A lot has been said these days about Out of Captivity, the book of the three American former FARC hostages Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes. Focus has been almost exclusively on their remarks about Ingrid Betancourt. Not even a quarter of the book mentions her. One can wonder: who is looking for sensation here, the Americans or the press? The word sex is used perhaps three times in the whole book.
The book shows the struggle of three military trained Americans to survive in captivity and in a context which is uncommon for them: Colombia and its jungle. Moreover, during some time they are forced to live with Colombian politicians. They feel uncommon in the group. They are militaries and feel more comfortable with the Colombian militaries. Moreover they are Americans and used to a different way of relating to people. Quite human and understandable.
They are honest about their uneasy way to handle the situation. For example, Thomas Howes is the only one who speaks Spanish. He has to translate all the time for the other two, which is a burden sometimes. When they are brought to ‘the politicians’, it is a relief for Tom, who easily starts relating to them. Marc and Keith recognize they are jealous.
The only thing which makes me feel uneasy is that they now and then write quite personal things about others. Not only the — according to them — affective relationship between Ingrid Betancourt and Luis Eladio Pérez or that between Gloria Polanco and Jorge Eduardo Géchem. Also other appreciations, which for other persons perhaps are offensive or too intimate to be published in a book.
They give quite an interesting view of what the FARC are and of course their way of dealing with the hostages. Incredible how cruel and mean that sometimes is. Two hostages are quarreling but only one is punished and chained. That is a very nasty way to create hostility between them.
Out of Captivity is valuable because of the insight it offers in what it means to be a hostage for such a long time in such physically difficult circumstances. It is a cruel and mean crime which reduces human beings to beasts. Gonsalves, Howes and Stansell show that very clearly. But why do they give so much personal information about others? Is it eagerness to sell like Colombian opinionleaders have said? The only ones who can give the answer are the authors.
Author Wies Ubags is a Dutch freelance journalist in Bogotá, works for media in her country and has her own weblog.