Colombia: Behind the freeing of Ingrid Betancourt

By Stuart Munckton

July 5, 2008 -- On July 2, an operation by the Colombian military succeeded in freeing French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who had held her prisoner since 2002. Betancourt was the highest-profile FARC-held prisoner and the action, which also liberated 14 other prisoners, captured world headlines.

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More on the struggle in Colombia HERE.

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On July 2, an operation by the Colombian military succeeded in freeing French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who had held her prisoner since 2002. Betancourt was the highest-profile FARC-held prisoner and the action, which also liberated 14 other prisoners, captured world headlines.

The liberating of the prisoners was widely celebrated, including by the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez, which has been involved in negotiating with the FARC for the release of its prisoners. According to a article, Chavez stated: “We share the jubilation … for the liberation of these persons …”

Chavez reiterated his call, first made in January, for the FARC to release all of its remaining prisoners, and Venezuela’s foreign affairs ministry stated “we wish that this event will open the path to humanitarian accord, the dismantling of war, and the extraordinary achievement of peace”.

Strengthening militarism

While the liberation is welcome, there is little doubt the use of a military raid to free prisoners will be used by the Colombian regime headed by President Alvaro Uribe to strengthen its policies of using military might to crush the four decades-long insurgency by the FARC and, under the cover of fighting “terrorism”, strengthen the repressive apparatus of the Colombian state and its allied death squads against social movements and trade unionists. More trade unionists are killed in Colombia every year than in any other country.

While the military raid will be presented as evidence of the success of Uribe’s strategy, the full story will remain omitted from the corporate media. There was a very real alternative to liberating Betancourt other than through a military raid, an alternative that had, and still has, the potential to lead to a lasting peaceful solution to Colombia’s civil war.

Last year, under intense pressure over a growing paramilitary scandal engulfing his government, Uribe invited Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to help negotiate a humanitarian exchange of around 40 prisoners held by the FARC for the hundreds of FARC fighters held in Colombian and US prisons. A successful prisoner exchange could have been the first step to a peace settlement to end the fighting.

However, just as it looked like Chavez’s negotiations were making headway, Uribe unilaterally ended his role on a flimsy pretext, scuttling hopes for a negotiated exchange. As a sign of goodwill for Chavez’s intentions, the FARC subsequently released six prisoners unilaterally to the Venezuelan government earlier this year.

Plans for any further unilateral releases, potentially including Betancourt, were literally blown apart by the Colombian military on March 1 when it illegally bombed a FARC campsite inside the Ecuadorian border that killed more than 20 people, including civilians. Among those killed was FARC leader and chief spokesperson Raul Reyes, who was in charge of negotiations over Betancourt’s release.

The liberation of Betancourt could have occurred through an exchange of prisoners last year, had Uribe not ended the process. It is possible she could have been released unilaterally had the FARC negotiator not been murdered. Both possibilities could have been the basis for a serious peace process to begin.

A June 2 article by Isaac Bigio argued that the action “will strengthen Uribe in his battle with the supreme court (which is questioning the ‘legality’ of his election and the fact that 20% of his parliamentarians are tied to paramilitaries) and his moves towards a new election (hoping to extend his mandate, which according to the constitution should end in 2010)”.

“It will also benefit [US Republican presidential candidate John] McCain (who recently went to Colombia) and his hardline ‘anti-terrorist’ strategy in front of [Democratic candidate Barack] Obama (who has asked for a meeting with Chavez and to put a freeze on a Free Trade Agreement with Bogota)”, Bigio argued.

Weakening the continental left

That fact that Uribe succeeded in liberating Betancourt without conceeding anything in return means “his image, as much domestically as internationally, will grow and the continental right wing will want to validate itself in order to launch a counteroffensive against the governments and leftist parties of the region”, according to the article.

“It could have an impact on the US electoral race given that the Republicans will want to use this to maintain themselves in power, demonstrating that the best way to defeat ‘terrorism’ is with investing more in intelligence and military actions.”

Bigio argued in relation to the FARC that “a guerrilla force that discredited itself by carrying out unpopular military actions ends up weakening the left itself … and helps in the consolidation of forces that want a greater liberalisation of the economy.”

He argued that the FARC has been dealt a “strong blow” and “may face new crises at a time when they have changed their leader for the first time”.

“The defeat of the FARC would have repercussions within the left”, he said. “While one sector will come out of this concluding that individual and isolated violence conspires against their ideals of organising towards a mass uprising, the majority of ‘socialists’ will look to distance themselves from all violent acts in order to appear as ‘moderates’ capable of being good democrats.”

On other hand, “Uribe will want to convert himself into the most popular president in the region and a symbol that the opponents of Chavez, [Ecuadorian President Rafael] Correa, [Bolivian President Evo] Morales and [Nicaraguan President Daniel] Ortega can use to undermine the advance of the ‘pink wave’ in Latin America”.

Uribe’s victory “will be used by the Venezuelan opposition to hit out at Chavez in the Venezuelan regional elections” in November, while it will also be used by the opposition to the Morales government in Bolivia, Bigio concluded.

It is clear the Uribe regime does not want peace, but wishes to cynically use the FARC-held prisoners as political pawns, using the threat of “terrorism” to advance its agenda of staying in power on the back of increased militarisation and hostility to progressive movements — in Colombia and the region.

From Green Left Weekly issue #757 9 July 2008

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Mon, 07/07/2008 - 20:29


Ortega warns of a popular insurrection against rightwing attempts to topple Sandinista government

[This report is based on news coverage from Managua’s Radio La Primerisima. Source: ]Image removed.

By Felipe Stuart C.

