They feared death by execution or air raid, but the worst part was being chained to fellow captives for years at a time in the jungle, said hostages freed by Colombian rebels after more than a decade.
The stories of hostage life emerged a day after Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas released their last uniformed captives — six police officers and four soldiers — who emerged from the jungle on Monday to emotional reunions with family members.
“For many years we were chained to each other. That was humiliating,” police officer Carlos Jose Duarte said at a press conference on Tuesday along with the other released policemen.
Sergeant Cesar Augusto Lasso said that during his years of captivity, an armed rebel fighter was only “2m away” at all times.
The six men were thrilled when they heard a radio report in April 2007 describing the escape of policeman John Frank Pinchao after eight years in the hands of FARC.
As a result, two of their group — Jose Libardo Forero and Jorge Trujillo — made a break in September 2009, but after a month of wandering through the jungle they were recaptured by the guerrillas.
“They stripped off our clothes and threw us on the ground,” Forero said. “I told them: ‘Stop humiliating us, we’re tired of this. If you are going to execute us, do it.’”
The guerrillas concluded they were more valuable alive.
The former hostages were reported to be in good health, but will undergo medical tests at a military hospital in Bogota.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who stopped to visit them on Tuesday, said the men appeared to be “feeling good in body and spirit” despite their “inhuman treatment.”
Norma Trujillo, Libardo Forero’s wife, told reporters how astonished her husband was at seeing his daughter and son, who were children when he was captured in 1999. Today they are 16 and 20 years old and he was overwhelmed “when he saw how beautiful she is and how his son looked like him.”
The celebrations have brought renewed demands for the release of the dozens of civilian hostages still held by the FARC.
Santos, who called for all hostages to be released, said the FARC’s announcement in February that they would no longer kidnap people for ransom was “an important step,” but “not enough.”
The rebels have called for a “negotiated exit toward peace,” according to a message carried by the intermediaries that brought the latest hostages out, and the release was intended a sign of good will.
The guerrillas had been holding the soldiers and police as bargaining chips to swap for their imprisoned comrades.
Leon Valencia, director of the Instituto Nuevo Arco Iris, said the release marks “the end of a very painful period in Colombia, that of kidnappings for political ends.”
However, he acknowledged that peace efforts were still hampered by the uncertain fate of the civilian captives.