Keith Stansell, a U.S contractor and former hostage, who spent five years in FARC captivity with Ingrid Betancourt, said in an interview with RCN Radio Monday that the ex-presidential candidate was aware of the dangers of entering Colombia’s formerly demilitarized zone (DMZ) the day of her kidnapping.
“It was her own arrogance that kidnapped her,” Stansell told RCN Radio, adding that he had decided to speak out after seeing an interview with Betancourt Monday night, in which she commented on the circumstances leading to her kidnapping.
According to Stansell, during their time as FARC captives, Betancourt “in the jungle with me, in English, not in Spanish, explained this to me in a very different way. So I’ve come out to say that … it wasn’t like that and at least she had changed her version of events from what she told me in the jungle.”
“She told me that when she left for El Caguan, the authorities had taken away her bodyguards because there was a threat and the authorities and the general didn’t want to put the lives of the bodyguards at risk. Period … She took it as if they were trying to take away some kind of authority from her and she continued to go ahead in car, covered in campaign stickers and look what happened,” Stansell continued.
“This is just my opinion, it was her own arrogance that got her kidnapped. Period. No more. It’s obvious to everyone that there the authorities understood very well that the highway conditions were very dangerous … and she told me that very clearly in the jungle. Why is she now changing her account?” Stansell said.
The former FARC hostage also revealed that he no longer maintains any kind of relationship with fellow U.S. captive Marc Gonsalves. He said he has not talked to Gonsalves about Betancourt’s petition for $6.5 million in damages from the Colombian government because “Marc and Ingrid are now together … they are a couple … so it doesn’t make sense to me to talk to him about it.”
Stansell said he has his own lawsuit seeking damages for his kidnapping, but that he seeks reparation from the FARC, not the Colombian government, because “it’s the FARC that kidnapped us, not the government, so why sue the state? Why?”
Revelations last Friday that Betancourt seeks compensation from the state resulted in a wave of indignation and anger around Colombia. Betancourt has since stated that she does not plan to sue the state, however a public mediation meeting between the Colombian government and Betancourt is set for August 5.
Colombia’s inspector general said Monday that if Betancourt does not plan to sue the state, she needs to formally notify the government that this is case.
As it stands, Betancourt has petitioned a “request for conciliation,” which means she has taken the initial move to discuss compensation. By law, suing would be the next step if no agreement on damages were reached with the Colombian government.
The Colombian government believes that Betancourt had no recourse to claim damages and argues that the former FARC hostage was explicitly warned not to enter the demilitarized zone where she was kidnapped on February 23, 2002. Military officials said that she signed a document accepting personal responsibility for her decision to enter, which Betancourt denies.
The Colombian state cites DAS documents and video footage of Betancourt the day she was kidnapped as proof that she was aware of the risks she was taking by entering the Andean nation’s former DMZ.
Betancourt claims that the Colombian state failed to provide her adequate protection to travel in the zone, stripping her of her bodyguards and refusing to allow her to fly by state helicopter into the heavily guerrilla infiltrated area, where she was kidnapped.
According to Betancourt, her petition for damages aims to “open the way so that other people who have been kidnapped can get compensation.”
The Colombian army rescued Betancourt, Stansell, Gonsalves, another U.S. hostage Thomas Howes, and eleven members of the armed forces in the highly celebrated liberation mission “Operation Checkmate” on July 2, 2008, a mission which Betancourt herself described as “perfect.”
In “Out of Captivity,” the book published by Stansell, Gonsalves and Howes about their ordeal in the Colombian jungle, Stansell and Howes paint Betancourt in a less than favorable light, claiming that she was arrogant, stole food, and put their lives in danger by telling the rebel guards that the authors were CIA agents. They insinuate she had at least one ex-marital affair during their shared time in the jungle, and Gonsalves himself makes references to the “special” relationship he had with Betancourt.
In the book, Stansell makes his dislike of Betancourt clear from the outset.
Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen, did not mention her petition when she was in Colombia to celebrate the two year anniversary of “Operation Checkmate.”
Betancourt now divides her time between New York and Paris.