Former FARC Rebel Tells of Being Court-Martialed after Operation Check-Mate

By Dialogo
August 18, 2010

Juan Carlos was responsible for providing basic needs to captives of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), when an alleged humanitarian mission
in the jungle of Guaviaré took 15 prisoners to safety on July 2, 2008. What turned
into the successful Operation Check-Mate, caused his demise in the guerrilla, after
growing up with them.

Known as “Manchaco”, Juan Carlos turned himself to authorities in mid-August
– after two years of attempted escapes – and spoke to Colombian daily
El Tiempo to tell of his experiences as a FARC

Following the events that turned out to be Operation Check-Mate, FARC leaders
took Manchaco for a traitor and assumed he turned the prisoners in for a ransom. His
hands and feet were chained to a tree in a camp, where he remained under high
surveillance by “Asdrubal’s” seventh front during over 40 days.

According to El Tiempo, Manchaco was court-martialed and
accused of involuntarily collaborating with the enemy, though he assured them he was
unaware of what had occurred. “I joined that [the FARC] practically when I was 14.
It was hard to be treated like that [being chained like the prisoners],” he
admitted. “I will never forget it,” he added.

When asked if he considered that the prisoners had remained in chains for the
better part of ten years, Manchaco replied, “Yes, it’s very hard to be [in that
position] when you are innocent.”

Juan Carlos realized the Colombian Army – and not a humanitarian
mission – had just taken off with his 15 prisoners when he turned on a TV set
to find out that Operation Check-Mate had been a successful rescue mission and the
prisoners were on their way home.

According to his statements, the prisoners were kept as a powerful tool to
use in exchange for “agreements and conversations” with the Government, and losing
them was a huge hit to the entire guerrilla group. Still, Juan Carlos added, “the
FARC never admitted that the [Colombian] Government tricked them and that the
operation was so efficient.”

He thinks many of the rebels remain in the FARC “out of fear that the Army
will get them, or that the guerrilla will kill them,” but is sure that most of them
want to turn around and come clean. “The conditions are not the best and they are
waiting for better possibilities,” he added.

With regard to his plans, Manchaco said he hopes to get back in touch with
his family and start over. “I want to start a new life free of so many things, and
try to forget so much lost time.”