San José del Guaviare (Colombia), June 30 (EFE).- The eleven police and military personnel rescued from the hands of the FARC by the Colombian army in what is known as Jaque Operation returned today to the place from which they were flown to freedom a year ago.
Today the seven members of the military and the four police officers who were rescued together with Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. contractors on 2 July 2008 went back in time on their route a year ago: a helicopter took them from the southern town of San José del Guaviare to the jungle that was once their prison.
They landed in the jungle region known as Lisonda, the location of the successful conclusion of Jaque Operation, an undercover military operation that made it possible to deceive the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which had held them prisoner for years.
The guerillas “had us in a cellar,” EFE was told by Sgt. Amaón Flórez, who like the rest of his fellow captives and their rebel captors thought that the two helicopters he saw on 2 July, 2008 belonged to a humanitarian mission.
“First they told us that it was about medical attention; we thought that it was (to go) to a neighboring country,” Sgt. Erasmo Romero explained.
“We had been hungry for days, without medicine, chained up all the time,” Romero added.
“None of us thought that this would be the day on which we were going to recover our freedom,” Maj. Juan Carlos Bermeo told EFE, for whom the rescue operation “was a big surprise, something unexpected that makes you want to live again.”
Sgt. José Ricardo Marulanda never dreamed of an operation of such magnitude. As a member of the military, he was thinking about a rescue “by land,” something by “guns and bloodshed.”
A year ago, “we were locked in a cage and tied up,” Marulanda recalled today.
They all got on the helicopter that took them to freedom unwillingly and with their hands tied, according to Flórez, who recalled in detail that “seven seconds” into the flight two of the members of the undercover military mission subdued their jailers “César” and “Gafas.”
“That is unforgettable,” Flórez said today as he expressed his gratitude toward those who got them out of that jungle that was “consuming” them “little by little.”
“I leave here relieved,” he added, because after today “what was bad will stay here,” in the jungle, and “the good impetus for moving forward” after years of being kidnapped will remain alive.
Before their return to the jungle accompanied by several high-ranking military commanders, the eleven former hostages of the FARC visited the hangars where the army keeps one of the two helicopters used in Jaque Operation, in the town of Tolemaida.
In those hangars the helicopters were painted white, and every detail was gone over to make sure they showed no sign of military origin, Maj. Carlos Arbeláez explained to the group of reporters who traveled to the settings of Jaque Operation along with the hostages today.
It was in the same location that intelligence planning for the rescue operation took place and where it was determined how to neutralize the guerrillas in the helicopter, Arbeláez indicated.
The first anniversary of the rescue, considered a masterpiece of military intelligence, takes place on Thursday, and according to military sources, the eleven former hostages will attend an official ceremony in Bogotá, at which neither Betancourt, nor Americans Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes are expected to participate.
“It would be good to all be reunited,” Sergeant Flórez limited himself to commenting on the subject. While the three Americans have published a book about their experiences during more than five years of captivity, the former presidential candidate is preparing a publication expected to come out shortly.