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How Chavez’s “Hostage Rescue” Went Bust

From the Wall Street Journal:

A Hollywood Yarn Unravels

January 14, 2008; Page A12

It was Christmas week in the Colombian city of Villavicencio and the events, as they were set to unfold, had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. If only the “heroes” hadn’t been exposed as liars.

A 3-year-old boy, his mother and another woman, all hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), were about to be freed. Credit for their release was to go to Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela. Former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner had flown up from Buenos Aires to take part in the show. Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone was on hand too, eager to document the Christmas spirit of the revolutionary killers and their socialist sympathizers. The child, as luck would have it, was called Emmanuel.

The part of the villain was bestowed on Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a U.S. ally who as a matter of policy has refused to give in to FARC demands for Colombian territory in exchange for the release of hostages. Mr. Uribe had also recently announced that Mr. Chávez was no longer welcome as a negotiator in the broader effort to free former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three American contractors and 41 other politically valuable FARC hostages. He had jerked away the welcome mat after Mr. Chávez tried to bypass him and talk directly to the Colombian military. According to the script, even Mr. Uribe’s stubbornness couldn’t stop the big-hearted Mr. Chávez from winning the freedom of these three.

For Mr. Stone, an anti-American Christmas miracle was in the offing. His film would portray Mr. Chávez as a humanitarian hero while demonizing Mr. Uribe. But it wasn’t to be an obscure foreign film with no American message. It would also complement the assertions of U.S. unions, other trade protectionists and President Bush’s political adversaries, all of whom insist — against the evidence — that the Colombian president violates human rights…

Over Christmas week the suspense surrounding the promised release was building. Mr. Chávez reminded TV viewers daily that his dramatic rescue plan had nothing to do with him and everything to do with his tender concern for the hostages. Mr. Uribe had agreed to allow Venezuelan aircraft to swoop into Colombia to pick up the two women and the child. The FARC had only to say where. But no word came.

The rebels blamed the delay on bad weather and on Mr. Uribe, who they said had mobilized his armed forces in the area. Mr. Uribe denied the charge, as did his top military commander. Mr. Chávez said Mr. Uribe could not be trusted. Meanwhile the Venezuelan minister for FARC relations, Ramon Rodríguez Chacín, made excuses for the rebels, who, he said, had to be ready for Colombian military actions against them after the handover. The guerrillas, he said, should “prepare their retreat strategy and take all the security measures they need.”

Finally, on Dec. 31, Mr. Uribe held a press conference to give his “hypothesis” of why the liberation hadn’t occurred: The FARC had lied when it said it had the child, and it had been trying to buy time to find him. In fact, the boy was in a foster home in Bogotá. The suggestion was a bombshell, but after DNA tests confirmed the fact, Mr. Uribe was vindicated.

Among the more shocking revelations was the FARC’s inhumane treatment of the infant. His mother, Clara Rojas, who had been Ms. Betancourt’s vice presidential running mate, was kidnapped in 2002. The child was born in a rebel camp in 2004, and was less than one year old when he was left with a local peasant. After about a month, his humble caretaker realized he could not treat the child’s serious illnesses and took him to a local clinic, which transferred him to a hospital.

Press reports say that doctors diagnosed the baby with anemia, malaria, a parasitic skin disease, malnutrition and an arm that had been broken at birth and not treated. “Anyone would have fallen apart before this child, with so many diseases,” the hospital director told the Miami Herald. “He didn’t raise his eyes. He got toys but did not pick them up. He did not stand but dragged himself on his butt. He cried but no tears came because of the malnutrition.”

When the news of the child’s whereabouts broke Mr. Stone went away spitting mad, not at his FARC heroes, who had been exposed as child abusers, but at Mr. Uribe and Mr. Bush. Of the FARC he said, “Grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals, which are difficult. I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba.”

Meanwhile, with Mr. Chávez looking like a fool, the two women were finally freed on Thursday. The FARC had reason to help him try to salvage his image: As this column has frequently noted, it needs Venezuela as its main transit route for cocaine and as a safe haven.

Mr. Chávez tried to paint himself as a neutral, third-party peacemaker but a day later he peeled off his mask. We already knew that a diplomat from Cuba, which has been sowing terror in Colombia for 50 years, accompanied the hostages to Caracas, underscoring the ties between Mr. Chávez, Cuba and the rebels. We also knew that as the helicopter carrying the hostages took off Mr. Rodríguez Chacín called to the rebels, “keep up the fight and count on us!”

On Friday, Mr. Chávez went further, arguing that the FARC has a “true” army that “occupies space” and is therefore a “belligerent” — a term that would give it standing under international law. He demanded that its terrorist status be revoked. Colombia called his speech “off-the-wall” but it knows better. Following the hostage release, this was a calculated move and is only the latest step in what is now Mr. Chávez’s war, waged by the FARC, against Colombia.

Somehow this is not quite the account we have been given by Mr. Chavez’s acolytes in the media. (Which is to say — the media.)

Why is that?

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, January 14th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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