Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe, surrounded by Ingrid Betancourt, members of the military and 11 other rescued Colombian hostages, called upon the FARC to make “peace” in a massive press conference July 2 in Bogotá. Boasting that not a single shot was fired in the rescue operation, Uribe said: “This is an invitation to the FARC to make peace, to start releasing the hostages they still hold captive.”
Betancourt, dressed in an army jacket, asked FARC leader Alfonso Cano to not kill the guerrilla fighters who were responsible for guarding the rescued hostages, because their liberation “wasn’t their fault. It was perfectly orchestrated, a perfect operation of the Colombian army.”
Betancourt expressed her gratitude and support to the Colombian president. “At this moment, I want to feel like one more Colombian solider in the service of peace,” she said. “This is my greatest happiness.” The rescued hostages called for another march, similar to that of February 4, to support those who still held by the FARC and to show that Colombian people want peace. (Colombia Reports, July 3; EFE, July 2)
Betancourt, the 11 other Colombians and three US nationals were rescued in an operation code-named “Jaque” in the jungle of the Guaviare department, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told the press conference.
Santos said intelligence operatives were able to infiltrate both the FARC secretariat and the 1st Front, responsible for high-profile hostages. Under the command of “Mono Jojoy,” was ordered to hand over the hostages to Alfonso Cano, chief of the FARC secretariat. (Mono Jojoy is also held responsible for the slaying of three US indigenous rights activists in 1999.)
The two disguised MI-17 helicopters supposedly transferring the hostages were under control of military intelligence personnel. Santos said two guerrillas were seized in the operation, one of them being “César,” purported right-hand of secretariat member Mono Jojoy.
Betancourt said only when they were airborne was she told the truth. “The chief of the operation said: ‘We’re the national army. You’re free’… The helicopter almost fell from the sky because we were jumping up and down, yelling, crying, hugging one another,” she said. “We couldn’t believe it.”
Betancourt was held hostage for over six years. The three US contract workers Keith Stansel, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes were held since March 2003. They were flown directly to the US to undergo tests and treatment at Brooke Army Medical Centre in San Antonio, TX. (Colombia Reports, Press Association, AP, July 2)
See our last post on Colombia.