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The Collective
Saturday, May 19, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: President vows to free Betancourt

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has ordered the army to step up efforts to rescue former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt from rebel captors.

Ms Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French national, was seized by the rebel Farc guerrilla group in February 2002.

Mr Uribe pledged to release her and three Americans after a fellow hostage fled and detailed the harsh conditions they were kept in.

But Ms Betancourt’s mother and husband both strongly oppose such action.

“It means death for Ingrid,” said her mother, Yolanda Pulecio.

“We’re sure that this order immediately means death for Ingrid and for everyone who’s being held with her.”

President Uribe spoke by telephone with France’s new President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, after he had heard details of the conditions in which Ms Betancourt is being held from escaped hostage Jhon Frank Pinchao.

“Generals, we are going to rescue Ingrid Betancourt!” the president announced.

“I urge you, let’s rescue her! There’ll be no more games with the Farc.”

However, Mr Sarkozy reportedly favoured a negotiated solution.

The sad catch-22 here is that I am not certain that either route will free Betancourt. The notion that an all-out assault, especially a publicly announced one is going to lead to the freeing of hostages is appealing in an action-movie kind of way, but is tactically odd in the real world. In this I largely concur with Betancourt’s daughter:

Ingrid Betancourt’s daughter, Melanie, said President Uribe’s statement was a mere “media show”.

“If you want to free someone by force, will you announce to the whole world?” she said.

“The first thing they will do is to execute their hostages.”

I am not certain that they will execute the hostages immediately, but do agree that they probably wouldn’t survive the assault.

Of course, negotiations are a problematic route as well, given that Betancourt was kidnapped in the first place in the context of wanting a peaceful meeting with the FARC during the period of time in which the Colombian government had allowed a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone from which the FARC could start peace talks with the government. Indeed, it was the Betancourt kidnapping that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading then-President Pastrana to cancel the DMZ and the peace process with the FARC as it was then constituted.

If the FARC was willing to kidnap Betancourt in that context, it seems rather unlikely that they will be willing to negotiate now, with the Uribe administration in particular.

The kidnapping and long-term holding (it has been over five years since her capture) of Betancourt continues to strike me as a strange move by the FARC. Betancourt was a popular politician (her Senate list won the most votes in the 1998 election. Further, her politics were progressive in nature. As such, it is unclear as to what signal that this kidnapping was supposed to send. It can hardly be seen as a move to generate sympathy for the FARC in the general population.

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