Colombian leftist rebels freed a former governor held hostage for more than seven years.
“I’m free!” declared Mr. Jara after he reunited with his wife and now-teenage son at the Villavicencio airport. Jara, who had been kidnapped by FARC rebels in 2001, was the fifth hostage released over the past few months by the FARC.
Mr. Jara was released two days after the FARC guerrillas released three police officers and a soldier who were abducted more than one year ago. The FARC was expected to free another hostage, Sigifredo Lopez, before press time.
Colombian Senator, Piedad Cordoba, who maintains close ties with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan government, was instrumental in the release of the latest group of hostages.
The rebels have been holding hundreds of people in jungle hideouts for ransom or political leverage. Camilo González, an analyst with the Indepaz peace studies group, told the Christian Science Monitor that the rebels’ decision to do this is part of a FARC effort to regain political relevance: “It is the FARC’s way of trying to recover some political initiative after a disastrous year,” he said. Another political analyst, Gérson Arias, disagreed slightly: “They may have finally realized that it is politically counterproductive to hold civilians,” Mr. González told the Monitor. He argues that the FARC strategy, meant to be a bargaining tool to persuade the Colombian government to release rebel fighters from prison has “lost relevance.”
“You cannot change the country through kidnapping” Jara said at a press conference shortly after his release, although he emphasized that the government must negotiate with the FARC in order to see political gains with the rebel group. He called it “the only solution.”
Robert Wood, acting spokesman for Public Affairs in the U.S. State Department: “We welcome the release of four long-held hostages, three policemen and one soldier, and call on the FARC to immediately release all remaining hostages. There is no justification for the FARC’s continued victimization of innocent people.”
Filed under: Front Page News, July Volume II - 2008, Latino/Caribe | Tags: Colombia, farc
By Farhana Jamal, Islamic Post Staff Writer
Although immense happiness is expressed at the release of more FARC-held hostages, among them former presidential candidate for Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, Columbian Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, unofficially referred to the operation as “something out of a movie.”
Betancourt was captured by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) while campaigning in hostile territory in 2002.
According to Santos, who acted as spokesperson for the Colombian government after the release of Betancourt, the operation involved infiltrating the hostages’ guards. The official story regarding the rescue operation, although internationally questioned, was related as follows:
“The hostages were divided into three groups, so the guerrillas were persuaded to bring them all together at a point where they would supposedly be transported to the south of the country to be under the direct orders of Alfonso Cano,” Santos said.
Cano serves as the rebels’ top leader.
“It was arranged that the hostages would be picked up at a predetermined site by helicopters belonging to a non-existent humanitarian organization, and for Cesar [a rebel cooperating with the government] himself and another member of his staff to travel with the captives to personally hand them over to Alfonso Cano,” he said.
“But the helicopters, which were really army aircraft, picked up the hostages and took them to San José, the capital of Guaviare,” Santos said.
According to Al Jazeera, “The idea that an organization …was, in the end, tricked into giving up its most prized assets, does require some suspension of disbelief.”
Internationally, the rescue has sparked a great deal of debate; yet, in addition to a “suspension of disbelief,” as Al Jazeera wrote, acceptance of the tale, as its told, also requires a suspension of memory. Oddly enough, most news outlets have not referenced the story the Associated Press carried last month in which a FARC member made a call to the Colombian government offering to release Betancourt and other hostages if those rebels performing the task of delivering her safely were allowed to go free.
On June 13 , Colombian president Alvaro Uribe made a public announcement that he had accepted the FARC offer and conditions, in order to release Betancourt and three FBI agents.
“Just now, the director of the DAS [Administrative Department of Security] told me she received a call from FARC, in which a FARC individual told her: ‘If the president promises, through DAS, not to extradite a FARC member, then they would go ahead with the immediate release of hostages,'” said Uribe in a statement.
“I made the pledge. I told them yes, we promise not to extradite this person [who delivers Betancourt and the others], but that they should release their hostages,” Uribe said.
No mention of this pledge has been made in recent news reports.
Colombian Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo received a similar proposal last month, in which a FARC contact asked for guarantees that rebels involved in any hand-over could go into exile to other countries such as France, in order to avoid extradition to the United States.
It was recently learned that the rebel, Gerardo Antonio Aguilar, and his companion, Alexander Farfan Suarez, despite promises to the contrary, are being extradited to the U.S.
A reportedly happy, joking Aguilar entered the helicopter. In new photographs, the man appears to have been beaten without any attempts at disguise.
Caption: Cesar (above) to be extradited. “I made the pledge. I told them yes, we promise not to extradite this person [who delivers Betancourt],” said President Uribe.
The reason for sensationalizing the hand-over of Ingrid Betancourt remains unclear; it is, therefore, unknown how the rescue will influence regional politics.
However, one thing is for sure; someone is not telling the truth. According to VHeadlines, Aguilar, in comments communicated by his attorney, has said he and his comrade were deceived into delivering between 15 and 40 captives that day as a result of messages that appeared to come from the FARC secretariat. The FARC, in turn, insists the two were turncoats; the Uribe administration touts a espioge master plan; and no one at all is mentioning that everything seems to have gone according to plan from the outset of last month’s talks.