Chess helps hostages in Colombian jungle

7/12/2008 – Here's a harrowing and uplifting tale. Three Americans had spent more than five years as hostages of the FARC rebel group in the jungles of Colombia. Last week they were rescued in a daring mission. They carried with them a metal lock, a bullet and – a chess board made of cardboard. One of the captives had carved the pieces with a a broken machete. The game helped them survive. CNN video report.

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The Americans, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, were among 15 hostages, including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who were rescued July 2 in a Colombian military operation, which was code-named "Operation Jaque", which translates to Operation Check or Checkmate. The three governement contractors had been captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in February 2003, after their plane crashed in a remote region of the country.

The men painted a gruesome picture of their captivity, describing months in which they were ordered not to speak to each other and an initial campsite where they lived with a rat's nest above them. They slept on the floors of drug labs and were forced to march for hours while chained.

But one of the captives, Marc Gonsalves, managed to carve chess pieces, which he and the others used to play games on a cardboard board. It helped them survive the ordeal.


In the CNN report the three freed hostages show the chess board and pieces

"How did you make the pieces?" asks Robin Meade from Morning Express. "I was able to carve them with a broken piece of a machete," replies Marc Gonsalves. "Your captors allowed you to do it, or did you hid it?" asks Robin. "No, they allowed me to do it. Some of the lower ranking guards actually took an interest to see if I was going to able to finish it. Later they wanted me to carve some for them."

"This chess board must have got hundreds of hours between all the hostages," says Marc Gonsalves. "It was a way for us to stop thinking about the cruel situation we were in."

Marc spent three months carving the pieces. "We would sit chained and, thanks to this guy, we were sitting on a piece of plastic, just playing chess," narrates Keith Stansell. "When you are doing that you are free. Your mind is engaged, you are not a prisoner. That's the gain, that's the victory. And they don't even know it.

View the CNN video report here


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