Friday, July 04, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt--This Year's Jessica Lynch?

South American affairs is obviously not China Hand's bailiwick, but I had the funny feeling that the the “rescue” of Betancourt and the other hostages from the hands of FARC by the Colombian government looked, walked, and quacked more like a negotiated release than a genuine piece of special ops derring do.

It looks like I might have been right.

Swiss radio is reporting that it cost $20 million to spring the hostages.

For those of you interested in how unworthy suspicions flower in the mind of an incorrigibly cynical blogger, I will regale patient readers with a rundown of the official story's fishier elements.

First, the Betancourt story got huge—suspiciously huge—play in US papers. In my hometime paper, the LA Times, it was the big A1 right-column, banner headline lead.

Well, Ingrid Betancourt, like Jerry Lewis, might be huge in France—she holds dual Colombian-French citizenship—but, quite frankly, before July 2 I had never heard of her.

Obviously, the US press was primed to push this story.

That's not by itself indicator of something fishy going on.

The US government has a strong interest in boosting the kinda-fascisty guys who run Colombia while running down kinda-commie Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

It also has a strong interest in discrediting and sidelining Chavez as a regional leader who can serve as a go-between and extract hostages and concessions from FARC.

So the story that the Colombians--with indispensable US support--sprung the hostages would have received some play in any case.

However, the orgasmic and uncritical US press coverage of the action, combined with the gratuitous jibes at Chavez (including energetically interpreting some neutral-sounding statements from Betancourt as veiled Chavez criticism), appeared so promptly, ubiquitously, and hyperbolically it appeared to me we were witnessing the previously-planned orchestration of a media event rather than the reaction to a slick rescue.

Another indicator was that getting Betancourt released was a big thing for President Sarkozy of France. The French pay for hostages. Full stop.

So there was a strong incentive to get Betancourt out by any means possible--including a ransom--to steal Chavez's thunder and save Sarkozy's political bacon.

Of course, the rescue story was something that, in the context of special ops rescues, sounded ridiculous, involving some scheme where FARC unwittingly gathered the dispersed hostages and loaded them on a helicopter that fortuitously turned out to belong to the Colombian government.

However, the story sounded completely plausible if somebody had made a deal with FARC and said, hey, we're sending a helicopter for the hostages. Load ‘em up!

When Betancourt got out, she refrained from direct criticism of FARC, calling for a peace process instead of some no-holds barred war on the SOBs who imprisoned her for six years—another indication that a deal was involved.

For inquisitive reporters, I would consider another red flag the fact that nobody got killed. Indeed, not a shot was fired.

One would think that the Colombians would have taken advantage of an extraordinary intelligence and infiltration coup not just to helicopter out some hostages but also helicopter in some commandos and put a nice corpse-filled punctuation point on a signal victory in the war on terror.

So, a big media push would be needed not only to capitalize on a deal that was in the works; it would obscure the suspicion that a deal was involved and also dissuade the press from taking a hard second look at the official story it had already splashed all over its front pages.

The press—apparently having forgotten the manufactured bruhaha over Jessica Lynch's rescue and eager to confirm the suspicion that it is more interested in any narrative that the government is willing to provide legs for than messy, facty, and critical reportage--happily obliged.

Add to that the allegations of a ransom appearing in the European media, and that's something that looks like it's worth pursuing.

Here's how the Guardian reported the Betancourt ransom story.

Ingrid Betancourt arrived in France today after being held captive for six years in the Colombian jungle, amid claims that a ransom was paid to free her.

The Colombian government said that she was freed in an audacious operation after the military tricked Farc into handing the French-Colombian politician over without a shot being fired.

But quoting "reliable sources", Swiss Radio reported that a ransom was paid of around $20m (£10m).

It said that the US, which had three citizens among those freed, was behind the deal and that "the whole operation afterwards was a set-up".

The station reported that the wife of one of the hostages' guards was the go-between, having been arrested by the Colombian army.

