Colombian police sergeants survived years of FARC captivity; terrorist group continues to kidnap people
By Dialogo May 22, 2014
In exclusive interviews with Diálogo, two former Colombian police sergeants described years of captivity in jungle encampments after being kidnapped by terrorists with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Cesar Augusto Lasso Monsalve and John Frank Pinchao recounted their ordeals in a series of interviews. FARC terrorists held Lasso Monsalve captive for more than 13 years, and Pinchao for nearly nine years.
The FARC is engaged in ongoing peace talks with the government in Havana. As a condition of engaging in peace talks, the government required the FARC to refrain from committing kidnappings. Nonetheless, FARC terrorists were responsible for 32 of the 299 kidnappings that were committed in Colombia in 2013, according to the military.
Lasso Monsalve and Pinchao described the terrible conditions they and other kidnapping victims suffer. The two men survived heat, humidity, tropical diseases, loneliness, and other hardships.
FARC attacks Mitu
FARC terrorists kidnapped Lasso Monsalve and Pinchao following the three-day attack on the town of Mitu that began just before 5 a.m. on Nov. 1, 1998. About 1,500 FARC terrorists attacked the town, which had about 5,400 inhabitants.
The attackers ignited 200 gas-cylinder bombs which destroyed dozens of buildings. FARC terrorists engaged in shootouts with security forces throughout the day, and attacked a police station which housed most of the town’s security forces. The fighting raged for three days and nights.
Though they were greatly outnumbered, the 120 soldiers and police officers at the police station fought ferociously. By the end of the battle, 60 soldiers, police officers, and civilians were dead. Another 84 police officers were missing.
Among the missing were Lasso Monsalve and Pinchao, who at the time were both sergeants in the National Police of Colombia (PNC).
FARC terrorists had captured Lasso Monsalve and Pinchao, placed them in shackles, and kidnapped them. For years, the FARC kept the two sergeants in captivity.
The two sergeants survived heat, humidity, tropical diseases, loneliness, and other hardships. But both men survived and regained their freedom.
In separate interviews with Diálogo, Lasso Monsalve and Pinchao shared their dramatic stories of survival and resilience.
Sergeant Pinchao’s ordeal
Pinchao grew up in a poor section of Bogotá which was plagued by crime and violence. Seeing all the criminal behavior in his neighborhood inspired him to keep people safe, he recalled.
“As a child living in the poverty belts of Bogotá rife with crime and violence awakened in me a repudiation of criminals,” Pinchao said. “As soon as I was able I enlisted.” Pinchao joined the PNC in 1992, after his 18th birthday.
Pinchao knew that being a police officer could be dangerous. But he never dreamed he would face such a terrible ordeal.
After the fighting had died down in Mitu, FARC terrorists took the two captured sergeants to a jungle encampment. The conditions were horrible. Over time, the FARC took Pinchao and Lasso Monsalve to different camps, sometimes forcing them to march 20 days in a row.
For a while, the terrorists kept a chain tied tightly around Pinchao’s neck. The chain caused severe pain.
“We remained imprisoned in barbed-wire fences herded like in a Nazi prison camp,” Pinchao told Diálogo during a series of phone and e-mail interviews conducted in April. “The days were monotonous; however we sought distraction mechanisms, such as board games or physical exercise.”
The FARC fed Pinchao and the other captives meager meals of rice and peas. Several times, Pinchao became seriously ill with malaria. I
n October 2004, at which point the two sergeants had been in captivity for nearly six years, the FARC separated them, placing Pinchao and Lasso Monsalve in different camps.
A dramatic escape
After about eight years in captivity, Pinchao was determined to regain his freedom. He planned his escape for more than a year.
In April 2007, Pinchao put some corn tamale dough and a water bottle inside his pocket. He waited for a moment when a guard was distracted, then ran – and never stopped. The water spilled onto his tamale dough. For days, all he ate was wet tamale dough.
Pinchao walked, swam and crawled through the Amazon jungle, enduring mosquito bites and avoiding poisonous plants and dangerous animals.
Once, he climbed a tree to avoid a tiger. Finally, after 17 days, he ran into an anti-narcotics police patrol, which rescued him. Once he was free, Pinchao slowly regained his physical health. He also wrote a book, “My Escape to Freedom,” which was published in January 2008.
Pinchao retired from the PNC in 2012.
Thinking about the love of his family helped him survive his captivity, Pinchao said. To move forward in his life, he said, he holds no ill will against his captors.
“Forgiveness is important to move forward, it is a form of freedom from pain and letting go of the chains to the pastt,” he said.
Lasso Monsalve’s time in captivity a kind of “purgatory”
Lasso Monsalve grew up in Manzinales, where he dreamed of becoming a police officer. He joined the PNC in 1988, when he was 18
Lasso Monsalve’s memories of the FARC attack on Mitu are dream-like, “like an action movie where I was one of the actors,” he said.
