15 Colombian Hostages Rescued in Daring Operation

Published by Democracy Now!

In Colombia, fifteen hostages held by the rebel group FARC have been rescued in an elaborate military operation. In a year-long effort, Colombian forces infiltrated FARC and ultimately fooled the rebels into thinking they were transferring the hostages to another location. The French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American military contractors were among those freed. The contractors had been captured since 2003 after their surveillance plane crashed in the Colombian jungle. After an emotional return to the Colombian capital of Bogota, Bentancourt thanked the Colombian government and reflected on her time in captivity.

Ingrid Betancourt: “I kept playing the movie over in my head many times. Had I been pressured? Had I been stubborn? Today, with the perspective of years behind me, I feel it was my destiny. I feel that I had to live through what I lived through, that I had to find out what I found out, I have a Ph.D. in the FARC that I hope will be useful to those of us who want to help with all this. I think there are moments in life in which one is at a crossroads between what one wants to do and what one has to do.”

The rescue operation is widely seen as a major blow to the FARC rebels. The fifteen freed prisoners were the most high-profile of hundreds the FARC has held in the hopes of securing the release of captured rebels and achieving other political demands. Three senior FARC leaders have died this year. At her news conference, Betancourt was asked about FARC’s future.

Ingrid Betancourt: “I don’t want to answer that question from an emotional perspective, because this is such a big blow to the FARC that it would be easy to say that the FARC is destroyed. I simply want to give you testimony of what I lived through. Since a year ago, it has been hard for supplies to arrive. We have had little to eat, very little variety in the food, no fruit, no greens. That’s a signal that the logistics could be going through difficulty.”

Critics: Don’t Let Rescue Boost Uribe Policies

Critics are warning the rescue mission could help deflect attention from a series of controversies surrounding Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the extensive US military aid to his government. In a statement, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs said, “Mindless U.S. support of a regime that tacitly allowed [paramilitary] groups to function should not be applauded nor should the hundreds of trade union leaders that have been murdered during the Uribe presidency be forgotten.”

McCain Briefed on Rescue Mission; Switches Advisers

The rescue mission came as Senator John McCain was in Colombia on his first Latin American visit since wrapping up the Republican presidential nomination. McCain later revealed Colombian President Uribe had briefed him on the plans to free the hostages. Earlier in the day, McCain called for maintaining US aid to Colombia and Mexico.

Sen. John McCain: “I would like to see our continued assistance to countries like Colombia and Mexico. We have just reached an agreement with Mexico to try to do what is best for America, and that would be to stem the flow of cocaine.”

McCain arrived in Mexico last night, where he concludes his three-day trip. Meanwhile, McCain has ordered a new shake-up of his campaign team. On Wednesday, McCain demoted campaign manager Rick Davis in favor of political adviser Steve Schmidt. Schmidt becomes the third person in the last year to manage McCain’s presidential bid. Schmidt directed California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign and was a top aide to Vice President Cheney.