Caracas, January 10, 2008, (venezuelanalysis.com) – Two high profile hostages Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalo de Perdomo, held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for years, were reunited with their families in an emotional welcome at the Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas at 4.30 Thursday afternoon – five hours after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced their successful liberation.
Rojas, 44, presidential campaign coordinator of French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt – still held hostage – and Gonzalez de Perdomo, 59, a former legislator, first touched down in Venezuelan territory in the town of Santo Domingo at 3.30pm before they were quickly transferred to a Falcon executive jet bound for the Caracas.
Red Cross officials affirmed that both women appear to be in good health but will undergo a series of medical examinations in Caracas for a more detailed evaluation.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Cilia Flores also welcomed the Rojas and Gonzales at the airport before the arrived at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas where they were then received by President Chavez.
Early Thursday two Venezuelan helicopters arrived in the small town of San José del Guaviare in southeastern Colombia, then flew to a secret rendezvous point in the jungle. Colombian authorities granted a one-hour deadline to collect the hostages.
The Colombian government ordered all other flights over the region suspended and halted military operations in the area while the hostage release was taking place, officials said.
Latin American wide television channel Telesur released unedited footage of the hostage handover at the rendezvous point. Images showed Clara and Consuelo emotionally embracing Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, Venezuelan Minister for the Interior and Justice Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, Cuban Ambassador to Venezuela, Germán Sánchez Otero, as well as members of the International Red Cross before conversing by telephone with the Venezuelan President.
"You are completely free now," Chavez told Rojas and Gonzalez.
"Thank you, President Chavez, we are profoundly emotional since we saw the helicopters. We are reborn," Rojas said.
"A thousand thanks, now and always" to all those who believed in the humanitarian mission, Rojas added. She also expressed her hope that the liberation of the all the hostages could be achieved.
Consuelo González de Perdomo said she did not know how to express her thanks to Chavez for his humanitarian gesture and asked Chavez to continue working until the other hostages were released. "Thank you to the Venezuelan people, and a thousand thanks to Senator Piedad Cordoba," she added.
Telesur revealed that along with the two hostages the FARC also released the proof of life of 16 other hostages including Guillermo Solórzano, Commander of the National Police of Colombia.
Speaking to VTV, Yolanda Pulecia, mother of Ingrid Betancourt, praised the "tenacity" of President Chavez and Senator Piedad Cordoba in their work to achieve the liberation of the hostages in exceptionally difficult circumstances.
A joint effort by Chavez and Cordoba to mediate the release of 47 hostages held by the FARC in exchange for 500 guerrilla fighters held in Colombian jails was abruptly terminated by Colombian President Uribe in November.
And an earlier international Venezuelan led mission at the end of 2007 failed after the FARC pulled out citing increased Colombian military activities, however it later emerged that they did not have one of the hostages, Emmanuel, son of Clara Rojas, and that he had been in the care of a foster home for over two years.