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The Colombian Trojan Horse Was Not A Horse But A Helicopter: Ingrid Betancourt’s rescue was “A Perfect Operation”

14 Jul

 

Ingrid Betancourt\'s first encounter with her mother after 6 years of captivity

The clever rescue of Ingrid Betancourt on Wednesday July 2nd, 2008 marks a series of military and political successes for the Presidency of Alvaro Uribe Velez, and the most dramatic show of weakness for the organizational structure Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).  

The Colombian government rescued the most valued FARC hostages: ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three American anti-narcotics contractors, and 11 members of the Colombian Military and Police Forces.  While Ingrid Betancourt and the Americans had been in captivity for about 6 years, most military and police personnel had been captive for 9 to 10 years. Besides suffering the cruel treatment of captivity (such as being held in barbed wire jails and being chained, among other deprivations) many of them haven not seen their children grow up, seen relatives pass on, or been able to study or work.  Their lives have been frozen in time. The youngest of these hostages was 18 when he was held hostage, and now he is a 28 year old man.  

 

FARC Hostage Conditions

FARC Hostage Conditions

The Rescue

The Colombian government’s operation tricked guerrilla commanders by using FARC deserters and intelligence operatives. They infiltrated the Oriental Bloc of the FARC, who’s chief commander is Jorge Briceño a.k.a “el Mono Jojoy”–the FARC’s head military strategist. For the rescue, Colombian military operatives delivered a fake scenario to commanders holding the hostages. FARC commanders “Cesar” and “Gafas” were given orders by operatives who impersonated the voice of FARC Commander in Chief “Alfonso Cano.” Military operatives told FARC commanders, who had held the hostages for about five years, that a humanitarian mission would transport hostages via helicopter to a safer location, so they would be able to speak to someone “important.” The infiltrators convinced FARC commanders to unite all of the key hostages in one location so that they could be transported. The FARC commanders were told two helicopters would arrive at a jungle location 70km south of San Jose del Guaviare near the Apaporis river to pick up hostages. On the day of the operation, two Russian made helicopters painted in white and red (very similar to those used by Hugo Chavez during the February mediated release of six hostages), arrived with military personnel disguised as a humanitarian commission. The “commission” had a cameraman and reporter filming the visibly annoyed hostages, who were complaining because they did not understand why they were being handcuffed by a humanitarian commission. The rescue video, filmed by a Colombian intelligence operative posing as a commission member, showed the FARC commander “Cesar” smiling and cooperating with the humanitarian mission that asked him questions. “Cesar” seemed visibly thrilled by the media attention, but during the fake media encounter, said he was not in a position give comments. Once hostages entered the helicopter, the members of the commission convinced the two FARC commanders to leave their weapons before they went in the helicopter. After the phony interview, intelligence operatives whisked the hostages away along with the two guerrilla commanders. (See video of rescue footage below). Once inside the helicopter the operatives violently neutralized the two guerrilla commanders and told hostages they represented the Colombian military and that they were LIBERATED. 

 

The Weakening of the FARC’s Organizational Structure

Ingrid Betancourt and most of the hostages praying the "Our Father" right after the rescue (Cambio photograph)

Ingrid Betancourt and most of the hostages praying the "Our Father" right after the rescue (Cambio photograph)

This incredible operative produced no bloodshed and ingeniously took advantage of the precipitated weakening of the FARC’s organizational structure. Colombian counter-insurgent efforts have focused on debilitating the military strongholds of the FARC throughout Colombia. They have been ongoing since President Alvaro Uribe Velez established his Seguridad Democratica (Democratic Security) policy. These military measures have gradually resulted in lowered political kidnappings, in a retreat of the FARC to remote jungle areas, and in mayor desertions. 

 

Raul Reyes FARC 2nd in Command Killed March 1st, 2008

 

However, the recent blows to the Secretariat of the FARC and the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages are the most significant signs of disarray within the FARC organization. On March 1st the government attacked a clandestine FARC base two kilometers within the Ecuadorian territory. This operative killed FARC second in command “Raul Reyes,” apprehended other guerrillas, and obtained Reyes’ computer. Reyes was a key actor: the FARC’s key international representative, the head of the political wing of the FARC, and the FARC’s second in command. Reyes’ computer revealed the FARC’s international and national links, and most probably contains strategic information of the FARC’s organization.  

 

The Colombian attack essentially used the “Bush Doctrine,” where a state unilaterally attacks another based on a potential terrorist threat. In the case of U.S. vs. Iraq the threat was the potential existence of weapons of mass destruction. In the case of Colombia vs. Ecuador the treat was the harboring of terrorists, which would allow guerrillas to recoup for war. The Bush Doctrine is a risky military option for statesmen, because the evidence of a threat can be unfounded. In the case of the U.S. vs. Iraq weapons of mass destruction (the threat for going to war) were never found, and now the U.S. government is embroiled in a murky civil conflict. In the case of Colombia vs. Ecuador plenty of evidence showed that for years the FARC used Ecuadorian territory as an area of rest and recreation and for safekeeping hostages. For the Colombian government obtaining Raul Reyes’ computer was just like adding “icing on a cake,” because it officially revealed evidence of the FARC’s international links. 

 

The “Bush Doctrine” is controversial, because it violates the notion of going to war based only on the premise of self-defense. The Colombian attack was illegal according to international law, because it unilaterally attacked Ecuadorian territory based on suspicions that Ecuador was harboring terrorists.  This attack also created a diplomatic crisis, which had Venezuelan and Ecuadorian leaders threatening to go to war, based on the notion of coalition defense. However, the evidence provided by Raul Reyes’ computer showed strong ties between the FARC and the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments, which in the post-9-11 era was cleverly used by Colombian diplomats at the Organization of American States (OAS) to demonstrate that these two governments were harboring terrorists. Colombian arguments were also supported by: the video of the well-established FARC camp within Ecuadorian territory, evidence found on Raul Reyes’ computer, and by the declarations of Venezuelan diplomatic emissaries like Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, which illustrated the level of political backing the Venezuelan government was giving the FARC. OAS member states backed the Colombian government, but required that Colombia apologize for the event.

