OUR MAN INSIDE by Diego & Nancy Asencio with Ron Tobias Asencio


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Our man"" was Diego Asencio, US Ambassador to Colombia, and ""inside"" was the Dominican Republic's embassy in Bogota--where in February 1981 a group of Colombian M-19 movement terrorists interrupted a cocktail party and barricaded themselves, taking over 50 hostages (including 15 ambassadors). Eighteen of the diplomats, including Asencio, were held prisoner for two months--an event overshadowed at the time by the Iranian hostage crisis, but grippingly recreated here. The situation soon became a standoff: the terrorists demanded the release of over 300 government prisoners and a ransom of $50 million, while the civilian Colombian government was at first reluctant even to negotiate for fear that taking a ""soft"" position might trigger a military coup. Nor, Asencio suggests, did the US State Department's policy (neutrality, refusal to negotiate with terrorists, expressions of confidence in the Colombian government) help move things off square one. As their captivity lengthened, some of the hostages drifted off into an alcoholic haze (the terrorists permitted packages of food and wine to come in); those who kept active (like the Israeli ambassador, who became the housekeeping czar) fared better. Ultimately, it was Asencio and a few of the other hostage diplomats themselves who helped achieve a breakthrough. (Says Asencio: ""I took the tack: 'Listen, buddy, I'm anxious to get out of here in one piece. . . . Your negotiating tactics will ensure that we all are shot. I am an experienced negotiator. Let me help.'"") Gradually, the terrorists permitted themselves to be guided more by their own hostages, and a deal emerged: no release of government prisoners, but OAS supervision of fairness of trials; transportation of the terrorists to Cuba; and payment of a ransom. Asencio clearly views the outcome as a personal and diplomatic victory--and, in all fairness, simply coming out alive was probably a victory under the circumstances--but the terrorists did walk away scot-free with $1.2 million. Thus Asencio's suggestions on how to deal with terrorists may not be embraced widely as precedent. But he does provide an absorbing description of what it's like to spend two months talking your way to freedom in the face of rather bad odds (and an alternative to Marguerite Michaels' pulp-style ""reconstruction"" in Showing the Flag).

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown