A “Rescue” Staged for the Screen

What drew me to the Sunday edition of Diario Vea wasn’t just the headline, “Venezuela will never again be a colony of anyone” and a cover photo of women soldiers in full uniform, wearing make-up and carrying bazookas on their shoulders. I confess to a weakness for strong women and this was so very Venezuelan: the women, demonstrating the strength of the nation, nevertheless didn’t neglect putting on eyeliner, eye shadow and lip gloss. And for me the clincher was the woman in the middle of the photo, looking over her bazooka at the camera and smiling widely, as if to say, “Even in war we won’t lose our warmth or our sense of humor.” But if you spend any time at all in Venezuela it’s hard to avoid that conclusion.

I was trying to catch a bus to Tabay, just a half hour outside of Merida, and I didn’t want to carry the Sunday tomes the other papers offered with glossy mags and advertisements stuffed inside what is essentially a fluffy journalistic taco. Diario Vea is dependably lightweight on Sundays as it carries no advertising other than the lackluster government ads that seem to be the paper’s major source of income. Vea, as it’s known, is a left paper run by Guillermo García Ponce, rumored to be an old Communist who has lined up behind Chavez. Indeed, Vea is the only pro-government paper available in Venezuela, and that was the real reason I wanted to read Diario Vea today. Experience has taught me that US media shows and government lies broadcast as gospel have a life of maximum one week before reality bleeds through the cell doors where it’s locked away and tortured by those same media conglomerates and lying government. Keep in mind that five or so corporations control 90% of all we hear, see, read and, ultimately, therefore, think. Those five corporations form our opinions for that crucial first week after a story, which is about when the alternative media, like Diario Vea, have a chance to pick up the real story and get at the truth concealed by the “facts.”

Such has been the case this week in the wake of the “dramatic rescue” of Ingrid Betancourt, the three U.S. mercenaries and ten or so soldiers and police flown by helicopter into Bogotá while U.S. presidential candidate John McCain coincidentally toured the country. The whole event, even as broadcast here in Venezuela on government television stations, had the look and feel of an event staged for the screen and today’s Diario Vea points out that the reason was because it was, indeed, an event staged for the screen and the “facts,” which remain unacknowledged by the mainstream press in the U.S. and Colombia, tell a very different story from the media’s fairy tale version of the event.

The story entitled “There was no such rescue but a media ‘show’” that appeared in today’s Diario Vea was drawn from the work of Bolivarian Press Agency writer Narciso Isa Conde and the Popular News Agency of Venezuela. According to the article the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) had agreed to turn over Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages to Swiss and French negotiators who agreed to arrange to pick up the hostages from various locations in two helicopters. The Colombian military got wind of the upcoming release and took control of the helicopters. The collusion of the U.S. in the media spin, while yet to be proven, is quite likely, especially since McCain just “happened” to be in the neighborhood and would be able to take the spotlight in a crassly opportunistic attempt to boost his pathetic presidential campaign.

And so the “rescue” ironically turned out to be a hostage taking in reverse in which the FARC’s goodwill gesture was blindsided for the glorification the paramilitary, drug-dealing President Uribe and his friend, John McCain, as the armed forces of Colombia seized two civilian helicopters full of prisoners, who had, in fact, been released, and not “rescued.” But presidential vanity wasn’t the only thing behind this media show. The mainstream media leaked what may have been the major motives. In the July 5 edition of the Houston Chronicle, Bennett Roth writes, in a story entitled “Hostage rescue (sic) will likely reinforce U.S. ties” that the media show, which Roth calls a “commando operation,” will “strengthen . . . security ties with the United States” with Colombia. The article quotes Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins as saying that the non-event of the “rescue” “validates to a great degree Plan Colombia.”

In an AP story on the same page, a headline announces that “Chavez [is] left on the sideline” by the “bold rescue,” and that the Venezuelan leader “could do little more than phone congratulations to President Uribe,” as if Chavez’s role as a world leader consisted only in his work to free FARC hostages. The article ends with a statement by Betancourt, that with “the help of our neighbors” the FARC could be shown “that there’s room in Latin America to win power the democratic way.”

