Colombia: rival presidential candidates back hostage rescue mission

Colombian presidential candidates Antanas Mockus and Juan Manuel Santos both went on record supporting the Colombian army’s successful rescue of four hostages held by the FARC guerillas June 13. In an interview with W Radio Jun 15, Green Party candidate Mockus the called rescue mission “admirable” and said that he would “enthusiastically” support any future rescue plans. Santos called the operation a triumph for President Alvaro Uribe’s “democratic security” policy, and highlighted the need to maintain the initiative. Observers speculate that the execution of “Operation Chameleon” a week before the second round election may have been a strategy to tilt the election to hardliner Santos. (Colombia Reports, June 15)

Three soldiers who had been in FARC captivity for over 12 years were rescued in the operation, which took place on the 53rd birthday of one of them, Gen. Luis Mendieta. Two colonels and a sergeant were also freed. The operation was staged from the army base at San José de Guaviare, and the hostages were seized at a location only 17 miles from where the 2008 “Operation Jaque” took place, in which politician Ingrid Betancourt was rescued.

As with Operation Jaque, there have been been conflicting media accounts of Operation Chameleon. Initial reports said only three hostages were seized and a fourth left behind. President Uribe also announced immediately after the operation, “They have killed one of our sergeants.” Later, Defense Minister Gabriel Silva said none had been killed, and all four hostages were presented to the media. (Colombia Reports, June 14)

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