My decades-long interest in Colombia began with a kidnapping.
In early 1980, U.S. Amb. Diego Asencio was taken hostage by left-wing, urban guerrilla fighters. A few days before, as the recently elected governor of Florida, I had spent a week in Colombia on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration tour of cocaine production and trafficking regions. The ambassador’s wife made contact hoping that I could help somehow.
But even with our efforts Asencio was held for 61 days and only released in exchange for a $2.5 million ransom and a flight to Cuba.
After that standoff, Colombia quickly became a foreign-policy priority for me. The country was an ally, in our own hemisphere, besieged by political and drug-related violence, and — by the 1990s — worrisomely close to collapse.