The Miami Herald
Jul. 18, 2002

Executive back home after being held hostage

Venezuelan says he `never lost hope'

  CARACAS - (AP) -- One of Venezuela's wealthiest executives has returned home after being held hostage for two years in war-torn Colombia.

  Richard Boulton, an airline executive, commercial pilot and industrialist, arrived at a military airfield in Caracas Tuesday, one day after he was released by rightist
  paramilitaries in Colombia.

  Colombian police arrested eight people Wednesday in connection with Boulton's kidnapping. The eight allegedly negotiated ransom demands for Boulton, said Colombian secret police commander Col. Gustavo Jaramillo.

  ''I am happy to be back in my country, with my family and in freedom,'' a healthy-looking Boulton said.

  ''I never lost hope that I'd return to see this beautiful face,'' he added, gazing at his wife, Marena, a former Miss Venezuela.

  News of the 36-year-old's release and homecoming was splashed across Venezuelan newspapers and TV screens.

  Boulton, whose family owns Venezuela's Avensa airline, was kidnapped July 15, 2000, at a family ranch in central Venezuela.

  Twelve men using assault weapons abducted him in Tocuyito, 100 miles west of Caracas. They used Boulton's private airplane to fly him to Colombia.

  Boulton was freed after Carlos Castaño, former head of the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, intervened with a rogue paramilitary group holding him. Castaño claimed that Colombian police and Venezuelan soldiers were involved in the kidnapping.

  One of those arrested Wednesday, Fredy Barros Sotillo, surprised reporters by declaring: ``To Commander Chávez: If this is the way to pay for a mission
  accomplished, I offer my resignation to the Bolivarian Revolution.''

  Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has adopted the slogan ''Bolivarian Revolution,'' named after South American independence fighter Simón Bolívar, to describe his efforts to fight poverty.

  Boulton refused to comment on the arrests or Barros' remarks.

  Boulton's wife said Barros worked with a Venezuelan colonel to arrange a telephone conversation with her husband on Feb. 3 -- their first since the kidnapping. Barros' wife also obtained a videotape of Boulton for Boulton's family, Marena Boulton said.

  She profusely thanked Chávez and Venezuelan officials for their efforts to win her husband's freedom.

  Boulton's release came after a $460,000 ransom was paid in February.

  Boulton told reporters in Caracas that his ordeal began when men dressed in Venezuelan army uniforms forced him into his airplane. A Colombian pilot flew the plane, he said.

  After landing in Colombia, Boulton said, his captors told him they belonged to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. He said he eventually learned his captors were rightist paramilitaries calling themselves the Peasants' Self-Defense Force of Meta and Guaviare. Boulton said he was held in the central Colombian department of Meta.