Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thank you Mr. Uribe.

By Nicole M. Ferrand.*

Those of us who have been following the news about the hostages’ inferno at the hands of the narco-terrorist group known as the FARC are still amazed by the brilliant rescue of fifteen of them last week by the Colombian military, including eleven policemen and armed forces personnel and their most valuable captives: Ingrid Betancourt and the three American contractors. Although most world leaders are praising President Uribe and the Colombian armed forces for the stunning outcome, there are some who received the news as a blow. These include the Venezuelan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Nicaraguan and Argentinian Presidents, leftist Colombian Senator, Piedad Cordoba and others, including family members of one particular hostage who seem incapable or unwilling to thank or apologize to the people responsible for the release; I am talking about Mrs. Betancourt’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, sister, Astrid Betancourt, and husband Juan Carlos Lecompte.

Although she is now free, I cannot forget the attitude of her family during the last few years she was held captive. Led by Chavez and Piedad Cordoba they all said that Mr. Uribe didn’t want to rescue Ingrid and that he was a warmonger who didn’t care about her. They accused the Colombian President of being the devil saying he would only provoke Ingrid’s death and that he should not attempt any military rescue. They actually said that Uribe would sabotage any attempt to free her because he feared she might run for President and ruin his chances. Then when Uribe ended Chavez’s role as a mediator because he was illegally contacting the armed forces of Colombia, Chavez and the above mentioned leaders and her family were up in arms saying that he had just sealed Ingrid’s fate and that she would be killed because the only one who could free her was Chavez.

Well, last Wednesday, Mr. Uribe, his minister of defense, Juan Manuel Santos and the brave military personnel achieved what the people mentioned above said was impossible: the successful rescue of these hostages. All the credit goes to Uribe for not caving into international pressure from people who wanted a negotiation to allow the FARC to become a political force in return for the liberation of the captives. Moreover, the best part is that not one shot was fired and nobody was injured or died. Therefore, none of the human rights NGO’s or groups can accuse operation “Checkmate” of abuses.

Immediately after being handed a microphone, Ingrid began to praise the Colombian President, the Defense Minister and the Armed Forces of her country, and you could see in her face and in the expression of the other hostages, complete gratitude and relief after years of living in nightmarish conditions in the dense Colombian jungle. She was generous in saying that it was great for Colombia that current President Alvaro Uribe was elected and then re-elected and that his second term was a great blow for the FARC. She described the operation as ‘impeccable and perfect,’ while her mother didn’t know where to look and seemed incredibly uncomfortable. But the rescue was also daring. If things would have gone wrong, just imagine the reactions against Uribe. However, the Colombian President not only acted with dignity but demonstrated that he is a great statesman and leader, while at the same time showing humility about his role in the rescue. He did just as he had done when he decided to get FARC leader, Reyes who was hiding in Ecuador under governmental protection: Uribe made a bold decision, planed the operation very well, and achieved a successful outcome.

Ingrid’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, and her sister and husband became very close to the enemies of democracy and peace who in reality were using her suffering politically to achieve for the FARC the status of “belligerent forces” selling them the idea that this would mean the immediate release of her daughter. A lie, of course, but they decided to go along. Astutely, the Colombian government bitterly protested saying that the people who were lobbying for this outcome might take the further step of recognizing the FARC as a “state in formation,” a status that France and Mexico granted the Sandinista rebels during the Nicaraguan civil war in the late 1970s. “Such a move would mean giving the FARC diplomatic immunity, asylum rights, Venezuelan passports, and freedom from extradition, said former Colombian Defense Minister Rafael Pardo, now a consultant based in Bogota. “They would be giving the FARC legitimacy, and that’s very grave.”

So what did Mrs. Pulecio who believed her new found “friends” say about Uribe before her daughter’s liberation? The following words of hate: “I’ve only hated one person in my life: Presidente Alvaro Uribe Vélez.” “Uribe has only wanted to humiliate me, taking advantage of my pain as a mother.” “If my daughter is still not free, it’s Uribe’s fault.” “I’ve opposed Ingrid’s children living in Colombia, for fear that Uribe, his army, or his paramilitaries would harm them.” “I’ve never spoken badly of the FARC, because I understand their struggle.”

On April 12, in Caracas, Mrs. Pulecio said, verbatim, in the presence of President Chávez, and a gathering of almost a hundred people who attended the Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity: “Señor Presidente, for me it’s a great honor that you should hear me here. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you’ve done for those who’ve been kidnapped and what you’ve done for my daughter. So I already don’t know what else to do. I feel confident in everything that you’ve done, and I feel much safer here than in Colombia. As you know, I’ve had to suffer all the lies, all the deception during these six years in which we’ve been permanently deceived, naturally I’ve had to suffer the fact that there is no true press. This morning when I heard that we need to recover truth in the media, that the media should tell the truth, and that all of us must be vigilant, this hit me in my soul. Because in Colombia all I read are lies, I read the papers and say: ‘This is false, this is false, this is false.’ Even the polls deceive the people. But, okay, I don’t want to get into political things but I do want, Presidente, to give you infinite thanks for what you’ve done and may do for my daughter and for all those who are kidnapped. To all of you I ask for your solidarity, this I wouldn’t wish on anyone, I’ve endured an ordeal, but my daughter has endured a worse ordeal, going on seven years now. I give great thanks for the help that you may give us, Mr. Chavez, for your support right now, for something that for me, is really, Presidente, as you know, very hard. Thank you very much.”

