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Tue Jan 26, 2016, 10:14 AM

How an American preacher came to help the Colombian rebels who abducted him

How an American preacher came to help the Colombian rebels who abducted him

Russell Martin Stendal was abducted by the Farc five times – and now is helping them negotiate an end to their country’s 51-year civil war

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Havana
Tuesday 26 January 2016 07.00 EST

As an American citizen traveling through remote corners of Colombia at the height of the nation’s civil war, Russell Martin Stendal offered an enticing prospect for left-wing rebels who often kidnapped foreigners for ransom.

So tempting, in fact, that Stendal was abducted five times by different units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc.

“I would be moving through the countryside and they would see this gringo and –pah! They would grab me,” he recalls.

The first time, in 1983, Stendal was held for five months with his hands tied to a tree with nylon. Eventually his captor – an indigenous rebel commander – recognized him as the son of a man whose lifelong work had focussed on helping indigenous groups in the country. That was enough for the guerrillas to release him – but not to prevent them from seizing him again.


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