By Mike Whitney
It was a perfectly executed rescue mission and they pulled it off without a hitch. A small group of Colombian military-intelligence agents, posing as aid workers on a humanitarian mission, touched-down in the heart of rebel territory, gathered up Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages, and whisked them away to safety while a small army of rifle-toting Marxist guerrillas looked on dumbfounded. The tale of the daring rescue by Colombia’s finest was immediately splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world. Finally, the Bush-Uribe combo could point to a decisive victory in the seven year-long war on terror. Score one for the good guys in the ongoing struggle against the forces of evil.
There’s just one problem; the story isn’t true.
Apart from the reports on Swiss Public Radio that “claim that the entire episode was nothing but a sham to disguise the payment of a ransom” and that “the operation had in fact been staged to cover up the fact that the US and Colombians had paid $20 million for their freedom.” And, excluding the fact that “the wife of one of the hostages’ guards acted as a go-between to persuade her husband (who was a member of the FARC) to change sides.” (Times Online) And, ignoring the fact that on June 3rd, Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba said that she had information that the government of Colombia was negotiating a deal with the FARC a to trade money for the release of Betancourt and the mercenaries” and that Mediaparte, the French web site founded by the former chief editor of Le Monde, reported that the rescue was “not an achievement of the Colombian military, but due to the surrender of a group of the FARC members” following “direct negotiations by the Colombian secret services with the guerrilla group that held Betancourt captive.” (“Mounting Questions about the Colombian Hostage Operation” Bill Van Auken)
On Friday, the FARC Secretariat issued a formal statement on their Bolivarian Press Agency website saying that they were betrayed by two members of their organization:
“The escape of the 15 prisoners on July 2 was a direct consequence of the despicable conduct of Cesar and Enrique, who betrayed their revolutionary ideals and the trust we had put in them.”
Of course, none of the western media reported the statement because it casts doubt the Colombian government’s version of the 100% scripted, Rambo-like rescue and calls into question the premature pronouncements of triumph in the war on terror. But it’s clear that the official story has begun to unravel and will require some serious PR airbrushing to keep from falling apart altogether. It’s looking more and more like the whole farce was concocted by Uribe to build public support for changing Colombia’s constitution so he can run for a third term as president. So far, it’s worked like a charm; Uribe’s public approval ratings have soared to nearly 80%.
The daredevil rescue-mission has catapulted Betancourt into media mega-stardom. She has already made a number of appearances on TV and radio including CNN’s “Larry King Live”, “NBC Nightly News” the “Today Show”. She has also announced her intention to write a play about her experiences as a hostage and the publishing industry is buzzing with news of a forthcoming book deal. In fact, as soon as news reached Paris that she had been freed, a 12 page letter she wrote to her mother as a prisoner was re-released in hardback form.
“I am in communication with God, Jesus and the Virgin every day,” Betancourt writes. “Morning overcast, like my spirit…My beloved and divine Mamita…I haven’t being eating; my appetite has shut down; my hair is falling out in clumps; I have no desire for anything…Here, nothing is one’s own, nothing lasts; uncertainty and precariousness are the only constant. The order is given at any moment to pack up and one gets to sleep stretched out anywhere like an animal. Those are the particularly difficult moments for me. My palms sweat, my mind gets foggy, and I end up doing things twice as slowly as normal.”
No one doubts that Betancourt suffered greatly or that she’s been deeply traumatized by her 6 years of captivity in the jungle. Clearly, she was just a blameless victim in a much larger political game. Her medical report shows that she is in good health although she still refuses to discuss whether she was tortured by her captors. According to NPR, she fears she “may slip into depression” and speaks slowly about her ordeal.
“The important thing was to fill the day with activities that could be repeated like in a schedule so like to give you stability in a world of no stability. That was the key.” She added, “I know that I have to give testimony about all the things I lived, but I need time. It’s not easy to talk about things that are still hurting. Probably it will hurt all my life.” (NPR)
To her credit, Betancourt has blasted the Uribe government saying, “That’s the difference between me and Uribe. For Uribe, the end of the FARC means the reestablishment of peace in Colombia. For me, peace in Colombia will come from social transformations.” (There’s still a chance that Betancourt will return to Colombia and run for president. She has dual French-Colombian citizenship)
She also praised Hugo Chavez who worked tirelessly to secure her release in an earlier prisoner swap that was scotched by the Bush administration. Bush and Co. believed the exchange would boost Chavez’s popularity, so Uribe made sure the deal wasn’t consummated. Betancourt said, “It seems to me that Hugo Chávez is magnificent. He can tell the FARC things that they will hear. The FARC didn’t like it at all when Chávez told them that the armed struggle in Latin American was obsolete, and that they had to think in a different way.” Naturally, Betancourt’s remarks about Chavez were not reported in the establishment media.
Betancourt and Chavez are right. Although the revolutionary struggle goes on, hostage-taking subverts the group’s larger goal of a society built on laws and human rights. And even though the FARC was pushed out of the political process by a corrupt and ruthless oligarchy, which killed nearly 5,000 of its leaders and union activists, they will not achieve their objectives by adopting the same methods as the right wing paramilitaries they’re fighting. It is impossible to defeat crime with more crime. Maybe, a presidential bid by Betancourt will provide the spark that is needed to focus attention on Colombia’s glaring social inequities; the massive wealth gap, the deeply entrenched economic and political polarization, and the venal self-serving oligarchy that runs the government like a medieval fiefdom.
Although she is grateful to be free, Betancourt has not “pulled her punches” when talking about Colombia’s shortcomings. On Friday she said, “Uribe and all of Colombia, should correct some things. We have reached the point where we must change the radical, extremist vocabulary of hate, of very strong words that intimately wound the human being.”
It’s too much to hope that one woman will be able to dismantle a repressive system of government that dates back hundreds of years and has the implicit support of the country’s main industrial leaders, its most prestigious families and the United States of America. But the power of reconciliation is stronger than many realize and, as Betancourt said in an interview with Eleanor Beardsley, “The only thing I’ve settled in my mind is I want to forgive.” That’s a good place to start.
Colombia is America’s last right-wing outpost in the hemisphere. There’s a good chance that it will be swept along by the leftist current that has overtaken most of Latin America already. Perhaps Betancourt’s role is simply to open the floodgates and let the tide rush in.
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