Former Colombian hostage Betancourt thanks Venezuela’s Chavez

By Erik Sperling and Gregory Wilpert

Former Colombian FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt meets with Venezuela's President Chavez in the presidential palace. (PP)
Former Colombian FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt meets with Venezuela's President Chavez in the presidential palace. (PP)

Former Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt met with Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez in Caracas on Monday, to “hug and thank him” for his successful efforts to free hostages held by rebel groups in Colombia. She also stressed her confidence that Chávez never attempted to aid the FARC.

“President [Chavez], what you did was worth it,” Betancourt said in a press conference after a private meeting with Chavez and Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. “You didn’t just save my friends with the negotiations, but you also made it possible for myself and others to be freed.”

Betancourt highlighted the process led by Chavez last January and February, which resulted in the unilateral release of six hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC by its Spanish acronym.

“The first step towards my freedom was thanks to Hugo Chavez,” Betancourt declared. “If those contacts hadn’t been made and that framework hadn’t been in place, there wouldn’t have been an Operation Check-Mate,” she said, referring to the Colombian army’s rescue maneuver that freed her.

State television showed images of the meeting requested by Betancourt to specifically thank the Venezuelan head of state for his “commitment, generosity, love, and all he has invested” in freeing the hostages and towards achieving peace in Colombia.

“The voice of President Chavez was the voice that gave us hope even in the most terrible moments of captivity, the voice that allowed us to see the light at the end of the tunnel and believe that we could be freed soon,” Betancourt said.

Betancourt also thanked the Venezuelan people for welcoming in her family during difficult times. “They found here a new family and a new homeland.”

Venezuela is Betancourt’s most recent stop in a tour that included meetings with heads of state in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. She referred to Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa as a “brother” in the struggle for peace, despite his disagreements with Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe over the handling of the armed conflict.

Betancourt spoke of a “chain of love that has been created in the continent, that is going to get you all out of there,” speaking to the remaining hostages.

The former presidential candidate, who spent six years in captivity, was freed along with 14 others in a theatrical operation by Colombia’s army last June.

Betancourt also held a press conference in the French embassy today, in which she reaffirmed the important role Chávez played in the hostage release process and that she never believed that he had “clandestine or wrongful relations with the FARC” because, first, “he knows the FARC and, second, because I understand his path, which attempts to understand processes that are not his own.”

She also emphasized that Chávez “is a great democrat” who “has brought about a peaceful revolution in Venezuela” and highlighted that in the ten years of his presidency there have been more than ten electoral contests.

Chávez’s ideological closeness to the FARC “is a blessing in the end because someone had to talk to the FARC.” “I never lost trust in President Chávez,” added Betancourt.

9 December 2008