 

The second blow to the FARC’s secretariat was the death of Commander in Chief “Manuel Marulanda Velez” a.k.a tirofijo on March 26, 2008. He was a founding member and their charismatic leader for more than 40 years. Although structurally this may not have been such a blow because the FARC had defined lines of succession, this death was a blow to the morale of the FARC, as Marulanda died in retreat, apparently after shooting some members of his personal security because they tried to kill him.  A key detail, which was also important, was that the government reported Marulanda’s death before the FARC did in May, and the FARC Secretariat confirmed government reports.  The FARC’s reactive acknowledgement of Marulanda’s death shows the Secretariat lacks decisiveness in moments of crisis, probably due to the reorganization the FARC has had to undergo since it lost its top two leaders in one month. 

 

Manuel Marulanda Velez "Tirofijo" Now Deceased & Jorge Briceño "Mono Jojoy" Current Head of FARC Military Wing

Manuel Marulanda Velez "Tirofijo" Now Deceased & Jorge Briceño "Mono Jojoy" Current Head of FARC Military Wing

 

Finally, in June alias “Karina” surrendered in a remote mountainous region near Nariño, Antioquia. Karina was one of the most vicious commanders of the FARC and was usually sent to “colonize” hostile territories. Her declarations on the futily of war have been honest critiques of the FARC’s political objectives. According to her declarations, she had not been in charge of the 47th Front of the FARC for over a year. The demobilization of FARC combatants has also showed that the FARC is no longer a career option for many disenfranchised youth. The use of monetary rewards designed to trigger troop betrayals to the FARC’s leadership, has weakened the loyalty of the security rings surrounding Secretariat members. Just the 7th of March another member of the Secretariat, “Ivan Rios,” was killed by his own security. The assassination was gruesome; he was killed while sleeping and his right hand was cut-off to provide proof of death in exchange for a USD$2 million dollar reward.

 

At center is "Karina" FARC's bloodiest female commanders on the day of her surrender

At center is "Karina" FARC's bloodiest female commanders on the day of her surrender

 

The combination of factors such as: of the use of bombardments to force the FARC’s retreat, the deaths of three members of the FARC’s Secretariat (tiro fijo, “Raul Reyes” and “Ivan Rios”), the appropriation of Reyes’ computer, the use of monetary rewards, and demobilizations, have weakened the organization. The FARC has had to: change leadership, reorganize their troops throughout the country, decrease its ability to communicate with other fronts and blocs, and decrease the ability to readily fund and provide foodstuffs for its fronts and blocs. All of these destabilizing events, have weakened the FARC and have led to the success of Operation “Jaque,” which rescued Ingrid Betancourt and the 14 other hostages. Moreover, the recent hostage rescue has weakened FARC ties with friendly governments like Venezuela and Ecuador, and has increased its negative image internationally (especially in Europe). Holding hostages to obtain political recognition has become counterproductive for the FARC’s image abroad, because they cannot be seen as liberators when they hold people in chains. 

Although, Uribe’s Securidad Democratica policy has been criticized because of its focused attack on leftist insurgents, Uribe has shown an ability to attack right-wing paramilitaries as well. On May 14th, 2008 Uribe extradited 14 of the most powerful paramilitaries to the United States. Paramilitary leaders were reluctant to cooperate with authorities by acknowledging thousands of human rights violations perpetrated from the early 1990s until 2004, when the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombian (AUC) demobilized. These AUC leaders never thought they would touch U.S. territory and thought they would serve eight-year sentences. With the paramilitary extradition, Uribe strengthened the capacity of the state to assert its power, not only over the armed left, but also over the armed right.

Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) Paramilitaries Extradited to the United States on Drug Charges

Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) Paramilitaries Extradited to the United States on Drug Charges

 

member of EPL, Medellin Cartel, PEPES, and finally a member of the AUC

'Don Berna' famous paramilitary with a violent track record:member of EPL, Medellin Cartel, PEPES, and finally a member of the AUC

Even though the state capacity to monopolize the use of force has been strengthened in Colombia during this presidency, much work still needs to be done such as: the release of about 700 Colombian hostages still under FARC control; the establishment of truth commissions for the discovery of the thousands of remains of victims that fell prey to political massacres (perpetrated mostly by paramilitary, but also by insurgent groups); the continued increase of durable state presence throughout the Colombian territory to establish rule of law; the eradication of armed social movements like emergent paramilitary forces, but also of guerrilla organizations; the protection and freedom of the press; the end to corruption (as most visibly practiced by the mayor of Cartagena); and the restoration of land to 3 million Colombians that have been unjustly displaced by political violence. These problems are no “short order,” to say the least.

Internally Displaced Persons in Major Colombian Cities

Internally Displaced Persons in Major Colombian Cities

On July 20th, 2008 Colombia’s Independence Day, Colombians will be marching to celebrate the happy liberation of these hostages and to demand the FARC’s unilateral liberation of those still in captivity. It is hoped that many marchers will also rally for long lasting JUSTICE & PEACE.

As Reggae Star Peter Tosh’s song says…

Everyone is crying out for peace yes, none is crying out for justice

Everyone is crying out for peace yes, none is crying out for justice

I don’t want no peace without Equal Rights and Justice

 

 

 

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