When I first heard about this I was mildly interested. Pleased she had been freed, and presumed it was a minor exercise.
As I had time to read the newspapers in more depth yesterday, I was amazed to read how risky the operation was, yet how well done it was. Plan B was to send 2,000 tropps in, so it is great it was done without the loss of life that would have entailed.
AS THE unmarked white helicopter descended into the jungle clearing, Ingrid Betancourt had no reason to believe that her six-year-long ordeal was nearly over.
Looking at the crew, some wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, the captive politician reasoned this was just going to be another day as a pawn in the struggle between her tormentors from the Revolutionary Army of Columbia, better known as the Farc guerrilla group, and her country’s government.
Along with 13 other hostages, her hands were bound with white plastic cuffs as she was shepherded towards the waiting aircraft. Angry and upset, she refused a coat they offered as they told her she was going to a colder climate. With the bizarre scene being captured on video an American hostage, Keith Stansell, annoyed at being restrained, leaned toward the camera and shouted an expletive before getting on board.
Behind them was Gerardo Aguila Ramirez, alias Cesar, the Farc local commander who apparently had been ordered by his high command to assemble three groups of hostages at the clearing as part of a prisoner swap. He had been in control of Betancourt’s fate for four years.
Jumping on board the helicopter, which he believed was flying to a rendezvous with his guerrilla boss, he modestly refused to grant the video team an interview. What happened next will go down in annals of hostage rescue operations.
Not long after the group was airborne, Betancourt turned around and saw Cesar blindfolded and stripped naked on the floor. Then came the words she had been waiting so long to hear. “We’re the national army,” said one of the crewmen. “You’re free.”
The helicopter team, posing as a sympathetic rebel group and a TV crew, were Colombian commandos who had pulled off one of the most audacious rescue operations in history.
It was a great example of the importance of information. US spy satellites and other technology let them know where they enemy were, what they were saying and how to fool them.