Crushing Blow for FARC & Rumors of Secret Payoff

July 9th, 2008 - by admin

Will Stebbins, Americas Bureau Chief/ Al Jazeera & Times Online – 2008-07-09 08:43:34

The hostages’ apparent rescue has grave implications for the FARC

(July 7, 2008) — There can be no underestimating Colombian military intelligence. They have racked up a series of successes, culminating in the dramatic rescue of both Ingrid Betancourt and the three US contractors, along with 11 other Colombian soldiers and policemen.

In a single blow, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym Farc, has been stripped of its most valuable bargaining chips.

Yet this was a theatrical blow, subterfuge rather than violence, which may have far more serious implications for the Farc.

‘Out of a Movie’
Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian defence minister, described the rescue operation as “something out of a movie”.

The idea that an organisation that for years resisted every sort of pressure – including the relentless assault of the US-backed Colombian military – was, in the end, tricked into giving up its most prized assets, does require some suspension of disbelief.

The only conclusion can be that the Farc has been thoroughly penetrated, and at a very senior level, as has been the official claim for some time by the Colombian government.

Such claims now have to be taken seriously.

It would seem that no further military operations against the Farc are necessary.

This devastating blow, in which not a shot was fired, may very well sow the seeds of mistrust that could lead to the movement’s self-destruction.

They must all be wondering who among them made the deal.

Uribe’s Triumph
The release represents a stunning victory for Uribe [AFP]
Neither can there be any overestimating the political triumph that this represents for Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president.

This is the ultimate justification for his policy of refusing to negotiate for the release of the hostages, and insisting on a military solution.

It will also eclipse any of the scandals that his administration has been battling, such as the buying of votes for a constitutional amendment to allow for Uribe’s re-election, and high level government connections with right-wing paramilitaries, as he will be basking in the glow of Betancourt’s rescue for some time.

The scandals have never threatened Uribe’s popularity ratings, which have always been very high due to the very real security gains in urban centres such as Bogota and Medellin.

But his ratings will now be stratospheric, both domestically and internationally.

It may very well blunt the human rights criticisms that have been an obstacle for one of Uribe’s principal policy objectives: a trade deal with the US.

With the rescue of the three US contractors, the Colombian president will now have a debt to collect.

The only storm clouds threatening an otherwise bright political horizon appear to be emanating from the prize itself.

Betancourt has announced that she still hopes to serve her country as president.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Ingrid Betancourt’s Homecoming
Soured by Claims of Secret Payoff

Charles Bremner and Thomas Catán / Times Online

PARIS and MADRID (July 5, 2008) — Ingrid Betancourt landed to an emotional welcome in France yesterday after six years of captivity in Colombia, praising President Sarkozy for saving her from likely death in the hands of the rebel army that held her.

As the Colombian politician arrived in her “second home country”, questions arose over the bloodless military operation that secured her freedom from the jungle, along with 14 other hostages.

According to reports that were dismissed by Colombia as lies, the apparently brilliant operation was partly stage-managed and included a US-financed ransom. A senior French expert said on state television that some of Ms Betancourt’s captors had “probably been bought”. But official sources in Washington were deeply sceptical about the ransom claim and French diplomats dismissed it as mischievous.

Ms Betancourt, 46, walked briskly down the steps of the French presidential Airbus at Villacoublay airbase to embrace a visibly moved Mr Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, his wife. “Dear Ingrid, we have been waiting for this for so long . . . France loves you,” said Mr Sarkozy, who had made her release a priority. Successive French governments campaigned for Ms Betancourt, whose Paris upbringing and former marriage to a French diplomat took her into the French Establishment.
France’s tearful new national heroine said: “I am so happy to breathe the air of France.” During the flight from Bogotá, the former Colombian presidential candidate said: “I owe my life to France. If France hadn’t fought for me, I wouldn’t be here making this extraordinary journey.”

This was music to Mr Sarkozy after his opponents contrasted the success of the military rescue, ordered by President Uribe, with his own attempts to negotiate with the Marxist Farc rebels.

According to Ms Betancourt and President Uribe, the Farc unit holding the hostages was fooled into giving them up to an eight-man commando unit disguised as foreign humanitarian workers, Farc officials and reporters. The group used civilian helicopters.

Ms Betancourt, who arrived with her daughter Melanie, 22, and son Lorenzo, 19, said to Mr Sarkozy: “The extraordinary, perfect, flawless operation of the Colombian Army that has allowed me to be here today is . . . a result of your struggle.” The President had succeeded in convincing Mr Uribe to soften his hardline strategy and refrain from direct assaults that would probably have led to the hostages’ deaths, she said. “This was an operation of intelligence. The were not even armed,” she said.

She also cast doubt on the claims that a ransom had been paid: “Based on what I was able to see in this rescue operation, because of the intensity, I don’t think they could have fooled me. I don’t think that anyone was acting. The situation was too intense.”

Doubts emerged from reports in Europe and Latin America that the Colombian forces may not have fooled the rebels but enjoyed their complicity. Le Monde suggested that Gerardo Aguilar, the rebel in charge of the hostages, had given them up in return for a promise of amnesty. It linked this with President Sarkozy’s offers of asylum to Farc personnel. He renewed the offer on the night of Ms Betancourt’s release. “Was Aguilar turned by the army, or even bought? Questions and doubts remain,” it said.

On television, as Ms Betancourt’s aircraft was landing, Dominique Moisi, former director of the French Institute of International Relations, said that money had probably been used in an operation to infiltrate the Farc leadership. “They were bought to turn them, like Mafia chiefs,” he said.

Swiss public radio cited an informed Colombian source as saying that the operation had been staged to cover up the fact that the US and Colombians had paid $20 million for their freedom. The hostages released on Wednesday “were in reality ransomed for a high price, and the whole operation afterwards was a set-up”, it said. Three of the hostages were agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, said to have been detached from the FBI.

French state media also raised questions about Ms Betancourt’s healthy appearance on her release, compared with the gaunt and haggard look of her last video from captivity. France Inter radio suggested that the hostages may have been given food and medicine before a planned release.
A Colombian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the allegations “completely false . . . They are lies”.

The French Foreign Ministry said that it had not paid any ransom. Israeli media also reported that its intelligence service, Mossad, had helped to plan and execute the operation, naming Israel Ziv, a retired army officer.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.