Ãngrid 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 ChÃ¡vez called on Colombia’s FARC guerrillas to release hostage Ãngrid 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, ChÃ¡vez received his reply: a terse “no.”
“[After the March 1 raid that killed FARC leader RaÃºl Reyes,] there would now be no meeting with the French delegation to explore the liberation of Ingrid. They had killed RaÃºl Reyes, some of his guerrillas and some Mexican students visiting the site. As Comandante Manuel [Marulanda] said: ‘they killed RaÃºl, and they seriously wounded the prisoner exchange and peace.’”
Those words come from a statement published yesterday by FARC Secretariat member IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez. As the FARC member who traveled to Caracas in November for a meeting with President ChÃ¡vez, and as the leader whose geographic location is believed to be closest to Venezuela, MÃ¡rquez is the closest thing the FARC has to a spokesperson following the death of RaÃºl Reyes.
MÃ¡rquez’s statement comes amid ever more urgent rumors that Ãngrid 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.”
Ãngrid 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 Ãngrid as a curse, a time bomb about to blow up in their midst.
If Ãngrid Betancourt dies in FARC custody, it would be an act of international political suicide for President ChÃ¡vez 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 Ãngrid die in guerrilla custody, that rejection would be many times stronger if ChÃ¡vez were to repeat them.
Right now, then, Hugo ChÃ¡vez 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 RaÃºl Reyes. In her November letter to her mother, Ãngrid Betancourt herself makes an emotional appeal for ChÃ¡vez to continue working on her behalf.
President ChÃ¡vez himself has asked the FARC, publicly and directly, to release Ãngrid. The FARC have said “no.” President ChÃ¡vez must refuse to take “no” for an answer.
With his words of support for the FARC’s political cause, Hugo ChÃ¡vez 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 RaÃºl Reyes’s recovered computer is accurate, this solidarity may have gone still further.
It is urgent that President ChÃ¡vez remind the FARC that solidarity is a two-way street. Ãngrid Betancourt must be released now.