[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/07/art.hostagesplane.jpg caption="U.S. contractors Keith Stansell, left, Marc Gonsalves, center, and Thomas Howes sit in an aircraft in an unknown location in Colombia after being rescued."]
The last thing any Colombia watchers were expecting was a hostage rescue.
The Colombian military had bungled so-called "blood and fire" missions in the past. As soon as the FARC rebels realized the army was coming in on foot or in choppers they would either kill their captives or ultimately the hostages would end up dying in the ensuing crossfire.
The jungle is most definitely the guerrillas’ home turf. I flew over the region where many of these hostages were being held in November. No roads, the only "highways" were rivers. One of my companions described it as looking out over a “sea of broccoli”.
From the air it was easy to understand how easy it must have been for the insurgents to conceal their hostages for years at a time.
The plan sounds so simple it seems ridiculous but it worked. The army took a page straight out of the rebels’ play book. They disguised themselves as a humanitarian aid mission, sent a number of bogus orders to rebel commanders and simply showed up and collected the FARC’s prize hostages – no questions asked, no shots fired.
The Israeli media praised the rescue as a "jungle Entebbe" – harking back to Israeli commandos’ famed "raid on Entebbe" back in 1976. But there are lingering questions. The Colombian operation was a covert infiltration and penetration operation. Colombian government ministers deny any ransom payments and are picking their words carefully. But my sources close to military intelligence tell me the government may have paid FARC human couriers several million dollars for switching allegiances.
Amid the euphoria, don’t forget the hundreds of other hostages still held by the FARC – 700 by some estimates, chained by the neck to trees or each other for years at a time. It seems likely the only way out for them is some kind of political negotiation between the warring sides.
Few would agree with the FARC’s stance on hostage taking – Cuba’s Fidel Castro disagrees with the tactic as well as it being a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. But there is most definitely a war going on here.
The Americans were part of that war – even if you believe the official version – they were flying along the line where drug war blurs into anti-guerrilla war. Many of the Colombian security force members were captured in combat.
We know from experience that it's the victors who write the history books. Already we're hearing predictions about the imminent defeat of the FARC and analysis that the FARC has become little more than a cocaine cartel devoid of ideology.
All sides in Colombia's war – including some in government circles have been tarnished by drug ties.
And whether the FARC are defeated or simply implode after a string of recent defeats, the root causes of their uprising will not have been resolved.
Poverty is still rampant here. And political power is concentrated largely in the hands of wealthy families and small elites.
Filed under: 360° Radar
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