If proved true, the allegations would be hugely embarrassing for the Colombian government which was showered with praise for the efficiency of the operation. Many commentators had predicted that it would even spell the end of Farc as a credible force.

However, I wonder how much play, serious investigation, or popular attention the Betancourt story will merit, now that its propaganda value as a one-day headline sensation has been realized.


blowback said...

Surprise, surprise, both the Americans and the Colombians are denying
that they paid any ransom

"How much did we give ... for the release of the three North-American hostages? Zero ... Zero. Nothing. Not one dollar, not one peso, not one euro. Absolutely nothing," Brownfield told reporters.

Colombian military commander Freddy Padilla also denied that money was paid out, telling private radio that Colombia "did not pay a single cent."

That means it was either the French or maybe the Saudis.

abot said...

It does not seize to amaze me how effective the propaganda machine of the farc works, well oiled by a number of ngo´s that have managed to make believe many ingenuous people around the world, that the good guys are the farc and the bad, the colombian government. More than 700 people have been kidnapped and never returned, 11 deputees were kidnapped and later asassined. On top of that, the farc tried to blame the army or paramilitar forces. More than 3000 people, many of them little kids, get killed or mutilated by mines planted by the farc. Proof? 3 kids just 3 days ago

So, why not give credibility to all the official sources and feel joy for the 15 free that wasted from 5 to 11 years kidnapped instead of playing the game of some terrorists, drug lords, that have not done any good to colombia?

As the saying goes "everything the poor owns, was stolen". That is the feeling one gets after reading posts like this from the many useful i´diots around making the eco sound of these ngo´s.

Wake up.

Landolphe D'Aquin said...

Shame on you for having never heard of Ingrid Betancourt before her rescue. Do you live in a plastic bag? She was a Colombian senator and campaigning for the preisidency at the time of her abduction. She was the founder of the Oxygen/Green political party, and was proposing a RADICALLY DIFFERENT kind of government for Colombia, a dramatic change from the usual oligarchic & imperialistic leadership. Her captivity was closely monitored over six years by support groups THROUGHOUT the world. The ransom story is patently absurd; her supporters could & would have put up the $20 Mil at any time since 2002. What is suspicious is how, courtsey of the press, is trying to amplify its VERY limited role in the rescue.As for Sarkozy, he needs Ingrid Betancourt politically about as much as he needs a Big Mac. Moreover, she is being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Before you infect cyberspace again with your absurd speculation and blatant misinformation, PLEASE DO YOUR HOMEWORK. At the least, consider watching the 2004 HBO Special about her this coming Saturday.

Landolphe D'Aquin MD ThD

abot said...

Some content:

"The French-Colombian politician and other captives freed in Wednesday's military operation described casual sadism, inhumane conditions and even killings in the jungle camps of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc)."

"The bleak descriptions, which made the scenes of jubilation all the more piquant, confirmed some of her supporters' fears about her captivity. The celebrations were also overshadowed by a claim that a $20m (£10m) ransom was paid and that the audacious rescue was to some extent stage-managed. Washington, Paris and Bogotá denied the allegation."

Go on, help them make their case. Feel well?

nolocontendere said...

It positively drips with Rovian psy op. Since the truth about the ransom is out there, expect this whole thing to be dropped for the next bit of theater.
And something tells me that an effort to involve McCain in this was cancelled at the last second.

Landolphe D'Aquin said...

I was surprised that Amerika didn't try to insinuate Teflon John McCain into the Colombian rescue success.

Landolphe D'Aquin MD ThD

DBCHongkong said...

Then you are not reading your news.

There were several stories about McCain being "briefed" on the rescue by the colombian president after it was conducted.

In fact, McCain was in Colombia when it happened. Or on his way down there.

In general, though, I find that China Matters offers shrewd analysis, but I wonder if it's easy for China Matters to think conspiratorily because he has gaps in information.

The less you know, the easier it is to know what you know, you know?

Unknown said...

Yeah, this was no special operation. This was a ransom payoff. See this article for the full details:

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