Cuba Among Those Thanked by Kerry, Rice After Colombian Terrorists Free US Hostage

By Patrick Goodenough | October 28, 2013 | 4:18 AM EDT

Cuban president Raul Castro and his predecessor and brother, Fidel Castro, at a session of the National Assemby in Havana in February 2012. (AP Photo, File)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice both expressed appreciation to Cuba on Sunday after Colombia’s Marxist rebel group FARC released a former U.S. Marine it had held hostage since June.

The Castro regime was one of several parties they thanked for their efforts in getting FARC to free Kevin Scott Sutay, who was captured while hiking through the jungles of southern Colombia. Others were Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the Norwegian government, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Kerry said in a statement the U.S. appreciated the Cuban government’s “contributions” to securing Sutay’s release, while Rice on her Twitter account said its help was “greatly” appreciated.

Kerry also thanked Jackson “for his efforts in consistently advocating for Mr. Sutay’s release,” while Rice praised his “effective advocacy.”

Jackson, president of the Rainbow Push Coalition, made a bid to secure Sutay’s release by meeting with FARC representatives in Cuba, but Santos refused to allow a high-profile mediation effort, reluctant to allow the rebel group to benefit from media exposure.

Sutay was released Sunday to representatives of the International Red Cross, and was reported to be in good health.

FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is a U.S.-designated “foreign terrorist organization” that has financed its long and bloody campaign with drug money and kidnapping ransom payments.

Cuba’s relationship with FARC has been one of the main reasons the U.S. government has cited as justification for keeping Havana on its list of state-sponsors of terrorism, a designation that has been in place since 1982.

In its most recent annual report on international terrorism, published last May, the State Department in the section on state sponsors cited Cuba’s links with FARC and the Basque separatist group ETA, also designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

Late last year Cuba, jointly with Norway, began sponsoring peace negotiations between FARC and the Colombian government aimed at ending the five-decade insurgency.

Sixteen rounds of talks have been held in Havana since last November, with little progress reported. FARC’s demands have included the expulsion of foreign mining and oil companies.

At least three previous such peace initiatives over the past 30 years have failed.

After FARC seized Sutay, Santos accused it of violating a pledge, made before the peace talks had been launched, to end kidnappings. For its part the rebel group implied that Sutay had some kind of military or mercenary status and so was a legitimate target for capture. The U.S. Embassy maintained he was in Colombia as a tourist.

FARC offered to release him, first to a leftist former Colombia lawmaker with controversial links to the group, and then to Jackson.

Santos rejected both offers, saying he did not want a “media spectacle.” He insisted that the International Committee of the Red Cross should play the key role instead in what should be a discreet handover.

Some past hostage releases, including efforts mediated by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – like the Castro brothers, a FARC sympathizer – brought international exposure of the type relished by the rebels.

The highest-profile foreign hostage held by FARC, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, was freed after six years in captivity not by a mediated handover but in a daring military operation carried out by the former administration of President Alvaro Uribe in 2008.

Rescued in the same operation were three U.S. military contractors, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell, who had been held since 2003 when their plane crashed in the jungle while on a counter-narcotics surveillance mission.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow