Colombia: Íngrid Betancourt and Other Hostages Rescued

At 14:00 local time (19:00 UTC) in a press conference, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos announced that former presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt, American contractors Thomas Howes, Marc Gonçalves, and Keith Stansell, Colombian National Army soldiers Juan Carlos Bermeo, Raimundo Malagón Castellanos, José Ricardo Marulanda, William Pérez, Erasmo Romero, José Miguel Arteaga, and Armando Flórez; and Colombian National Police members Julio César Buitrago, Armando Castellanos, Vianey Rodríguez Porras, and John Jairo Durán had been rescued from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in an audacious operation (“without firing a shot”) known as Jaque (“check” as in “checkmate” in Spanish). Hours later, the former hostages were taken to a military airport in Bogotá, later joining President Álvaro Uribe Vélez in a press conference which ended minutes before midnight. Of course, most Colombians, including myself, celebrated, as well as a lot of people in the region. It was some of the biggest news in Colombia in years. It was so big news that even widely popular gossip blogs “reported” it.

There is no doubt that 2008 has been one of the worst year for the Marxist guerrilla founded in 1964. Just 5 weeks ago it was confirmed that Pedro Antonio Marín, aka Manuel Marulanda Vélez or Tirofijo (“Sureshot”), its top commander, had died on March. The death of FARC's number 2, Édgar Devia, aka Raúl Reyes, unleashed a diplomatic crisis which caused the breaking of diplomatic relations with Ecuador and Nicaragua (the latter restored since). Other top bosses have been captured, killed or delivered themselves. On February 4 a huge demonstration against FARC was held.

Adam Isacson, from Plan Colombia and Beyond, writes about the “anti-FARC strategies” that have and have not worked:

[W]hat has worked over the past few years?

  • Putting a much greater focus on intelligence aimed at the guerrillas’ top leadership (and hostage captors). This includes both signals intelligence to intercept their communications, and human intelligence in the form of informants and infiltrators.
  • Making clear to the guerrilla rank-and-file, through public-relations campaigns and the testimonies of previous deserters, that those who surrender to the government will not only not be tortured or disappeared (as too often happened in the past), but they will get job training, perhaps a stipend, and the promise of a new life.
  • Increasing the security forces’ presence in population centers and main roads and (though there is much room for improvement here) making these forces’ main mission protecting citizens instead of treating them as suspects.

What is interesting about these strategies is that, with the exception of increasing manpower and protective presence, they are relatively inexpensive. Compared to big-ticket items like fumigation and “Plan Patriota”-style military offensives, these efforts make up only a sliver of Colombia’s defense budget (and only a sliver of U.S. assistance). Planners of future aid packages to Colombia should take note.

Journalist Jaime Restrepo writes on Atrabilioso [es]:

Sin duda, el rescate militar de 15 secuestrados en poder de la estructura militar de las FARC es el más duro golpe propinado a los áulicos y servidores del totalitarismo “humanitario” en Colombia. La operación Jaque demostró con hechos que un rescate militar exitoso es posible y que las cacareadas justificaciones, según las cuales eso equivalía a condenar a muerte a los secuestrados, eran solo arengas que buscaban que las FARC, y sobre todo sus socios políticos, obtuvieran ganancias del secuestro. Quedaron sin argumentos aquellos servidores de las FARC que cada día se consagraban a presionar al Gobierno para que cediera a las condiciones que imponían los terroristas para liberar a los secuestrados: son 15 seres humanos que han sido rescatados sin despejes que dejarían a miles de colombianos a merced de los terroristas por cuenta de los intereses de los “humanitarios”.

Undoubtedly, the military rescue of the 15 kidnapped held by FARC's military structure is the hardest blow given to the aulics and servants of the “humanitarian” totalitarism in Colombia. Operation Jaque demonstrated that a successful military rescue is possible and that the widespread justifications, of those claiming that it was a death sentence for those kidnapped, were just harangues seeking that the FARC, and above all their political partners, wanted to profit from kidnapping. Those FARC servants who everyday pressured the Goverment to give in to the conditions imposed by the terrorists to release the kidnapped ended without arguments: there are 15 human beings rescued without safe havens which would have let thousands of Colombians at the mercy of the terrorists because of the interests of the “humanitarians”.

Ricardo Buitrago Consuegra praises President Álvaro Uribe and his administration [es]. He writes that the rescue raises the possibility that Uribe will be reelected as president. However, the rescue also draws attention to the role of Colombia's neighbors.

Alejandro Peláez attacks [es] the “Bolivarian coalition”:

El Ministro de Defensa ecuatoriano celebra el rescate, pero se lamenta que no fuera realizado dentro de un proceso de paz y, como cereza del postre, la maquinaria de propaganda chavista empieza a circular la versión de que a Ingrid la libretió el Gobierno colombiano. Estuve buscando la reacción de los “comités de solidaridad con Ingrid” y no dicen nada. Se quedaron sin jueguito ahora que la liberaron y van a tener que encontrar una nueva causa para subir al Mont Blanc. Paradójicamente, las palabras de Ingrid fueron el más duro golpe para los opositores que usaban su imagen y dolor para mover una agenda política.

The Ecuadorian Defence Minister celebrates the rescue, but regrets it was not carried out within a peace process and, as the cherry on the top, the Chavista propaganda machine begins to pass around the theory that Íngrid was “scripted” by the Colombian government. I was searching for the reaction of the “support committees for Íngrid” and they say nothing. They were left without nothing to play now that she was released and they will have to find a new cause to climb Mont Blanc. Ironically, Íngrid's words were the hardest blow for the opposition leaders and supporters which used her image and her pain to promote a political agenda.

Italian blogger Doppiafila gives his two cents [it]:

Da questa gioia deve nascere qualcosa di buono. Il 2 Luglio del 2008 é un grande giorno. Chissá che Ingrid Betancourt non possa essere per la Colombia come Nelson Mandela per il Sudafrica: ha pagato il prezzo della credibilitá ed a quanto pare é riuscita a mantenere la luciditá; chissa.
Le FARC hanno perso una grande occasione, e si staranno mangiando le mani. Il loro ciclo é finito, non saranno loro a cambiare il futuro del Paese. Speriamo non puntino al “colpo di coda”, magari con qualche attentato urbano da centinaia di morti – sarebbe inutile. Per Uribe, Santos, i Generali e compagnia una grande vittoria: hanno mantenuto la promessa della “mano dura”, e questo la gente lo capisce – e lo premia. Ora devono solo decidere come “passare all'incasso”.

From this joy something good should be born. July 2, 2008 is a big day. Maybe Íngrid Betancourt could not represent for Colombia the same thing Nelson Mandela for South Africa: she has paid the price of credibility and from what it seems she has achieved her lucidity; maybe.
The FARC lost a big chance, and they must be eating their hands. Their cycle is over, they will not be the ones who will change the future of the country. We hope they don't aim a “last attempt” -probably with an urban attack with hundreds of victims – would be useless. For Uribe, Santos, the generals and company it's a great victory: they have kept their promise of “hard hand”, and this is understood -and rewarded- by the people. Now they just should decide how to “to charge for it.”

Meanwhile, journalist Víctor Solano states that Ms Betancourt necessarily “overshadows” the others’ rescue [es]:

Haciendo un barrido por todos varios medios de comunicación vemos con ‘alborozo’ la noticia del rescate producto de una astucia de los cuerpos de inteligencia de Colombia para ‘robarse’ a los secuestrados y llevarlos a la libertad. En prácticamente todos los medios se establecen tres niveles de importancia y hasta se señala textualmente: “Ha sido rescatada Ingrid Betancourt; también los tres norteamericanos y 11 militares”. La forma en que se revela la información a la opinión pública es normal, mas no significa que sea la forma ideal. A la hora de la verdad, cualquiera de los 15 rescatados tiene tanta importancia como ser humano. Pero resulta absolutamente normal dadas las formas de la noticiabilidad/espectacularidad con que se ha cubierto este drama. Para muchos, el drama del secuestro en Colombia y otras partes del mundo solo ha tenido un rostro: el de Ingrid.

Doing a quick check through all the mass media we see the ‘rejoice’ for the news of the rescue with the shrewdness of Colombian intelligence agents to ‘steal’ the kidnapped taking them to freedom. Practically all the media have established three levels of importance and even textually headlining: “Íngrid Betancourt has been rescued; as well as the three Americans and 11 soldiers.” The way the information is revealed to the public opinion is the usual one, but it does not mean it is the ideal one. Actually, any of the 15 rescued has the same importance as a human being. But it turns absolutely normal given the forms of noticeability / spectacularity this drama has been covered. For a lot of people, the drama of kidnapping in Colombia and other parts of the world has only had one face: Íngrid.

