[Update! Do not miss it in the Chavez section!]
It is certain now that the freedom of Ingrid Betancourt is a milestone, not just a happy ending. A few things ended, new things are starting and some things are made official. Let's visit the individual score cards, in no particular order, reserving Ingrid's card for last but not least.
I am delighted to start with that one because I can scribble on it a major defeat, perhaps even the beginning of the end for his Latin American empire pipe dream. So many years of shooting from the hip, protected by a flack jacket made of dollar bills, is reaching the end, at home and outside. Oh, the end is not necessarily at hand, oil is still going up and he still has a few cards in hand. Heck, he could even make a come back. But the fact of the matter is that after ten years of making trouble around the world he is now on the defensive, bereft of good ideas. To the serious troubles in Bolivia we can now add the first troubles in Nicaragua and Argentina with the less than enthusiast support of Ecuador and maybe even Cuba.
After having clumsily tried to take over the hostage FARC situation in Colombia he has been totally outfoxed by Uribe. His pathetic show of last December including jokes like Oliver Stone and Mr. K. sunning up at some airport tarmac is now looked upon as an even greater failure than originally thought. With Ingrid Betancourt declaring that she did not want to participate in a circus show, we all know what opinion hostages do really have of Chavez and that any favor they might seek from him is by strict necessity because, well, the FARC can hide hostages inside Venezuela if needed. And also because he can be conned into financing the end of the FARC with a few adulatory words.
But the saddest part of it all is that Chavez is shown naked: he had no real strategy, he had no plan B, he had no hold on the FARC. He did it all out of hubris, alone, without anyone allowed, or courageous enough, to set him straight. When you compare Wednesday night Uribe rare cadena with the frequent cadenas of Chavez, you know which one of the two is on top of his game, knows what is going on and has real expectations from the people that surround him. Both might be equally arrogant caudillos but we know why Uribe is succeeding and why Chavez has not failed yet: his access to easy oil money.
Still, even in the details there are more worrisome news: Chavez Thursday told us that he learned about the rescue of Ingrid through an acquaintance at work. Exactly as this blogger learned the news!!!! That is, Chavez did not learn it from his secret service monitoring Colombia every move, he did not learned it from his foreign minister, he did not learned it from his armed forces monitoring, he learned it from someone down the hall...... Is this where the Venezuelan state stands today?
Update: In fact it is worse than what I though: now that the video is out you can see Chavez acknowledging that he got the news of Ingrid liberation from a construction worker up on a scaffold!!! And he admits it as if nothing!!!! Stupendous!
Of course after Chavez I must follow with Uribe.
His triumph is extraordinary. He has proven all wrong, that his strategy, with its unavoidable occasional pitfalls is the one to follow. True, on occasion a rescue effort will fail badly but right now the balance is positive and the rescue missions are getting more and more sophisticated.
I have been surprised to read criticism that pointed out that Colombians were simply unable to put up such a sophisticated rescue. That surely the US or Israel or something was involved. They remind me of those people that swear the Mayas and the Egyptians must have had extraterrestrial help. No, the reorganization of the Colombian army started ten years ago, under Pastrana and was carried diligently by Uribe. He has all the glory form having stuck to his ideas and carried them through. No conspiracy theory can hold here, it was all hard work and tenacity, the good old fashioned way. People that claim otherwise, such as Chavez like characters and supporters are simply envious.
As a long term strategist Uribe is now one of the top figures in the world. As a war president Uribe is about to join folks like Lincoln or FDR. But the real challenge is yet ahead of him: how to use his now extraordinary popularity to ensure the peace, and his succession, which might or might not include Ingrid, as we will read below. It is up to him now to make sure that every big city in Colombia names one of its main streets for him after he leaves office. And a few cities elsewhere. Two editorials today are congratulatory but are also to the point: the Washington Post and the New York Times. His true hour of greatness is his next moves.
