Two women held for several years in Colombia’s jungle by Marxist FARC rebels have finally been freed. Former vice-presidential candidate, Clara Rojas and ex-businesswoman, Consuelo Gonzales, have landed in Venezuela – released in a deal brokered by the country’s president, Hugo Chavez.
He said they were excited and in good health after being handed over in an undisclosed location near the Colombian jungle town of San Jose del Guaviare. It is the first time Latin America’s oldest rebel group has freed any of its high-profile hostages, who include former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Gonzales, 57, was kidnapped in 2001 while Rojas, 44, was seized in 2002. Last month Chavez brokered a deal with the FARC to release the two hostages as well as Rojas’s son, who was born while she was a hostage.
A similar rescue plan collapsed on New Year’s Eve but the success of the mission on Thursday should bolster the standing at home and abroad of both Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe despite weeks of bickering over the deal.
That highly publicized mission crumbled and a Venezuelan air convoy returned home empty after it emerged the child, Emmanuel, whose father was one of Rojas’ rebel captors, had been moved from the jungle and put in foster care in 2005.
FARC continues to hold hundreds of hostages, including Betancourt, who was kidnapped along with Rojas while running for president in 2002, and three U.S. anti-drug contractors captured the following year.