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Colombia Frees Betancourt, U.S. Hostages

Published: July 4, 2008 (Issue # 1387)



  • Yolanda Pulecio kisses her daughter, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt (r) following her rescue on Wednesday.
    Photo: John Vizcaino / Reuters

BOGOTA, Colombia Ingrid Betancourt woke up, as always, at 4 a.m., for another numbing day in her seventh year of rebel captivity deep in Colombias jungle.

The former presidential candidate listened to news of her mother and daughter over the radio then was told to pack by her guerrilla captors helicopters were coming.

The sound always filled her with dread, but this time she and 14 other hostages including three U.S. military contractors held since 2003 were airlifted to freedom in an audaciously perfect operation involving military spies who tricked the rebels into handing over their prize hostages without firing a shot.

The stunning caper involved months of intelligence gathering, dozens of helicopters on standby and a strong dose of deceit: The rebels shoved the captives, their hands bound, onto a white unmarked MI-17 helicopter, believing they were being transferred to another guerrilla camp.

Looking at helicopters crew, some wearing Che Guevara shirts, Betancourt reasoned they werent aid workers, as shed expected but rebels.

This was just another indignity the helicopter had no flag, no insignia. Angry and upset, she refused a coat they offered as they told her she was going to a colder climate.

But not long after the group was airborne, Betancourt turned around and saw the local commander, alias Cesar, a man who had tormented her for four years, blindfolded and stripped naked on the floor.

Then came the unbelievable words.

Were the national army, said one of the crewman. Youre free.

The helicopter crew were soldiers in disguise. Cesar and the other guerrilla aboard had been persuaded to hand over their pistols, then overpowered.

Not a single shot was fired in Wednesdays rescue mission, which snatched from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the four foreigners who were its greatest bargaining chips.

The helicopter almost fell from the sky because we were jumping up and down, yelling, crying, hugging one another, Betancourt later said.

The operation, which also freed 11 Colombian soldiers and police, will go into history for its audacity and effectiveness, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.

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Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmChams Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaacs Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburgs showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literatures most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poets birthday. The tragic tenors work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russias greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Strategically dominate your foes at the British Book Centers Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test ones intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only mans best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Honor the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during todays reenactment titled Winter War: How it Was. More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Culture Palace on Petrograd. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie Black Cat, White Cat, as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of Takoy Festival, a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonights festival finale is Fathers and Sons, a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenevs classic about familial relations.



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