Ingrid Betancourt’s impromptu airport press conference, flanked by the bloody Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and other military officers with undeniably gringo features was one of the strangest spectacles Machetera has ever seen. Even considering the joy she must have felt at being liberated after so much time in captivity, her effusiveness toward her liberators suggests that the time she spent in the jungle with the FARC left her with no greater understanding of the Colombian conflict than when she was seized on her presidential campaign tour seven years ago. Her extravagant praise of Colombian President Uribe and the Colombian army (who, she implied, had one-upped Israel with its commando tactics) sounded more like a campaign speech than anything else – minus a recent visit to the dentist and blonde highlights in her hair.
Betancourt mentioned how shortly after the helicopter lifted off, suddenly, somehow, the lead guerrilla was on the floor, blindfolded, and the soldiers, oh-so-cleverly disguised in Che Guevara t-shirts (the most cynical appropriation of this great man’s image ever, but also a confirmation of his everlasting symbolic power), announced that they were actually from the Colombian army, and the hostages were now free. In respect to the capture of the guerrilla, she said, “Don’t think that I felt happy; I pitied him a lot, but I gave thanks to God that he was with people who respect the lives of others, even when they are enemies.” Someone should suggest that she tell that to the family of the Ecuadoran who was killed with a blow from a rifle butt to his neck after surviving Colombia’s bombing of the FARC camp on Ecuadoran soil.
The FARC is an easy target these days, with dwindling support from all quarters for its armed struggle, so Machetera has little desire to pile on. Yet there is something strange about the fact that seven years on, a captive should emerge with so little respect for the struggle being waged and should refer to her captors as “humiliators” and “despots.” The only hint at sympathy came near the end of what El Tiempo chose to broadcast of Betancourt’s statement – if there was more, perhaps it wasn’t convenient to the storyline – where she pointed a convoluted message at Alfonso Cano, insisting that the guerrillas were not to blame, that they’d left the hostages alive, but it was simply a “perfect operation.”
As usual, though, there’s more to the story. Pascual Serrano explains:
Doubts over whether the Colombian army intercepted the liberation in order to present it as a government success.
Pascual Serrano – Rebelión
Despite the fact that the Colombian Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, has presented the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt and fourteen other FARC hostages as a brilliant military operation, the reality is that it happened exactly when European delegates, the French Noel Saéz and the Swiss Jean Pierre Gontard, had managed to make contact with the guerrilla leadership to begin their liberation. The FARC had already expressed its intentions in this regard, and the government had authorized the contact, which was closely monitored.
On July 1, a communique from the Colombian army, read by César Mauricio Velásquez, the Press Secretary at the presidential palace, signaled that the two European delegates:
“came to Colombia in recent days and asked for government authorization to go and meet directly with the FARC leadership; authorization that was granted by the government.”
The Spanish daily, El País, also reported this matter, the same day:
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.
According to this daily:
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.
According to the French daily, Le Figaro, the French emissaries, Noel Saéz, and the Swiss, Jean-Pierre Gontard, met last Sunday or Monday in the Colombian jungle with a person close to the new head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Alfonso Cano.
Already, two weeks prior, sources close to the French government, indicated that France had managed to make contact with the new FARC secretariat, even though the French ambassador in Colombia denied it at the time.
In Colombia, the daily El Tiempo, close to the government, acknowledged that the international delegates may have met with Alfonso Cano:
Those charged with the task are the French Noël Saez and the Swiss Jean Pierre Gontard, authorized by the government to work with the subversive group in order to find a way to frree the hostages.
A source from the Colombian government confirmed that “the two Europeans began their journey to firm up the meeting three days ago,” in an unidentified area.
The same source did not rule out that the meeting had been with the guerrilla leader who replaced Manuel Marulanda Vélez ‘Tirofijo,’ who died in March.
This would mean that communication channels with the FARC, which had been practically closed since the death of ‘Raúl Reyes’ on March 1, had begun to open again.
“The government is guaranteeing the two facilitators passage to make these contacts. They have been given the facilities so that the meeting may be successful,” indicated an official.
The Colombian government also reported that the two diplomats were going to ask the FARC to accept a proposal for a meeting area in order to begin dialogue over an eventual humanitarian exchange.
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.
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.