Colombia going over US contractors, Colombian Army, guerillas, and para military. In order to understand Colombia you have to understand the history this book took the time t This book is a great companion to Ingrid Betancour's book of captivity. It fills in all the gaps of what was happening in Colombia, US, and FARC during the 7 years of Captivity . This book did a great job of exploring FARC movement and identifying major players involved. The book tried to get into all the players involved in Colombia going over US contractors, Colombian Army, guerillas, and para military. In order to understand Colombia you have to understand the history this book took the time to do that. It showed how each faction came into being and how they have morphed over time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Hostage Nation details the history of Colombia's civil war while giving insight into individual accounts that have shaped the conflict in recent decades. A great read for those seeking an unbiased understanding of Colombia's political problems.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Steven Farmer

    finished & recommend finished & recommend

  15. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    I'm really interested in this subject matter however I found the book to be a bit scattered. I think it had the potential to make a big impact but just didn't quite deliver.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Lawson

  17. 4 out of 5

    IAMLEGION

  18. 5 out of 5

    Randy Pace

  19. 5 out of 5

    Johanna

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary Green

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bob Allen

  22. 4 out of 5

    h

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shawnyboy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elise Krause

  25. 4 out of 5

    Delaney Ward

  26. 5 out of 5

    VIVIEN

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Uyat

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nunya

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erik De ruiter

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Neumann

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