The “Peace Without Borders” concert Taking aim (poorly) at Jim McGovern
Apr 012008

Íngrid Betancourt is believed to have been seen recently in El Capricho, Guaviare.

On March 8, just after tensions with Colombia began to cool down a bit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called on Colombia’s FARC guerrillas to release hostage Íngrid Betancourt unilaterally.

“From here I send a request to Manuel Marulanda. Manuel Marulanda, send us Ingrid. Send us Ingrid. On this International Women’s Day, I expressly ask you to do it.”

Yesterday, Chávez received his reply: a terse “no.”

“[After the March 1 raid that killed FARC leader Raúl Reyes,] there would now be no meeting with the French delegation to explore the liberation of Ingrid. They had killed Raúl Reyes, some of his guerrillas and some Mexican students visiting the site. As Comandante Manuel [Marulanda] said: ‘they killed Raúl, and they seriously wounded the prisoner exchange and peace.’”

Those words come from a statement published yesterday by FARC Secretariat member Iván Márquez. As the FARC member who traveled to Caracas in November for a meeting with President Chávez, and as the leader whose geographic location is believed to be closest to Venezuela, Márquez is the closest thing the FARC has to a spokesperson following the death of Raúl Reyes.

Márquez’s statement comes amid ever more urgent rumors that Íngrid Betancourt is in her final days. A local priest says that Betancourt, suffering from hepatitis B and leishmaniasis, was taken in February or early March to a health clinic in El Capricho, in the remote municipality of El Retorno, Guviare, where medical personnel were apparently able to do little for her. A campesino reported seeing her in El Retorno on March 23 “with no desire to live.” The witness told a priest cited in The Guardian, “she looked forlorn and had broken down in tears when she tried to speak.”

Íngrid Betancourt’s situation is so urgent that the FARC can no longer consider her a “prize” for whose release they can expect to gain huge concessions. To the contrary: at this point, the FARC should regard their custody of Íngrid as a curse, a time bomb about to blow up in their midst.

If Íngrid Betancourt dies in FARC custody, it would be an act of international political suicide for President Chávez to renew or repeat his calls for the FARC to enjoy political recognition, belligerency status, and removal from the world’s terrorist lists. International public opinion largely rejected such calls in January; should Íngrid die in guerrilla custody, that rejection would be many times stronger if Chávez were to repeat them.

Right now, then, Hugo Chávez can play a determining role. He is the only outside interlocutor to whom the FARC appears to be in contact right now, following the death of Raúl Reyes. In her November letter to her mother, Íngrid Betancourt herself makes an emotional appeal for Chávez to continue working on her behalf.

President Chávez himself has asked the FARC, publicly and directly, to release Íngrid. The FARC have said “no.” President Chávez must refuse to take “no” for an answer.

With his words of support for the FARC’s political cause, Hugo Chávez has shown the guerrillas a degree of political solidarity that they have not received from a foreign head of state in decades. If Colombia’s interpretation of files on Raúl Reyes’s recovered computer is accurate, this solidarity may have gone still further.

It is urgent that President Chávez remind the FARC that solidarity is a two-way street. Íngrid Betancourt must be released now.

9 Responses to “An appeal to Venezuela”

  1. Chris Colbow Says:,2933,344453,00.html

    The link has no real connection to this topic, but relates to Venezuela and the UNDP. I thought that perhaps some of your readers might be interested from a regional perspective.

    With respect to this topic, I agree that at this point the FARC has more to gain and nothing to lose with Betancourt’s release from captivity. At the doorstep of her own death, this is when the FARC can demonstrate that they have human compassion.

  2. Chris Colbow Says:

    One more thing… I think that it would be in the FARCs best interest to dissassociate Chavez from any impending release, else he gets ALL the credit.


  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    I think an Ingrid speedy liberation is unlikely, taking into account FARC’s communique and latest actions by the Colombian government against the FARC.

    As much pressure as people on the media or governments might put FARC under, an organization that pretends to wage war against the status quo is not likely to be easily touched or moved in their feelings.

    Furthermore I have not seen any proposal that in my opinion Farc could take good advantage from, so the standoff will probably linger on.

  4. Camilla Says:

    Rather than refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer, President Chavez can warn FARC that either Ingrid gets released or he shuts down the FARC camps and brings back the DEA to help train patrols for the Venezuelan skies. The drug transshipment routes get shut down and rewards get offered to ordinary Venezuelans to hand over FARC thugs in their midst. Think Chavez has the cojones to do that? I don’t think so. He’d much rather be friends with the guerrillas and realize his lifelong dream of toppling the Colombian government, putting in a Chavista puppet as leader and then uniting the Andean states in his Bolivarian Dream.

    Meanwhile, the FARC guerrillas know that public memories are short and if Ingrid dies, there will be an outcry, sure, but guerrilla life goes on and if they can just … outlast … Uribe, they’ve got it made and Hugo’s promised them a $250 million bounty payable upon victory. What do they care what the public thinks? President Sarkozy said that if Ingrid dies, they will be responsible for a person’s death, but that threat will roll like water off a duck’s back – they’ve killed 40,000, what’s one more to them? FARC is the textbook definition of evil and has gone on a long time without public relations. They know they’ll always have Hugo so there’s little need.

  5. jcg Says:

    I wonder…things could go either way.

    The increased international element is key here though, and I hope that FARC are far more politically intelligent and humanitarian than they were during the Caguán talks, in which the father of a certain boy was not released despite all the pressure in favor of such a move, reportedly including Fidel Castro himself, without necessarily having to make an exchange (which would be a far more comprehensive solution, of course, but it demands more sacrifices from all parties and takes time, which is the problem).

    That ended quite tragically, however, with the deaths of them both. And didn’t really help FARC any.

    Now, the recent liberations were relatively positive indicators, all things considered, but who knows how FARC’s positions have developed internally after the death of “Reyes”. Admittedly, that may cause them to have second thoughts, to say the least.

    Even so, FARC can only hurt themselves, in the eyes of most observers, if they fail to release Betancourt and allow her to die, one way or another.

    If they freed her, that’s not a sign of “weakness”, as the more orthodox and cold-hearted among them may believe, but of intelligence, I’d say.

    Likewise, the Colombian government has made some concessions, which aren’t uncontroversial but at least they’re something, yet is still too rigid in terms of allowing any kind of DMZ. A more reasonable position would have saved us a lot of time and blood in the first place.

  6. Chris Colbow Says:

    I read that a French mission is in country to perhaps treat Ingrid remotely.

  7. Camilla Says:

    FARC is going to let Ingrid die as payback for the death of Reyes. I hope all hell breaks loose after that. It just goes to show how wilfully evil they are. Yes, let the fire rain from the sky.

  8. Camilla Says:

    This Venezuelan account of FARC’s soulless cruelty to Ingrid is worth a look:

  9. equinoXio english edition » » Íngrid Betancourt and Sarkozy’s vaudeville Says:

    [...] findings on late Raúl Reyes’s Toshiba laptops. He knows Íngrid’s release should pass through his hands. He just has to sit and wait for the pressure to make Uribe calling him back again, maybe not the [...]

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