Wednesday, March 19, 2014

US: FARC Commander Pleads Guilty of Kidnapping US Citizens for 1,967 Days, Sentencing Date Set

According to Reuters, Alexander Beltran Herrera, 37, a commander of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), pleaded guilty today (March 19) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to hostage-taking charges stemming from the 2003 kidnappings of three US citizens in Colombia.

Beltran Herrera has pleaded guilty to three counts of hostage-taking and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 25, 2014.

The offense of hostage taking carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, although as part of the extradition process from Colombia, the US agreed not to seek a sentence exceeding 60 years.

Beltran Herrera directed that the FARC abduct three US citizen contractors working for the US government whose single-engine aircraft crashed into the Colombian jungle on February 13, 2003.

In addition to the three US contractors, Sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian citizen was also kidnapped by the FARC in 2003.

COMMENT: The three US contractors, along with Thomas Janis, a US citizen and Sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian citizen, were seized on February 13, 2003.

FARC rebels murdered Janis and Cruz at the crash site on February 13, 2003.

The FARC is an armed terrorism group since its inception in 1964, which has engaged in an armed conflict to overthrow the Republic of Colombia, South America’s longest-standing democracy.

The FARC has characterized US citizens as “military targets” and has engaged in violent acts against Americans in Colombia, including murders and hostage taking. The FARC was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US Secretary of State since 1997.

Beltran Herrera was involved in the abduction of three US citizens Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes and Keith Stansell. These three, along with Thomas Janis, a US citizen and Sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian citizen, were seized on February 13, 2003.

Gonsalves, Howes and Stansell were held by the FARC at gunpoint and were advised by FARC leadership that they would be used as hostages to increase pressure on the government of Colombia to agree to the FARC’s demands.

At the conclusion of one 40-day long march, in November 2004, the hostages were delivered to members of the FARC’s 27th Front who imprisoned the hostages for nearly two years. During part of this period, Beltran Herrera was responsible for moving the hostages and keeping them imprisoned. 

Throughout the captivity of these three hostages, FARC jailors and guards used choke harnesses, chains, padlocks and wires to restrain the hostages and used force and threats to continue their detention and prevent their escape.

In July 2008, the Colombian military conducted a daring operation that resulted in the rescue of the hostages.

All told, the FARC held the Americans hostage for 1,967 days.

As a footnote, for the last 18 months the FARC and the Colombian government have been participating in peace negotiations to no avail in Havana, largely because negotiators were unable to agree on a cease-fire from the outset.

Consequently, it is impossible to determine how many lives have been lost on both sides in the absence of such a cease-fire.