Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed that former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was held captive by the FARC, was rescued during a military operation on Wednesday. Santos said no one had been hurt in the rescue.
The rescue comes after France and others had failed to secure the release of Betancourt through every other means.
Colombia had made inroads in its war against the FARC’s decades-long reign of terror. In an effective raid last February, the Colombian armed forces raided a FARC encampment, killing its number-two man, Raul Reyes, and sixteen other terrorists. Three computers belonging to the FARC were seized, unearthing a treasure trove of information on the terror group, its operations, its links, its support to Hugo Chavez (who paid $300 million to the FARC on February 14 this year), and its capabilities.
The raid was a crippling blow to the FARC.
However, the FARC’s most famous hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate with dual Colombian-French citizenship, remained a hostage. Betancourt had been held hostage for over six years and was rumored to be very ill.
Betancourt had become a cause célèbre in France, where her portrait hangs from the Paris City Hall. The French government had attempted rescue operations and pressured the Colombian government to negotiate with the FARC. Her children appeared regularly on French television, and public vigils were held.
Along with Betancourt, three Americans — Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell — and 11 members of the Colombian security forces, including two officers, were also freed.
Noticias24 reports that undercover Colombian intelligence agents persuaded the FARC’s secretariat (which they had infiltrated) to transfer the hostages to the south of the country by helicopter, when in fact the helicopter belonged to the Colombian Armed Forces. Once on board, the Colombian army took over. (Click here to see video in Spanish of Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos’s press conference.)
As a result of this rescue, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is no longer under pressure to negotiate further with the FARC, which was attempting to exchange sixty hostages for hundreds of FARC members now imprisoned by Colombia. Instead, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos concluded his press conference calling for the FARC members that remain to surrender with dignity.
Senator John McCain is traveling in Colombia today, and the Washington Post‘s blog was posting McCain Travels South, Searching for Message.
The message is clear: Today’s spectacular rescue proves that Colombia, America’s most important ally in the region, is winning its war against terrorism — and winning big.