Just before the attack, Lasso Monsalve and other PNC agents had provided security for Children's Day celebrations. When the FARC attacked, the town became a battlefield.
“After hours of intense fighting I ran out of ammunition,” Lasso Monsalve told Diálogo during a series of phone interviews conducted in April and May. “The (FARC) murdered 8 civilians in front of me with the excuse that they were police informers.”
Like Pinchao, Lasso Monsalve suffered health problems during his captivity. He contracted malaria four times, and suffered from severe abdominal pain and high fevers.
Some fellow PNC agents who had also been kidnapped died from disease and starvation.
Storms were dangerous. “During a night of heavy rain and thunderstorm my peers and I were out in the open with chains to our necks,” Lasso Monsalve recalled. “Lightning hit right next to us killing a (FARC operative).”
At times, FARC terrorists allowed Lasso Monsalve and other captives to listen to the radio program “Voices of Kidnapping.” On the program, family members and friends of kidnapping victims send out messages to their loved ones over the radio airwaves.
“To listen to the radio was a moment awaited by all of us,” Lasso Monsalve said. “Messages gave us hope. A message on our birthday was very special to us.”
Lasso Monsalve missed some major events in his family’s life during his captivity. When the FARC captured him, his wife was pregnant. She gave birth to a girl. In 2000, his father, Daniel Lasso, died of a heart attack.
In April, 2012, the FARC released Lasso Monsalve, along with 10 other police officers and soldiers. The release of the captives was a gesture to show a willingness to pursue peace, FARC leaders said.
Lasso Monsalve’s faith and pride in being a PNC agent helped him survive his ordeal.
“I learned to value life, friendship and family and to understand death. To never give up hope,” he said. “I learned the true meaning of being a policeman to be proud of it and that our job is to serve society. “I spent thirteen years and five months in purgatory between life and death “
Since the FARC released him, Lasso Monsalve has continued his police career and has been promoted to the rank of sergeant major.
He is grateful for his freedom and proud of his service in the PNC.
“Upon returning to freedom I found a National Police that has international prestige and is a model for many police institutions throughout the world,” he said.
This is an amazing inner look at the horrible situation within these emcampments and kidnappings...Wow..truly an eye opener and very informative...I hope they are able to find peace and tranquility...Forgiveness is a great key to seal your present and future stability...Thank YOU! The suffering they went through is unbelievable. May God grant peace in Colombia. TheY celebrate it. What a shame, having had the chance to put an end to that group of bastards. It's hard to comprehend that things like this still happen in the world. I feel bad for people living in fear of terrorism as such a real and personal threat. I think it is good for such events to be brought to the attention of people everywhere in hope that one day things will change. Well done for the Sergeant and for the Peace signing. And how will the barbarities committed by the FARCs be punished? To the Inhuman Rights organisms THEY TAKE UP ARMS AND ARE CONSIDERED TERRORISTS, THEN HOW CAN WE NAME ALL OF THOSE WHO MAKE DECISIONS FOR THE WELLBEING OF A FEW, WHILE HARMING THE REMAINING 40 MILLION COLOMBIANS WHO SUFFER THE VIOLENCE CAUSED BY THEIR OWN FORCES. Great!! it's definitely very sad I like it I don't like the comments, hahaha It's unbelievable that to this day, kidnapping, which happens to be one of the most inglorious actions, is a form to impose ideas or generate fear. There shouldn't be so many corrupt people, stop corruption. Where's the rest of those who were kidnapped? Why aren't they released? Why doesn't the government demand or order their release at the famous peace conversations in Cuba? People, can you believe that a peace dialogue can take place in Cuba? This suffering is sad, but being alive is worth putting up with the worst. It's unfortunate that these things happen, very unfortunate. welcome to freedom!!!!! As a Colombian, this unfair war hurts. I hope we can achieve the sought-out peace. We leave it all in the hands of our lord Jesus Christ, he will handle it. We want peace.