Paola Vargas, a new blogger at equinoXio [es], writes, among other things, about the media coverage of the arrival of the released to Bogotá [es] (she also does not seem very convinced by the rescue operation):

El cubrimiento mediático no podía desligarse del sentimentalismo que mueve este país desde hace unos años. Noticias Caracol no resistió la tentación de hacer sonar las letras de nuestro himno nacional, el segundo mejor del mundo después del francés según el mito urbano (¡qué ironía!), cuando Íngrid (y solo ella) salió del avión que transportaba a los otros once uniformados. El canal RCN, por su parte, lucía orgulloso la bandera colombiana. Sin embargo, unos y otros convencían con el mismo discurso: las fuerzas militares han triunfado gracias a la pericia del presidente Uribe y del ministro de defensa, la guerra se acabará pronto, etc.

The media coverage couldn't separate itself from the sentimentalism that has been part of this country over the past few years. Noticias Caracol couldn't resist the temptation to play the lyrics of our national anthem, the second best of the world after the French one according to the urban legend (what an irony!), when Íngrid (and just her) came out from the plane carrying the other 11 soldiers and policemen. RCN TV, on the other hand, was proudly wearing the Colombian flag. Nevertheless, both were convinced with the same discourse: the military forces have prevailed thanks to President Uribe's and Minister of Defense's skillfulness, and that the war will soon be over, etc.

The blog Colombia Hoy [es] comments [es]:

Las FARC reciben un nuevo golpe político y militar. Si es cierta la versión oficial, lo que hay detrás de la liberación es una operación de inteligencia impecable. Inteligencia militar habría manejado el engaño con gran maestría. Está por verse cuál fue el papel jugado por los emisarios de Francia y Suiza que llegaron al país hace dos días, y si estos gobiernos formaron parte del engaño. Como sea, lo cierto es que queda en evidencia una vez más la fragilidad militar de las FARC y su vulnerabilidad frente a las infiltraciones y el engaño. Pareciera más que una coincidencia que tanto en el bombardeo al campamento de Reyes como en este caso, existe el antecedente de la visita de un agente de inteligencia francés a los campamentos guerrilleros.

FARC received a new political and military blow. If the official version is true, what lies behind the release is an impeccable intelligence operation. [Colombia's] Military intelligence handled the plot with great mastery. It remains to be seen the role of the French and Swiss envoys who arrived two days ago, and if these governments took part on the plot. Anyway, the truth is again FARC's military fragility and its vulnerability toward infiltrations and deceptions have become evident. It seems more than a coincidence that both in the bombing of Raúl Reyes camp and this case, there's the precedent of the visit of a French intelligence agent to the guerrilla camps.

There are still around 3,000 kidnapped people in Colombia, around 700 of them being held by FARC. We want all of them free and safe.


  • This was just awesome not only because of the obvious news of innocent human beings returning to freedom, but also because it was a 100% Colombian effort. No stops in Caracas this time!

  • ralph wolf

    no soy erudito en la materia y soy un esceptico ante muchas cosas, recuerdo el clima politico de aquella epoca cuando fue secuestrada, los intereses politicos de sus adversarios, y hoy en la actualidad la imagen del Sr. Alvaro Uribe estaba muy deteriorada como para pensar en una reeleccion por notas de prensa, por fotografias comprometedoras etc que al final las justificaciones no fueron muy convincentes, El Senor Presidente necesitaba algo contundente, algo que lavara su imagen preparandola para el panorama politico que comienza a abrirse en el pais, y este rescate aparece de subito cambiandolo todo, haciendo a la opinion publica Nacional y a la prensa internacional enfocar sus baterias a este suceso, El Senor es inteligente nadie tiene duda sobre eso, y precisamente por eso uno debe de tratar de mirar mas alla de lo que alcanzan a ver tus ojos la inteligencia de las personas es algo que hay que ver de diferentes angulos. En fin, la politica es un circo, te muestran lo que ellos quieren pero jamas te muestran lo que hay detras de la cortina, que es donde se entreteje todo lo que te quieren mostrar en el escenario.

  • @ralph wolf: fotografias comprometedoras? le agradezco si me refresca la memoria

  • The government deserves praise for the military operation that rescued 15 hostages held by the FARC, all without a single shot being fired.
    It shows that a strong will and a strategic game plan can ensure that unnecessary violence is avoided.

  • […] are saying as reported in Carlos Raúl van der Weyden Velásquez’ article published on Global Voices on Line, where you can read the original post written in Spanish, along with translations into several […]

  • […] After the rescue of 15 high profile hostages held in the FARC’s power on July 2nd 2008, the same group that organized the last global march on […]

  • […] of hostages held by the FARC. One high-profile kidnapped victim was former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, whose release was celebrated across the globe. Due to these deplorable tactics, the FARC was […]

  • […] Guaviare, was dubbed Operation Camaleón by the Defense Minister Gabriel Silva. In 2008, Operation Jaque rescued Íngrid Betancourt and other 14 […]

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