The light single-engine Piper PA 28, registration number HK2139P, piloted by the conservative politician Antonio Escobar Bravo, left Simón Bolívar Airport in Santa Marta, Colombia, at 7.45 a.m. on 28 April 1983–destination Paitilla Airport, Panama City, Panama. Seven minutes later it landed a few miles from the village of Ciénaga, on an old disused commercial runway where a group of ten people awaited it. Three got on board: two men and one woman. The tallest of the men, thin and rather gaunt, wearing a rough, blue cotton shirt and a sailing cap, was Jaime Bateman Cayón, commander-in-chief of M-19, who, for the past five years, had been the most wanted man in Colombia.
Only they and a few other members knew that the plane was meant to make one further clandestine landing, at yet another disused airport just outside the town of Montería–still in Colombia–to meet delegates from the Popular Liberal Army to discuss a number of problems involved in a joint plan of action. Afterwards, Jaime Bateman and his two colleagues would be flown to Panama where they believed they were about to meet a personal emissary of the President of Colombia, Belisario Betancur, to begin peace talks. The plane made its last contact with air control when it was fifty-five nautical miles from Paitilla Airport in Panama, exactly two hours and seventeen minutes after first taking off. It never landed. This is the Only fact we know with any certainty–nine months after Jaime Bateman’s disappearance and after a comprehensive search by land, air and sea that lasted for seventy days. Everything else is speculation.1
1 Jaime Bateman was the leader of M-19, the Colombian left-wing guerrilla force formed on 19 April 1974, after a presidential election that many suspected to have been rigged. Throughout the seventies, M-19 was responsible for a great deal of terrorist activity–as various as stealing Simon Bolivar’s sword from a museum outside Bogota, invading Colombia by sea, and the kidnapping of diplomats and journalists. M-19 called for greater recognition of the plight of the poor, lifting of the state of seige, repeal of the harsh Colombia security laws, and the freeing of political prisoners. In 1982, Colombia President Belisario Bentancur, elected in part on the pledge to stop terrorist violence, pardoned 4,000 political prisoners and granted amnesty to all guerrillas prepared to give up their arms. Among those who did not was Jaime Bateman, certain in the belief that, if it had the opportunity, the government would kill him.