On Saturday, July 5, President Daniel Ortega warned the US Embassy financed opposition to avoid provoking the people. Ortega spoke to thousands of sympathizers in an act commemorating the 29th anniversary of the retreat of revolutionary forces from the capital during the popular insurrection against the Somoza dictatorship. Youth made a strong presence in the vast throng, along with public sector unionists and militants of the FSLN and the Citiznes’ Power Councils (CPC).

The original June 27, 1979 retreat from Managua to the city of Masaya, about 26 kilometers southeast of the capital, was a tactical operation. It included the urban guerrilla forces of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and thousands of civilians, following several weeks of resisting the assaults of the Somocista army (Guardia Somocista) in the western and eastern barrios of the city.

The guerrillas left the eastern barrios in total silence under cover of the dark. Some six thousand civilians joined the retreat because they feared being killed when the army entered the barrios that had been held by the Sandinistas. When the army detected the procession half way on its march to Masaya, they proceeded to bombard it from the air and with artillery, causing dozens of casualties. But the Guardia failed to block the success of the operation whose additional objective was to reinforce the taking of the southern cities of the country. Less than a month later, these forces would bring about the total defeat of the National Guard of the dictator Anastasio Somoza.

In his message to the rally at the beginning of the commemoration, Ortega said, “We render homage to all the heroes and martyrs on this day. We say to them that will never betray their ideals and their principles. We are Sandinistas, we are anti-imperialists, we are revolutionaries, we are solidary, socialists. And we will keep on defending our ideals and our principles in all battlefields.

“We love peace, but we are ready to resort to the arms of steel if they try to bring down the power of the people.”

Ortega added that “it would be better for those who are on the take from the US embassy to respect the norms and not provoke the people. We want reconciliation but not at the cost of the poor and enrichment of the rich.”

“Wherever our enemies look for us, there they will find us. Wherever the country sell-outs look for us, there they will meet us. Wherever the traitors look for us, there they will find us. Wherever those on the take from the Yankee embassy look for us, there they will encounter us, ready, as our great poet Rubén Darío would say, to raise steel arms of war and the olive branch of peace. We love peace, but we are also ready to take up arms if they try to overthrow people’s power, citizens’ power – what they are now calling a dictatorship. If they try to overthrow the “dictatorship,” which for us is nothing more than the power of the people, the power of the poor, then they are again going to run up against the insurrection of the people, with the insurrection of the masses, with the insurrection of the poor.”

Ortega warned those conspiring to bring down the Sandinista government to think though the logic of their actions. “It would be better for those who are conspiring, for those financed by the Yankees, for those who are financed by the imperialists, to respect the institutional norms that exist in our country; it would be better for them not to provoke the people, to not provoke the poor, to not provoke the farmers, because this power is of the people, it is greatly esteemed Sandinista power.

“It is the power of the people, Sandinista power, a red and black power to defend the country’s blue and white flag. Only (Augusto C.) Sandino with the red and black standard knew how to defend the blue and white flag of the country; only the Frente Sandinista, inheritor of Sandino’s flag, this red and black flag, has known how to keep on defending the blue and white flag of the homeland.”

Ortega argued that this “is the only way that Nicaraguans can enjoy peace and tranquility. We want reconciliation, but not at the cost of exploitation of the poor, nor at the cost of making the rich richer, and the poor, poorer, not at the cost of robbing campesinos of their land, or depriving the people of access to health care and education."

All these conquests were taken from our people beginning in 1990, but are now being regained by the Nicaraguan people through the Government of National Unity and Reconciliation. We have been recovering those conquests since January 10, 2007; we are defending those conquests, and we will keep on recovering more conquests and defending new conquests under the chant of Homeland or Death (Patria Libre o Morir)!” Image removed.

Ingrid Betancourt's liberation

Ortega used the rally to explain his government’s response to the freeing of and other FARC captives in Colombia. He welcomed the captives’ liberation, but pointed out that only a political solution can bring about peace in that country. President Ortega reminded his listeners that the FARC is not alone in holding political prisoners. “The Colombian army holds captive thousands of human beings; human beings are being held captive not just on one side, but on the other, and they have been submitted to terrible tortures.

“There are signs of harsh treatment of captives by the guerrillas, but also of torture and violation of human rights and disappearances committed by the army and its paramilitary groups.”

Ortega re-affirmed that under no condition would Nicaragua betray its commitment to the three women who were wounded in the attack on a FARC encampment in Ecuador that resulted in the death of dozens of people including FARC leader and negotiator Raúl Reyes. The three include two Colombians (Doris Torres and Martha Pérez) and the Mexican Lucia Morett; they have been granted save haven in Nicaragua. Ortega stated that the Mexicans who were present in the encampment had no military role, but were there as part of a peace initiative. Nicaragua has rejected the Colombian governments demand that the three women be sent to Colombia to face “terrorism” charges. Ortega, in a speech earlier this week warned Colombian president Uribe not to send death squads into Nicaragua to try to kill the three “muchachas.”

The FSLN leader drew a graphic contrast between the Colombian army attack in Ecuador and the liberation of the group of prisoners including Betancourt and three US CIA agents. “Imagine the contrast. On the one hand they resort to state terrorism to attack and encampment in Ecuadoran territory, killing dozens of Colombia, Ecuadoran, and Mexican brothers and sisters, and gravely wounded these three young women; on the other hand, two or three days ago, without firing a single shot, they managed to rescue 15 people.

“What does this tell us? That it is possible to win release of prisoners without firing a single shot, it is possible to attain a negotiated liberation, without firing a sing shot.”

Ortega offered Nicaragua’s unconditional support to a peace process in Colombia. But, “we insist that the Colombian government and its army renounce any resort to acts of terrorism against their own brothers, Colombian brothers, Latin American brothers….”