French President Sarkozy has twice appeared in the spotlight of the world’s mass media announcing his determination to free French-Colombian dual citizen, Ingrid Betancourt, held captive by the Colombian guerrilla movement, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples Army (FARC-EP). Following in the footsteps of Hugo Chavez’ successful negotiations in late December 2007 and early January 2008 that led to the FARC’s unilateral freeing of 4 captives, Sarkozy announced his determination to become directly involved in freeing Ingrid, even if it meant risking a trip into Colombia’s jungle and climbing its mountains.1
After the TV cameras were off, Sarkozy put his Foreign Minister, Bernie Kouchner in charge of negotiations with the FARC by long-distance mobile phone. Kouchner’s background as an ardent supporter of the US war in Iraq (his first trip in office was to fly to Iraq and announce his backing of US troops), a lifetime unconditional supporter of Israel’s war against the Palestinians, including its genocidal war against Palestinian Gaza and his presiding over the ethnic cleansing of over 200,000 ethnic Serbs from Kosova in the late 1990s made him a less than reliable interlocutor with the FARC. Kouchner established phone contact with FARC leader and negotiator Raul Reyes, joining President Chavez of Venezuela and President Correa of Ecuador… The CIA and Colombian intelligence agents monitored Kouchner’s phone conversations with Reyes, with or without Bernie’s knowledge.2 Reyes (perhaps unaware of Kouchner’s role as imperialist enabler) negotiated in good faith, even promising to release Ingrid and other prisoners in exchange for a promise of a reciprocal response from the Colombian government to free 500 imprisoned FARC members and sympathizers. In the meantime, the Colombian government continued its massive and brutal military sweeps of the countryside where hundreds of villagers suspected of pro-FARC sympathies were massacred. Colombian President Uribe’s stated goal was to militarily ‘liberate’ the prisoners.3 Sarkozy’s abject failure to convince Uribe to negotiate and Kouchner’s unwillingness to pressure him led to the breakdown of the humanitarian mission.
A month later Sarkozy once against convoked the world’s mass media and read a letter addressed to FARC leader Manuel Marulanda demanding he immediately free Ingrid or else face the opprobrium of the international community and eternal condemnation for a crime against humanity.4 Once again, the mass media gave top coverage to his speech with accompanying photos broadcast throughout the world. Needless to say, as the conductor orchestrating the entire ‘humanitarian’ act, Sarkozy thought it inconvenient to mention the FARC demands for a reciprocal exchange of prisoners and a demilitarized zone for negotiations. Maestro Sarkozy’s silence on Colombian President Uribe’s (and US President George Bush) ongoing bombing campaign in the Colombian countryside and their refusal to negotiate was never mentioned during or after his press extravaganza. Ignored by the FARC as well as by Uribe and Bush, Sarkozy turned to President Chavez and asked him to demand the FARC provide fresh proof including recent photos of the FARC captives.5
The FARC notified Chavez and Sarkozy that they would comply by sending two emissaries, who were promptly captured by the Colombian military, tortured and jailed. Evidently the Kouchner-Chavez communication lines were actively monitored. Throughout the ‘negotiating process’, the US backed Colombian regime never received a single public message (let alone demand) from Sarkozy urging it to respond positively to the good will gestures of the FARC by releasing some of their political prisoners. On the night of March 1, 2008, US satellite intelligence pinpointed the precise location of Reyes just across the Ecuador frontier, Uribe directed the Colombian armed forces to bomb the FARC negotiators’ camp — a cross border raid which killed Reyes, the head of the FARC’s negotiators and 18 other guerrillas, 4 Mexican university students and one Ecuadorian civilian.6 Colombia’s cross-border military operation was a blatant violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty and destroyed the negotiations in progress. Uribe deliberately killed off the principal FARC negotiator working with Sarkozy, Chavez and Correa.7 Clearly, the FARC’s unilateral humanitarian concession was extremely costly in terms of loss of key leaders increasing its vulnerability to Colombian military detection and assault. At no point did Sarkozy or Kouchner criticize Uribe. In fact Kouchner praised Uribe’s ‘anti-terrorist’ assaults.
Sarkozy, like those actors whose stale jokes no longer evoke laughter except when they strike a solemn tragic pose, once again convoked the world’s mass media to inform the FARC that they should allow the International Red Cross to meet with Ingrid. He announced that he was sending a plane to Colombia with French medical personnel and that the FARC should prepare a welcoming contingent to escort the ill Ingrid Bentacourt to the French delegation for medical treatment. Relegating the FARC to playing second fiddle, Conductor Sarkozy assumed that they had no choice but to follow his baton, because refusal, he stated, would reveal their ‘inhumanity’ in not allowing a ‘near terminally ill captive’ elementary medical care.8
Like all moral blackmailers, Sarkozy followed the practice of escalating demands after the first payment. Having secured the earlier ‘proofs’ of the captives’ existence, he returned to demand new unilateral concessions. In early April, Sarkozy mounted his show accompanied by a ‘Free Ingrid’ demonstration in Paris: The planeload of medical personnel landed in Colombia and as usual Sarkozy made a grand show of offering to go to the jungle if necessary, knowing full well that it was a cheap publicity stunt.