July 20, 1914 It gives me strength and I like that the police forces, despite the many hardships they go through, set an example for many people without morals, that deprive the good people of freedom. Congratulations to the security forces that provide a service with honor. The FARCs have separated many people from their loved ones. They are individuals without morals, without a heart and with social complexes. They're resented towards the world. The infamous guerrilla attacks the civilians that supposedly is fighting for, what a contradiction. How easy, trying to justify the unjustifiable. Ah, I wish there were more cops like him. May God bless him and his family. The only way to eliminate the bad weeds is to pull them out from the root, peer to peer, guerrilla to guerrilla. That's how it happened in ARG, man. Even with all Lasso Monsalve went through, he's still with the police force. Not even Mother Teresa of Calcutta would do it. It's terrible being out of the "bienvenido" family for so long. I won't be able to go to Colombia because of you, I hate you. Nations have conflicts that they export and that they have built through their own oligarchies, with their excessive ambitions. It's unfortunate to see how we are treated like animals by people who are similar to us, just because we don't think the same way. God made us all the same and we all live for the same goal: to have a good life. My brother, politicians are afraid to pass drastic laws, the right thing would be death row for those murderers. I feel sorry for that silly human rights institution, everyone knows it only benefits certain politicians. This is a story that takes place in the middle of the 20th century, where technology and global communication are taking over, but it seems that hate, ambition and political ideas have become more powerful in Colombia, the spoiled little girl of our Liberator. It makes me proud to see how those Colombian boys defend their country. They set the example for today's youth. Well, it was something very special. One should never give up when facing adversity, because there will always be a better tomorrow. "Congratulations to Laso Monsalve"!!! From Venezuela to Colombia, greetings to all. Greetings to all from Venezuela to Colombia, I'm glad you are free. According to the statistics, this generation is the most violent in the world!!! God makes everything possible, and the most important thing in obtaining peace is forgiveness. It's not fair that they keep killing our cops... and send them to jail while those who walk around armed and commit murders get shorter sentences and house arrest. The Colombian justice is failing by 90 percent. They punish the righteous and the rest appear to be relatives of the corrupt ones. The FARCs are a bunch of miserable cowards. They talk and brag to the world about being like Robin Hood, but they fight by planting landmines and ending the dreams and hopes of many Colombians, civilians or military men...Sons of the people. Narco-terrorists...neither fish nor fowl. May God bless our people from injustice and corruption, these delinquents exist because of the corruption. The State Forces would have already weaken and eradicated them long time ago. This article is excellent; I'm proud to read about events like these, and to know that there are brave and indispensable people like the hero or heroes of this article! As a cop from Venezuela, I don't understand how come these FARC terrorists still exist. They need to be eliminated. There should be peace in Colombia, why so much cruelty? Hooray for peace. Congratulations on your freedom, there's nothing more precious than that! VERY GOOD You are brave and you overcame everything, thanks God. It's impressive how they take a person's freedom and treat him like an animal. Good, the news. Their stories are very sad. But their faith to survive was bigger and they deserved to go back to their families. May God bless them and give them many years of life. Regarding the FARCs, they are people but without feelings, morals, they are inhuman and murderous. That is why I'm writing the word "PEACE" in quotes. I'm only asking the FARC and ELN narco-terrorists to have the courage to acknowledge their mistake and ask for forgiveness, and those who have to go to jail should do so. But pay for your crimes. It's not just about apologizing and washing their hands clean. No, there's something deeper here. FARC and ELN, remember that your sincere acts of regret and gestures of peace are worth more than any other signed document. There's still time. Maybe it's because being a cop in Venezuela means being a criminal with a badge and an assassin with a title. I THINK IT'S EXCELLENT. Without doubt, it's very unfortunate, but as long as men continue to put their egos before their values, they will always live in fear and hatred. I don't know what peace people are talking about if they keep killing, kidnapping and trafficking drugs, even sticking their noses in other countries where nobody has called them and they're still gathered in Cuba with the Castro mommies talking about peace and stating their conditions to the government...the only thing missing is ASKING SANTOS TO HAND OVER THE PRESIDENCY.......... It's very harsh, unfortunate and sad when a person's freedom is taken away, especially when they are in the military due to the insurgency. I did my military service and received merits at the cimitarra Santander red zone of the contingent /83/. We had several confrontations with the FARCs and were unscathed, thank God. It's unfortunate that in the 21st century there's still the possibility of someone experiencing having their freedom taken away and living conditions. It's unfortunate all that it's happening in this world. Hooray for peace. Amen. I used to be a cop but now I'm a motorized patrol agent. Honestly, If I were to be born again I would be a cop again. It's a beautiful and gratifying profession although poorly paid and lacks respect here in my beautiful country Venezuela. That experience of those two Colombian policemen had to be extremely difficult. I send my most sincere support really, from another professional escort policeman. Congratulations for recovering your lives and your precious and beautiful freedom. The saddest thing is to be thankful for his liberation and have a brotherly conversation in La Habana with the delinquents that stole years of his life with his family. Given that I'm Venezuelan, I feel a great admiration for the police, the army and the Colombian people. I miss the other Venezuelan army. Greetings to all those men of freedom. I have been closely following your odyssey. There's no shame for these FARC terrorists and what an army of the people, oh please. Will they be labeled by the government as victims...? Never forget what these people are capable of doing with good, hard-working people that have aspirations to always improve the race of the country. WE MUST BANISH TERRORISM!!! What I don't understand is how a country with international aid has not been able to defeat a group of armed men in all these years? Here in Venezuela, they should catch the officialism and opposing politicians and hand them over to the FARCs so that they can't enjoy all that they have stolen. I think that the seriousness of the internal issues within the Colombia is due to the lack of governance and of not knowing how to lead a country. And if those are on top can't solve this problem, then who will? The ELN and the FARCs aren't the problem, it's the lack of communication...! An example of self-improvement and will power. Congratulations and may God keep you safe.