This February, at a massive world rally against the FARC where millions went to the streets wearing white shirts saying “No more FARC” and “No more kidnappings,” demonstrators flooded the streets of 125 capitals around the world. “I feel the pain of the families of the hostages rotting in the jungle ... and I want all the nations of the world to realize that the FARC is not Colombia,” one demonstrator said. Outrageously, Astrid Betancourt, Ingrid’s sister said: “We condemn this, it is propaganda, which while pretending to be against the FARC is completely organized by the government.” She also commented “all attempts at bringing the government and Farc together were always frustrated by Uribe,” adding “We must end this policy of confrontation with Farc and negotiate a humanitarian pact with them. Bush’s re-election has, unfortunately, had effects in Colombia since it has encouraged Uribe in his war mentality rejecting any dialogue with Farc who to him are ‘terrorists.’ This policy is not compatible with respect for human rights. But the president is standing firm on his position of confrontation with Farc. He could, however, show that his government is in a strong position, by showing that it is amenable to signing a humanitarian agreement with the guerrilla fighters. I am convinced that it is with such a pact and not through military confrontation, that the hostages’ lives can be saved. It is not just Ingrid’s life but that of the 3,000 hostages, that are at stake.”

Incredibly, adopting the vocabulary of a FARC defender Astrid continued “The issue of a hard line is placed in the international context of ‘combating terrorism.’ But FARC’s fight should not be compared with the terrorist attacks of New York or Madrid. There has been guerrilla warfare in Colombia for more than 40 years. I cannot say that my mother or I feel hatred towards Farc: Who are they? The leadership comprises a secretariat of about 15 people. But there are thousands of ordinary soldiers who got involved because they have no other chance of earning their living. We know families where a son is in Farc and another serves in the Colombian army. The brothers are trying to survive. The country can only be united again by dialogue, not by military confrontation.”

Months before “Checkmate,” Betancourt’s husband, Mr. Lecompte had accused the Colombian president of ordering the capture in Venezuela of a prominent member of the FARC after having learned that he was taking steps with Switzerland to have Ingrid liberated. Lecompte was referring to the case of Rodrigo Granda, arrested on 13 December in Caracas in an incident that caused a diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela that the two governments are currently trying to put behind them. He did not reveal the source of his information. Then in December after the FARC’s and Chavez’s blunder with the hostage liberation, Mr. Lecompte said: “We are going to insist that the government abstain from doing any military operations to rescue Ingrid,” as if Uribe had any fault in this. When Lecompte was told about the recent rescue, he quickly said “I am so emotional and so happy…I don’t have words” He forgot to thank the President, the minister of Defense and the brave commandos for the release for his wife.

The only words that Ingrid Betancourt had for the enemies of Colombia and friends of terror were: “Don’t meddle in Colombian democracy; respect our government” or in other words “Don’t continue helping the FARC.” Now the world will listen: Ingrid has conveyed to the whole world the horror of her captivity and how her captors required her to perform forced labor in order to get medicine.

Mrs. Pulecio, Astrid Betancourt, J.C. Lecompte and others who have accused, insulted and blamed everything on Uribe should understand that the Colombian President did not kidnap Ingrid; the FARC did. Uribe didn’t advise her to enter into FARC territory against the wishes of Colombian military personnel. In fact, while she was campaigning she met with the FARC leadership including Reyes and thought they respected her. She made a grave mistake and paid a very high price for trusting them. Uribe rescued not only her, but three Americans and eleven members of the police and the armed forces. He is the one to thank, not blame. For the sake of all those rescued, apologize and say a public and loud ‘Thank you’ to the ones responsible for the hostages’ new found freedom.

One more thing, let’s hope that Ingrid has learned her lesson and doesn’t forget who her real rescuers and friends are. She should stand by her government and the armed forces of her country: Colombia. She is now in Paris, praising Sarkozy, talking to Chavez over the phone, and is being treated like a queen. Perhaps this new found ‘celebrity status’ may be going to her head. She has said she may run for President and perhaps is now calculating her chances. Just yesterday, surprisingly, for the first time since her release she said: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe should soften his tone when dealing with the Marxist FARC, and urged him to break with the language of “hatred.” “President Uribe, and not just President Uribe but Colombia as a whole, should change some things,” Betancourt told RFI radio, making her first public criticism of her one-time political rival. “I think the time has come to change the language of radicalism, extremism and hatred, the very strong words that cause deep hurt to a human being,” she said, adding that tolerance and respect were needed. Let’s keep an eye on her.

*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. ( She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.


Anonymous said...

Excellent report. Congratulations. This summarizes the feelings and opinions of most of the people in Colombia after this historic feat of the Colombian armed forces commanded by President Uribe.

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