Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe has spent the whole of his six years in office battling against the FARC guerrillas, and the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt is his greatest victory.
“How great it is to be giving this news to France, to Europe,” he said. “Throughout all these years, they never abandoned Ingrid Betancourt, not even for a moment.”
Throughout his presidency, Uribe has made security and the fight against the FARC his political priorities, and he has had the support of most Colombians. Along with the military, he has never considered softening his line.
For Uribe, whose father was killed by the FARC, there has never been a serious possibility of negotiating with the guerrillas. Interviewed by EuroNews during his visit to Europe in January, Uribe said his policy was already paying off. “My government now has a policy of democratic security,” he said then. “It is a policy that strengthens the state, and it works. There may still be a great deal to do, but we have more than halved the number of assassinations.”
The success of the operation to free Betancourt is a vindication of Uribe’s determined stance in the face of those who have argued for negotiation for humanitarian reasons. Families of hostages held by the FARC have generally favoured negotiation, fearing that a military operation to free the captives would be too risky.
Betancourt’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, speaking during her daughter’s captivity, urged Uribe to negotiate. “I want to ask the president to think again, she said. “Perhaps, seeing my daughter’s condition, he may understand how we feel. I wish he could think what it would be like if this was his child. If only he would help us, if only he would put aside his pride, his desire for violence, and his hatred, and return to the mediation brokered by President Chavez.”
Uribe was quick to thank the other countries, and notably France, that tried to obtain Betancourt’s liberation, and offered to mediate. But in the wake of the Bogota operation, it is Uribe who emerges as the victor, a man who held his line and got Betancourt out of the jungle.
In winning Betancourt’s release, Uribe is also getting even with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who got six hostages freed, but then threatened Bogota after Colombia went after the FARC across the border in Equador.