Did Uribe piggy-back FARC hostage raid on European talks?

Pascual Serrano, writing for the pan-Latin American radical left online journal Rebelión, raises the possibility that the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other FARC-held hostages was not the clear-cut tactical victory portrayed by Betancourt and Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe—but a cynical play to exploit quiet European negotiations that were already underway to win their release, while beating the Europeans to the punch for a propaganda coup.

Serrano quotes a July 1 report in Spain’s El País:

Bogotá has authorized the meeting of two European negotiators to discuss the conditions for future meetings to discuss the future of the FARC hostages, according to reports from the Colombian media. The former French consul in Bogotá, Noël Sáenz and the Swiss diplomat, Jean-Pierre Gontard, left at the beginning of last weekend for a meeting in the mountains not facilitated by the government, and may have already met with members of the guerrilla secretariat, the principal governing body, and even with the new FARC leader, Alfonso Cano…

The FARC have declared themselves disposed to exchange 40 hostages, Betancourt among them (also with French citizenship), three U.S. citizens, as well as other politicians, police, and members of the Colombian army, for around 500 imprisoned guerrillas. Among the prisoners that the FARC would like to exchange, are three who’ve been extradited to the United States. One of them, Ricardo Ovidio Palmera, Simón Trinidad.

This European initiative has won little English-language coverage. Tehran Times July 3 cites a BBC report. Nothing else shows up on a Google News search of English-language media for the negotiators’ names. Serrano also cites reports in the French Le Figaro and the Colombian El Tiempo indicating “that the international delegates may have met with Alfonso Cano.” Concludes Serrano:

The Colombian government’s version of the liberation is that soldiers infiltrated the guerrilla [camp] having tricked the FARC commander César, in order to gather the hostages and put them in a helicopter which turned out to be an army camouflage; giving the guerrilla leader the impression that they were being moved to a meeting with Alfonso Cano, the head of the FARC. The question that hangs over this version is whether the guerrillas in charge of the hostages already had guidelines for an imminent release, and were therefore easily and naively disposed to collaborate with such a suspicious transfer. Or to what extent the liberation was already agreed upon between the FARC leadership and the mediators sent by France and, at the last minute, the Colombian army intercepted the liberation in order to present it as a successful military operation.

In fact, it would be a similar operation to that which took place when Raúl Reyes’ camp was bombed in Ecuador. On that occasion, the Colombian government knew that liberation was brewing and preferred to militarily eliminate the guerrilla spokesmen even if it would abort the liberation, while in this case the release flight was intercepted in order to present it as a success exclusively belonging to the military and government.

This translation of Serrano’s text is helpfully provided by the blogger Machetera—who, alas, can’t resist taking some mean-spirited swipes at Betancourt. While Rebelíon used the neutral headline “FARC had already expressed to European delegates…their disposition to release the hostages,” Machetera sneered “Someone get this woman a newspaper.”

After six years in captivity, we think Betancourt can be forgiven for not being au courant. While it pains us to see her praising the brutal Colombian military for its “grand” and “impeccable” operation (Colombia Reports, July 2) and symbolically donning military camo (CR, July 2), we’re going to give her a few weeks to get her legs before we judge. And we’ll point out that if the FARC wishes to avoid such reactions, they might consider not kidnapping people…

See our last post on Colombia.

  1. comradely criticism
    Dear Bill,

    Thank you for crediting my translation.

    Why are you so willing to give Betancourt time to “find her legs” when she herself has not shown any desire for that? That she should willingly rush to the microphone, accept the liberation show at face value and heap praise on those who were really responsible for her six year sojourn in the jungle ought to tell you that she’s not quite right in the head. Because let’s face it, if a ransom was paid (and I believe Ingrid’s response to this question was “so what?”), then the FARC was not keeping her there all this time, her “liberators” were.

    What’s mean-spirited is not my criticism of Betancourt but a military operation that is staged to resemble the previously successful humanitarian releases that were achieved in exchange for nothing, to cover up the fact that it was not the clever, marvelous rescue that the media (and Betancourt, with her willing participation) are promoting, but a bought-and-paid-for operation by a lying, cheating, murderous bunch of thieves. It’s not just mean-spirited, it’s criminal, and Betancourt, who has every reason to beg off but doesn’t, is complicit and deserves plenty of criticism for it.

    1. Sorry, but…
      …I haven’t been held captive in the jungle for the past six years, and I’m going to cut Ingrid some slack. If she is “not quite right in the head,” that’s doubtless due to six years of captivity. And I fail to see how anyone other than the FARC is responsible for those six years stolen from her life. Unless you blame the Colombian state for not paying the ransom, or not paying it sooner. And even then, that hardly exculpates the FARC!