Latin American leftists expressed satisfaction at the release of 15 people held captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—including French-Colombian ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US military contractors—in a Colombian military operation July 2. “Out of a basically humanist sentiment, we rejoiced at the news,” former Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz wrote in an article dated on July 3. “The civilians should have never been kidnapped, neither should the soldiers have been kept prisoner in the conditions of the jungle. These were objectively cruel actions. No revolutionary purpose could justify it.” (“Reflections by Comrade Fidel,” July 3)
On July 3 Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frias announced he had called Colombian president Álvaro Uribe the night before to congratulate him on the operation. Chávez said “we are still ready to help until the last hostage of the Colombian guerrillas is released, and to achieve peace, a full peace in Colombia.” He noted that on June 8 he had called on the FARC to release all the captives. “I even said [to the FARC leaders] that if I were a guerrilla, I wouldn’t kidnap anyone… [I]t’s no longer the time for guerrilla fronts, it’s the time for surges of the peoples.” (La Jornada, July 4 from AFP, DPA, PL, Reuters)
The likely Republican candidate for US president in November, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), also cited Chávez’s June 8 call to the FARC. He hoped the guerrillas would follow Chávez’s advice, he told reporters on July 2 before ending a 24-hour visit to Colombia. (LJ, July 3 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)
But mainstream media in Europe raised questions about the operation after a July 4 report on Radio Suisse Romande (RSR) charged that the rebels had been paid a $20 million ransom and that the release was “a masquerade.” Attributing the report to “a reliable source, tested many times over the past 20 years,” RSR, which is operated by Swiss public radio, said the US was behind the transaction; it also claimed that the three US contractors were agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). (RSR, July 4) Betancourt told France-3 television she was sure the guerrillas weren’t play-acting, but if there was a ransom: “Good, if it’s true; so much the better. I mean, why not?” (RSR, July 5)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 29
See our last post on Colombia.