Venezuela Celebrates Liberation of 15 FARC Hostages

The Venezuelan government expressed its “jubilation” Wednesday about the liberation of 15 hostages who had been held captive for years by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Venezuela also reiterated its call for the FARC to liberate all its hostages.
Ingrid Betancourt (right) standing next to her mother Yolanda Pulecio shortly after she was freed. (ABN)

Mérida, July 3, 2008 (– The Venezuelan government expressed its “jubilation” Wednesday about the liberation of 15 hostages who had been held captive for years by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Venezuela also reiterated its call for the FARC to liberate all its hostages, and expressed hope that the liberation will lead to humanitarian accords and peace in Colombia.

“The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela joins in the jubilation over the joyous liberation of the ex-Presidential Candidate Ingrid Betancourt, 11 Colombian citizens, and three United States citizens who have suffered in their own flesh and blood the anguish of the jungle and the toughness of captivity,” said the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry in an official statement.

During a ministerial meeting of the non-aligned movement that took place in Venezuela today, President Hugo Chavez also commented on the release, saying “We share the jubilation, we are jubilant and happy for the liberation of these persons and, in addition, that the liberation was done without spilling a drop of blood.”

The ministry also appealed to the FARC to “liberate the captives who they still have in their power,” and said “we wish that this event will open the path to humanitarian accord, the dismantling of war, and the extraordinary achievement of peace.”

Chavez repeated this position too, stating, “If I were a guerilla fighter, I would not kidnap anyone. This is a behavior that one cannot support. From my point of view the time of guns has passed and hopefully the time of the guns does not return and I call on the Colombian guerilla that it reflects on this.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez had already discarded a military solution to the Colombia-based conflict and publicly requested that the FARC release all its hostages in January, February, and June of this year.

The ministry’s statement concluded, “The Government and the People of Venezuela yearn for reunion of Colombians, which will surely be extended through peace, the extraordinary potential of this Fatherland [that is] our sister in the dreams of our liberator,” referring to Latin American independence leader Simón Bolívar’s vision for a united South American continent.

The 15 hostages were transported Wednesday to a planned location in southeastern Colombia, turned over to the Colombian armed forces, and flown out by helicopter in an operation without bloodshed. According to the Colombian government, the maneuver was carried out by infiltrators within the guerrilla group without the knowledge of top FARC leaders or the hostages.

Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped more than 6 years ago and had become the most famous FARC hostage, thanked the Colombian military for the “impeccable operation,” and said the media’s persistent efforts had helped the hostages “keep their hope alive.”

She also thanked Colombian president Álvaro Uribe and said Uribe’s re-election to a second term had been “very good for Colombia” because “it was one of the strongest blows” against the FARC.

Betancourt also emphasized the importance of the involvement of President Chávez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in the Colombian peace process.

“The first thing that we have to do is call on President Chávez and Correa so that they help us re-establish links of friendship, fraternity, and trust with President Uribe,” Betancourt told the press.

But the participation of non-Colombians shall be conditional upon “respect for Colombian democracy,” said Betancourt, who has dual French and Colombian citizenship.

“Colombians elected Álvaro Uribe, not the FARC,” said Betancourt. “Just like President Chávez and President Correa came to power by way of the democratic path, I ask all the brotherly peoples of our continent to help us so that the transformations in Colombia come about in a democratic way,” she proclaimed.

The former hostage also called on regional governments to form a “league of countries” that will struggle together for the liberation of the rest of the hostages, “with the understanding that [these nations] will help us liberate hostages, not fortify war in Colombia.”

Wednesday’s events bring the total number of FARC hostages released this year to 21. Before Wednesday, the FARC negotiated with President Chávez and Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba to release of a total of 6 hostages in Venezuelan territory.

The FARC asserted in late February that no further unilateral liberations would occur until the Colombian government cleared the military from two municipalities and agreed to a process of peace negotiations.     

Relations then turned cold March 1st, when Colombian armed forces bombarded a guerrilla camp in Ecuador, killing the FARC’s principal hostage negotiator Raúl Reyes and more than 20 others.

In the following months the conflict took center stage at several regional diplomatic meetings. The FARC’s top leader Manuel Marulanda died and another member of the chief secretariat was killed.

In June, President Chávez proposed that a broad coalition of countries work together with Colombia to guarantee that peace accords are carried out. The president declared that “guerrilla warfare is history” and once again urged the FARC to liberate all their hostages and commit to a peace process.

Last weekend, two European diplomats, Noël Sáenz from France and the Swiss Jean-Pierre Gontard, met with FARC leaders to renew dialogue about hostage releases and a humanitarian accord.

Upon announcing the success of the Uribe administration’s unilateral hostage liberation Wednesday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos commented, “We decided not to attack them and we respect their lives in hope that the FARC, reciprocally, let go the rest of the captives.”