This time, however, there was no Latin Americans to offer to ‘backup’ his media show. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, who was in Paris on an official visit, told the mass media that the freeing of Betancourt should be part of a reciprocal exchange of prisoners, sounding a dissonant note in Sarkozy’s show.9 President Chavez was even more direct. He told Sarkozy that he should address his humanitarian message to Presidents Bush and Uribe since they were the principle obstacles to any reciprocal exchange of prisoners.10
Sarkozy’s airplane sat on a Colombian runway, the French contingent sat bored and eager to return to Paris. The International Red Cross received no message. The FARC made no response, aware that any communication or humanitarian mission would once again facilitate another military assault on the FARC negotiators.
Sarkozy’s demands and dictates to the FARC went unanswered. The show failed to retain the attention of the mass media.
The FARC was predictably silent, knowing that any communications with Bernie Kouchner would be monitored by his friends in the CIA. No exchanges, no consultation, no security, no answers. The Latin Presidents who had attended Sarkozy’s previous humanitarian media shows failed to send even third echelon officials to accompany the bored French medical and media personnel lolling about in a mosquito-infested airport. Several days later, the FARC e-mailed a public communiqué (April 4, 2008) to Sarkozy and to world public opinion in which it made clear why Sarkozy’s ‘One Man Show’ was predetermined to failure. The FARC communiqué emphasized four points.11 It affirmed that the previous unilateral release of six prisoners was a ‘sovereign decision’ of the FARC and not a product of weakness or pressure — thus making it clear that they were not to be forced into making any further concessions. Secondly they underlined their priority in freeing their 500 guerrilla comrades incarcerated in Colombian and US prisons as part of a reciprocal agreement. They emphasized that Uribe had not met any of the essential conditions for negotiations, namely a demilitarized zone where the humanitarian exchange could take place. This was a reminder to Sarkozy that his lopsided and distorted emphasis on a unilateral release of FARC-held prisoners was a non-starter. The FARC further reminded public opinion and Sarkozy that the Uribe and Bush Administrations’ militarization of the countryside were a mortal threat to any FARC negotiating team.
The third part of the communiqué pointed Sarkozy directly to the murder of their previous negotiating team by the Uribe government, including the killing of Reyes, which made any humanitarian exchange impossible. Sarkozy, by totally ignoring the murder of Reyes and his colleagues, and failing to recognize and condemn Uribe’s deliberate policy of murdering negotiators, ended any possibility of proceeding with the humanitarian mission.
In the final section, the FARC made clear that under the above conditions, they would not cooperate with the medical mission. And in a pointed reference to Sarkozy’s unilateral arrogant, but impotent, impositions and his pretensions of being a world-class humanitarian, the FARC clearly stated: ‘We do not act in response to blackmail and media campaigns. If, at the beginning of the year, President Uribe had demilitarized Pradera and Florida (two municipalities) for 45 days, both Ingrid Betancourt, as well as the military prisoners and the guerrilla prisoners would have recovered their freedom and that would have been a victory for everyone.’
The plane and medical-media entourage flew back to Paris. There were no media waiting on the empty, dark tarmac. Once more, Sarkozy, the conductor and sole actor in his one-man-show, had demonstrated his virtuosity as a failed performer and a mediocre politician.
Two months later Bernard Kouchner hailed the death of FARC leader, Manuel Marulanda, and the killing of other FARC leaders as opening the way for the freeing of Betancourt — echoing the line of the Uribe regime. This effectively put an end to any French role in the process and was in line with Kouchner’s long affinity with gangster regimes.
- BBC December 6, 2007 and AFP, February 28, 2008. [↩]
- Reyes last interview, February 28, 2008 by Anibal Gurgon and Ingrid Storgen, found in KAOSENLARED.NET. [↩]
- ‘Uribe order the Army to ‘localize’ the kidnapped by the FARC’, La Jornada, March 30, 2008. [↩]
- La Jornada, March 26, 2008. [↩]
- La Jornada, March 30, 2008. [↩]
- Miami Herald, March 6, 2008. On the collaboration of US, see Expresso/Guayaquil “Colombian pilots Operated from the (US) base in Manta.” [↩]
- Richard Goff ‘Uribe’s Illegal Cross Border Raid’, Counterpunch, March 3, 2008. [↩]
- La Jornada, April 3, 2008. On April 8, just 5 days later, Kouchner admitted that Ingrid Betancout’s health was better than Sarkozy had presented it. [↩]
- La Jornada, April 7 and 8, 2008. [↩]
- La Jornada, April 4, 2008. [↩]
- FARC Communique, April 4 2008. Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa. [↩]