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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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Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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