Three Hostages Were Held in Colombia for More than Five Years
Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran, 43, a member of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas (FARC) terrorist organization, pleaded guilty today in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia to hostage-taking charges stemming from the 2003 kidnappings of three U.S. citizens in Colombia.
The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen Jr. of the District of Columbia and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Division.
Navarrete Beltran was extradited from Colombia to the United States in November 2014 to face charges in a superseding indictment that was returned in February 2011. He pleaded guilty to three counts of hostage-taking. The offense carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Senior U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia scheduled sentencing for Nov. 10, 2015. Two other FARC leaders were convicted for their roles in the hostage-taking.
“This case underscores our resolve to hold accountable those who target our citizens with violence anywhere in the world,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “With this guilty plea, Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran has admitted his participation in the hostage taking and captivity of three Americans by the FARC, a Colombian terrorist organization. I want to thank all of the prosecutors, agents and analysts who made this result possible.”
“Today’s guilty plea is another step toward obtaining justice for the three U.S. citizens who were brutally held captive in Colombia for over five years,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen. “This defendant is now the third member of a Colombian terrorist organization convicted of charges for his role in the hostage-taking. This case demonstrates the determination of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute terrorism against our citizens here and abroad.”
“Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes and Keith Stansell were held hostage in the jungles of Colombia for over five years by the FARC,” said Special Agent in Charge Piro. “The conditions they endured while held prisoner were horrendous. Today, another member of this terrorist organization has admitted to taking part in this despicable crime. Despite the passage of time, our commitment to hold these individuals accountable for harming U.S. citizens does not waiver.”
According to a statement of facts submitted as part of the plea hearing, the FARC is an armed, violent organization in Colombia, formed in 1964 as the armed wing of the Colombian Communist Party. It has evolved into a major armed force financed by drug trafficking, hostage-taking and extortion. International human rights organizations have repeatedly accused the FARC of serious crimes, including kidnapping, murder, use of land mines, threats, the recruitment of minors, forced displacement and hostage-taking. The FARC was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Secretary of State in 1997 and remains so designated.
As described in the statement of offense, Navarrete Beltran was a member of the First Front in the FARC’s Southern Block.
In his plea, he admitted taking part in the hostage-taking of three U.S. citizens, Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes and Keith Stansell. These three individuals, along with Thomas Janis, a U.S. citizen, and Sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian citizen, were seized on Feb. 13, 2003, by the FARC after their single engine aircraft made a crash landing near Florencia, Colombia. Janis and Cruz were murdered at the crash site by members of the FARC.
For the next five and a half years, according to the statement of offense, Gonsalves, Howes, Stansell and many others were held prisoners by the FARC and used to bargain with the Colombian government. Along with about a dozen Colombian hostages, they were forced to march from one site to another to prevent their rescue. They were threatened, chained and forced to participate in proof-of-life videos. In early October 2006, the hostages were delivered to the FARC’s Southern Block’s First Front and were held prisoners by the First Front of the FARC.
From October 2006 through mid-June 2008, according to the statement of offense, Navarrete Beltran and other guerillas kept the hostages under the control of the FARC’s First Front. In particular, Navarrete Beltran often served as an armed guard of the American hostages.
In July 2008, the Colombian military conducted an operation which resulted in the rescue of the hostages. All told, members of the FARC held the Americans hostage for 1,967 days.
This investigation is being led by the FBI’s Miami Field Division. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth Kohl and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez of the District of Columbia, and Trial Attorney David Cora of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
Substantial assistance in the case was provided by the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the department’s Judicial Attachés in Colombia, the FBI’s Office of the Legal Attaché in Colombia and the FBI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office.