Richard Starr, the Peace Corps volunteer kidnapped three years ago by leftist guerrillas in Colombia and released Monday, was flown into Andrews Air Force Base yesterday apparently in good physical condition.
Starr, whose release was won only after Washington columnist Jack Anderson and an associate arranged for a $250,000 ransom to be paid to the guerrillas, was whisked off to Walter Reed Army Hospital where he was scheduled to undergo a more thorough examination and recuperate from his long siege as a hostage.
Starr was accompanied on the flight from a U.S. air base in Panama by his mother, Charlotte Jensen of Edmonds, Wash., who flew to the Central American country Thursday in anticipation of his release.
While neiher Starr nor his mother spoke to reporters after their arrival, Jack Mitchell, a reporter for Anderson who was involved in the negotiations and accompanied Starr on the flight to Andrews, said he was "mentally alert" and had complained that the worst thing about his captivity was boredom.
Mitchell said that Starr had told him he was never tortured or harmed phsycially during the three years he was held by the Revoluntionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Nonetheless, Mitchell said, Starr said he did not "get along" with his captors, whom Starr called "ideologically naive" Communists.
Following Starr's arrival yesterday, President Carter said the nation admired the Peace Corp's volunteer's "service and appreciates his extraordinary ordeal." Carter had sent a personal message to Colombian President Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala in Late January, alerting him that Starr might be released and asking for his cooperation.
State Department officials said yesterday that Colombian armed forces and police offered all their help in the private efforts to obtain Starr's release.
Nonetheless, some of those involved in the negotiations criticized the State Department and the Peace Corps yesterday for failing to help Charlotte Jensen's efforts to win the release of her son.
Former U.S. Rep. Lloyd Meeds (D-Wash.), who became involved in the negotiations because Jensen had been a constitutent, said yesterday that "in many instances they [the State Department] were almost a negative force. I used to lose sleep over it.Sometimes it was like dealing with a foreign government. They were uncooperative in furnishing information. And here's this poor woman spending all her money to get her son released.
"Almost from the outset, it was not only that they didn't want to be involved in the ransom, but they didn't want us involved in ransom either," said Meeds, now a Seattle attorney.
Meeds' successor, Democratic Rep. Al Swift, who also helped win Starr's release, said yesterday, "There were some people who didn't want to interrupt their day-to-day business or saw it as a no-win situation and apparently thought that close involvement could only hurt their [government] careers."
Mitchell told reporters at Andrews yesterday that the State Department "kept intact" its policy of no negotiating for the release of government hostages where ransom was involved. "I want to make one thing clear," he said, "these were private meetings. The government had absolutely nothing to do with it."
Mitchell said Starr was moved 16 times during his captivity, but spent most of the time living under a tarpaulin shelter in dense jungle at the foot of the Andes Mountains.
Starr was "left to his own devices to amuse himself," and was allowed to read books, or sometimes listen to radio broadcasts from the BBC and the Colombian national network, Mitchell said.
"If he hadn't had the radio, he would have lost his mental stability," Mitchell said. He said the Colombian station played mostly classical music -- Starr's favorite.
When Starr was kidnaped -- three years ago today -- he was unable to speak Spanish and could not explain to his captors why he was in Colombia. "He speaks fluent Spanish now," Mitchell said yesterday.
During the final stages of negotiations for his release in December, Starr's family insisted that he answer two questions in a letter to prove that he was still alive, Mitchell said.
The two questions were: "What is your favorite pie?" and "Where did your mother live with her first husband?" Starr, writing in Spanish, answered both correctly: Raspberry and Chicago.
Mitchell said the ransom money was paid last Friday, and that Starr then traveled on horseback for 12 hours and by car for two more with his captors before he was set free in Neiva. "He is saddle sore," Mitchell said.
During a stopover in Panama on the flight from Colombia, Starr saw his mother for the first time in more than three years. "She ran to him and embraced him," Mitchell said. "It was then that I thought [the negotiations] had been worth it."
Yesterday, State Department officials here and at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, emphasized that they had played no direct role in securing Starr's release.
But a U.S. Embassy source in Bogota said that "a representative of the U.S government" -- not necessarily a diplomat -- arrived in Nieva, the small town 200 miles southwest of the Colombian capital where Starr was held, within hours after his release Monday.
U.S. diplomats in Colombia were reluctant to talk about the negotiations that led to Starr's release or the ransom money because of concern for the more than 200 Peace Corps volunteers and other Americans still living in the country, where political kidnapings and abductions for ransom are common.
If the embassy were to confirm that a large ransom had been paid for Starr, one diplomat said, "that would just raise the ante for everybody else." s
He also said that the United States was concerned about the reaction of the Colombian government, which apparently looked the other way as Anderson's representatives conducted his negotiations with representatives of FARC.
It is illegal in Colombia for anyone to negotiate with leftist guerrilla groups or pay a ransom for someone who has been kidnaped.