A travelling couple were rescued this week by the Colombian army after being held hostage for months by a notorious drug trafficking group because their GPS directed them through a conflict zone.
The couple, Swiss national Daniel Max Guggenheim, and his Brazilian partner, José Iván Albuquerque, were travelling with their two Pomeranian dogs through Colombia in mid-March — before the government imposed a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Trying to make their way to the centre of the country from the Pacific coast, the couple were directed through the feared Cauca department — a safe haven for drug-trafficking groups — by their GPS phone app.
Local media reported that the couple, who normally reside in Buenos Aires, Argentina, had been using the popular Google navigation app, Waze. Their car was then reportedly stopped by two men on motorcycles, who put a gun through the window.
"They told us that we had arrived at the cemetery," said Guggenheim at a Thursday press conference, while holding his Pomeranian. The couple were taken to a nearby area where the men demanded money.
According to the Colombian army, the men were part of a FARC dissident group.
FARC dissidents are criminals who once formed the largest rebel group in the country, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but refused to lay down their arms for the historic 2016 peace deal. They are now mostly involved in cocaine trafficking. The couple were moved around frequently by the kidnappers — in total staying at 11 different locations, Guggenheim said.
The kidnappers demanded tens of millions in Colombian pesos, but Guggenheim told them he had just $3600. The rebels also called Guggenheim's daughter, demanding more cash. Three months later, on Thursday, the Colombian army's anti-kidnapping unit managed to find the couple and they were rescued. One of the kidnappers was also captured, the army said. Details of the rescue are still not clear.
Despite the ordeal, the couple weren't harmed, they said in a Thursday press conference — and their two Pomeranians were even fed by the rebels. "It was very sad," added Guggenheim, a former employer of the UK bank Coutts.
"We were very cold. They gave us food, they never hit us, but they would laugh at us. Because we are two men, they would sometimes say dirty words to us."
"It is something that hurt my heart, rather than my body."
Despite a fearsome reputation and bloody past, kidnapping in Colombia is now rare and millions of foreign tourists visit the South American country each year without any problems.
A historic peace deal with the FARC was signed in 2016 after a half-century civil war and years of negotiations.
Since then, tourism has been booming.
"I love this country in spite of everything," Guggenheim added.