Law of the Jungle
The Hunt for Colombian Guerrillas, American Hostages, and Buried Treasure
By John Otis
(William Morrow, Hardcover, 9780061671807, 368pp.)
Publication Date: March 1, 2010
List Price: $25.99*
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Truth be told, they were mostly in it for the money
On February 13, 2003, a plane carrying three American military contractors on a recon patrol crash-landed in the jungle-covered mountains of Colombia. Within minutes, FARC guerrillas swarmed the wreckage and killed the American pilot and a Colombian crew member as they tried to escape. The survivorsMarc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howeswere marched at gunpoint into the rain forest. They would live in constant darkness under the jungle canopy as they faced starvation, fights with fellow hostages, and threats of executionoften with their necks shackled together.
The Colombian government sent 147 soldiers to rescue the Americans. Led by a bold yet corpulent lieutenant, the troops spent weeks subsisting on monkey meat and Amazon rodents as they chased the guerrillas deeper into the jungle. But then a soldier on a bathroom break stuck his machete into the ground and pulled out 20 million pesos, equaling $7,000. Pretty soon, the young, poor, and exhausted troops realized they had stumbled upon a buried rebel cache of $20 million. Within three days, the GIs burned through their newfound fortune, splurging on booze, sex, and flat-screen televisions. And though the money brought pleasure, for many of the soldiers it would end in criminal prosecution or even death by FARC hit men.
Law of the Jungle places the Colombian hostage story in its full context by exploring the inner workings of the FARC, the U.S.-backed war on drugs, and Colombia's efforts to free the rebel-held prisoners. John Otis, a veteran journalist on the Latin American beat, spins an edge-of-your-seat adventure narrative that offers a shocking cautionary tale about the pursuit of fortune in one of the world's most dangerous places.
John Otis has worked as a reporter in Latin America for more than two decades, and served for eight years as South America Bureau Chief for the Houston Chronicle. He now reports from Colombia for Time magazine, GlobalPost, and the BBC/PRI radio program The World, and he lives in BogotÁ.