Colombia Commemorates the “Perfect Rescue” a Year Later

By Dialogo
July 02, 2009

Bogotá, July 1 (EFE).- Colombian authorities will pay tribute to the “perfect rescue” on Thursday, one year after the undercover military operation known as “Operation Jaque,” which liberated Ingrid Betancourt, three Americans, and eleven police and military personnel on 2 July 2008. “It was five o’clock in the morning on one of the thousands of days of never-ending captivity. It was a morning just like all those dawns without future that we lived through day after day, because we only saw the eternity of our captivity.” This is how Betancourt evokes the scene in an article in the latest issue of the Ejército magazine. “I was convinced that we were dead as far as the world was concerned and that nobody cared about our fate,” continues the former Colombian presidential candidate, who was held as hostage for more than six years. Betancourt, at one time the most valuable hostage held by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), will be the most notably absent individual from the ceremonies planned for tomorrow to commemorate Operation Jaque. Today military sources told EFE that these official ceremonies will take place at the Ministry of Defense in Bogotá, and they will be attended by the eleven Colombian police and military personnel who were rescued together with Betancourt and Americans Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes. According to these sources, previously-unseen images of how Jaque Operation depeloved will also be made public tomorrow. In the operation, considered almost a masterpiece of military intelligence and compared to the epic “Trojan Horse,” a group of uniformed personnel passed themselves off as humanitarian aid workers, and without firing a shot they freed the fifteen hostages, some of whom had spent more than ten years as captives in the jungle, . Certain “mistakes” in this masterpiece came to light shortly afterward, such as the inappropriate use of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) emblem by military personnel participating in the operation, something for which Álvaro Uribe’s administration apologized. Several commemorative events with the eleven rescued police and military personnel have already taken place in the last few days, leading up to the first anniversary of the operation. The most recent such event took place on Tuesday in the jungles of the southern town of San José del Guaviare, to which the eleven former hostages returned in order to relive their last hours of kidnapping and their first minutes of freedom in the helicopter used for the rescue. “None of us thought that it would be the day on which we were going to recover our freedom,” Maj. Juan Carlos Bermeo told EFE. According to him, the rescue operation “was a big surprise, something unexpected that makes you want to live again.” What they felt upon realizing that they were free “is unforgettable,” Sgt. Amaón Flórez indicated as he expressed his gratitude toward those who got them out of that jungle that was “consuming” them “little by little.” They all agree that the past year has been the year of their rebirth: they have returned to the army and the police, have begun to pursue higher education, and are making up for lost time with their loved ones. In an article published today, the commander of the Colombian armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla, gives new details about the planning of Jaque Operation. Padilla says that in February 2008 “Ellipse Operation” was key to executing the rescue, because it made it possible to locate the three Americans held by the FARC as they were bathing in the Apaporis River in the southeast of the country. Padilla reveals that very helpful information was also provided by demobilized guerrillas and by Police Assistant Superintendent John Frank Pinchao, who escaped from his captors in April 2007.
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