So much for the lessons about this “bold rescue” from the perspective of the U.S. press and Ms. Betancourt. Colombians who have suffered terror and worse at the hands of the narco-government of Alvaro Uribe with his media shows and many other Latin Americans who have watched the civil war in Colombia for many years know otherwise. In this same issue of today’s Diario Vea there is an exclusive interview with Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, “Gabino,” the commander of the National Liberation Army, Colombia’s other major guerrilla, composed of revolutionary Christians, Marxists and workers from the oil fields and others. He reminds readers of Diario Vea that the last time leftists lay down their arms and took up legal paths of political struggle, the Colombian state and oligarchy murdered six thousand militants, beheading the legal left of Colombia. For Gabino, Chavez can play a much greater role in the conflict as mediator, despite his recent calls for the Colombian guerrilla to what appears to be an unconditional surrender. “His declarations are no obstacle to his being a facilitator for peace in Colombia. His essential role as ruler and his status as leader on the continent hasn’t changed.”

So far the U.S. press, unfortunately including much of the alternative media, have largely gone along with the “official” version of events in Colombia, a story in which a “terrorist” guerrilla insurgency has plagued the country with irrational kidnappings, drug dealing and massive violence which can only be defeated by the combined forces of the U.S. and its faithful sidekick, the Colombian government.

Nevertheless, Diario Vea presents a very different picture of the country. As the interview with Gabino highlights, it is the paramilitaries, allied with the government and oligarchy of Colombia, that have been most involved in the drug trade and the violence, including kidnappings. Since Uribe has been in power, over four hundred union activists have been killed by those same forces. In defiance of international law, the Colombian military has bombed Ecuador to kill members of the FARC and the government still offers no guarantees of protection to a legal left. Hopefully in the future media in the U.S. will follow suit with Diario Vea and Venezuelan news agencies and do a more critical analysis of the joint fabrications of the U.S. and Colombian governments.

Clifton Ross is a writer and videographer. His book, Translations from Silence won the 2010 Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence from Oakland PEN and has just been published in Spanish by Editorial Perro y Rana, Venezuela. His film, Venezuela: Revolution from the Inside Out was published in 2008 by PM Press. He can be contacted at clifross1(at)yahoo.com. Read other articles by Clifton.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on July 7th, 2008 at 10:08am #

    The Swiss press reports that a ransom was paid. Ingrid Bettancourt was rapidly becoming a martyr and thereby, a liability for FARC, so I would guess that they were glad to be rid of her. Whatever the truth, guerilla movements are always in need of money (although FARC is said to be financed by the Cali drug cartel).

  2. Giorgio said on July 7th, 2008 at 11:27am #

    What a murky world!
    Any spin doctoring will do to boost McCain’s prez prospects and the US’s ‘popularity’ in Latin America ….
    The news I got here was that Israel was also involved in the operation.
    Aren’t they such jolly goodfellows?
    Nicolas Sarkosy got also a popularity boost…he was great embracing Ingrid while his ‘faire du frou-frou’ wife looked on smiling…
    It amazes me that such a singular event could make so many jerks look good.
    Voilà! One positive result, though, Ingrid got her freedom!

  3. Michael Kenny said on July 8th, 2008 at 8:22am #

    I can add some more details to the ransom story from last night’s Swiss TV news. $500 000 was handed over to FARC in Costa Rica by the Swiss government’s official representative, Geneva Professor Jean-Pierre Gontard. 500K is peanuts in terms of the international arms black market, so the amount must be regarded as symbolic. In addition, the Colombians have now more or less kicked Gontard and his French colleague out of the country, which tends to comfirm the story.

    A plausible scenario: Bettancourt was kidnapped in order to exchange her for something. She was becoming a PR disaster for FARC, which would get worse if she died and worse again if they killed her. So they decided to get rid of her for the best price they could get. The French and the Swiss were willing to pay but Cano’s problem was whether the local commander who was actually holding her would let her go. So they came up with this stunt. Cano calls the local commander to tell him what to do and, to cover him, this is later presented as someone imitating his voice. Uribe is kept out of the loop but gets wind of it and threatens to blow the whole thing if he is not let in on the show. The operation goes off as planned but Uribe, furious, kicks the two foreigners out. That seems to account for all the known facts and leaves no loose ends.