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COLOMBIA
Reflections on the hostage rescue
Jenny Manrique
7/4/2008
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Looking beyond the victory ban

The rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US citizens and 11 members of Colombian security forces from the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was one of the most important and moving pieces of news for Colombia and the world in a long time. But it´s worth the effort for a moment to put down the victory banner for some reflecting.

Firstly, impressive work of army intelligence officials cannot be played down, and not only because not a single shot was fired in the rescue — José Miguel Vivanco, director of the America´s region for Human Rights Watch commended the mission for respecting international humanitarian law. But at the same time the Colombian government has created distrust among the ranks of the FARC´s, including its secretariat, as members realized the level of infiltration that had taken hold of the group.

FARC is expected to take one of two actions: they conduct a new wave of terrorist attacks, maybe not large ones but very strategic ones to show that they are still powerful. The FARC has an enormous capacity of renovation and recruitment, and it´s important to remember that their power will last longer if they remain tied to drug-trafficking. Their other option is to respond with a gesture of peace, freeing hostages unilaterally, taking advantage of renewed contacts with France and Switzerland.

Betancourt´s freedom, which had been the FARC´s most important political chess piece, cannot eclipse the fact that the armed group is still holding more than 700 people hostages in the jungle. The National Liberation Army (ELN), the country´s second-largest guerrilla group is estimated to be holding another 400 hostage.

All these hostages seem to have nobody to champion them except the Fundación País Libre, or Free Country Foundation, an organization that provides assistance to direct and indirect victims of kidnapping, extortion and forced disappearance, and is pushing for this issue to be included in the ongoing peace negotiations between the ELN and the Colombian government in Havana.

In the name of the victims, we cannot discount humanitarian exchange and surely Betancourt will lead this cause.

Also, freed hostages´ mental health and the psychological help they require after such an ordeal cannot be understated after this damaging experience. Respect for their privacy and that of their families, and time to allow them to readjust to civilization after being deprived for many years of simple things like a bath, a bed, a lamp, should be more important than media´s agendas.

Finally, if Colombia wants to get close to peace, it cannot ignore its other problems. Surely, for a good time, attention will be diverted from the “parapolitics” scandal that involved lawmakers close to President Álvaro Uribe, the sentencing of Yidis Medina, a lawmaker who admitted to being bribed to change her vote on presidential re-election, the trials against the paramilitaries that fled to the United States without paying reparations to their victims, the increase in coca-growing areas despite the misguided fumigation policies of Plan Colombia, among other issues.

Without a doubt, the kidnapping issue is one of the most sensitive for the country, and the fight to free the hostages is a priority, but there are many battles to fight to end the violence.


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