Yes, Colombia gets an improved score card. No event such as yesterday shows to the world that Latin Americans can indeed be as tough, resolute, deft, forward, entrepreneurs as yesterday brilliant rescue plan. Sadly, Colombia might have needed a long and bloody war to learn the truth about how happiness is achieved. Europe and the US learned it the hard way and Colombia unfortunately seems to indicate that only traumatized generations give way to prosperous ones, until memory fades again. It is called the cycles of history.
If Colombia manages to reach peace in the next couple of years, not an impossible thing, it is destined to experiment and incredible growth, economical and cultural (has anyone visited a record store inside Colombia lately? Or Colombian writers bookshelves?). Ten years of peace in Colombia and you can expect it getting the Olympics or the World Cup without much problems, before any other Latin American country does! Because Colombia has already the size and locale that more prosperous countries such as Chile cannot have. Colombia's catch up might be spectacular!
Let's not write them off yet. They are inhumane enough that they can survive like hunted beasts for quite a while. They still have access to lots of drug trafficking, with Venezuela blind eye as a big help. After all, a couple of thousand guerrilla splintered in a couple of dozen small cells can survive for many years. But right now as a real force that can hope to reach Bogota and unseat democracy the FARC has ceased to exits. They showed that they suffer of tremendous disorganization, tremendous weakness. True, it might be only a circumstantial thing but since Colombia's army is not going to slow down I do not see how the FARC can recover enough to become again a threat for at least a few years. Besides, even if Uribe were to slip in his bathtub tonight and kill himself, with people like Santos or Ingrid, you know that there are many that are ready to step to the plate and pick the bat to swing it as strongly as Uribe did.
The FARC future is dark and paradoxically depends on the US. Yes, it is the perfect time for the US to crack down on its users now that there is a chance that supply might go down some. Let's not forget something: as long as there will be a market for drugs, there will be people wiling to take risks to supply it. It is called the law of supply and demand and the US should finally understand that instead of bemoaning these nasty Latinos that keep corrupting its streets...
From Venezuela I think the FARC has not much to expect now. True, Chavez will find ways to support them discretely enough to remain an issue for Uribe mostly for internal propaganda, but now I doubt very much that Chavez will gamble it all on them as he did a few months ago. His best bet now is to support a democratic opposition to Uribe in the hope of at least having a less unfriendly government across the border. But the Gran Colombia dream is postponed for the time being, unless it now belongs to Uribe ....
The deck has suddenly been reshuffled. With a Lula seeing the end in sight, there is a clear possibility that Brazil might swing right next election. Peru will keep getting closer to Colombia, Chile and Uruguay will remain their neutral selves. In two years from now there might be a sudden contention wall to Chavez. And this is not banking on a collapse in Argentina and Bolivia. And who would be the leader of this new "moderate wave"? Whomever is sitting at Nariño. Just as Chavez ten years ago announced a shift to the left for Latin America, we might be seeing soon a shift to the right: the inspiration has just been consecrated two days ago, and it is not a man alone as he comes with a country and a model. In our hemisphere yesterday Colombia went from the wanna-be pariah to the welcome friend and model.
Yes, I know, I might be pushing it a little bit here, but remember, who would have predicted what Chavez did 10 years ago?
Yes, France also got a black eye yesterday even if Ingrid had praise for Sarkozy. But she is a politician with a mission and she probably knows personally that Sarkozy has a healthy ego like Chavez as an Achilles' heel.
Within France already strong voices rose criticizing French LatAm policies, starting with Segolene Royal that went out to say that all the negotiations that France secretly undertook with the FARC went to nothing and that Uribe was right all along. That so many folks in France rushed to condemn her, including the current prime Minister and a recent one indicate only too well that she hit a very, very raw nerve. Le Monde reporting is not tender on the government, even if French press is considerably more subtle than other. France has proved that it is the country with an ear even more tone deaf than the US one under Bush. Liberation has an almost funny article on how Sarkozy tried to recoup form having been put totally on the sideline by Uribe. He even had Carla Bruni waste Ingrid precious first minutes of freedom. Liberation also underlines how wrong it was for France to bet on Chavez.
Her first day was impeccable. The woman is a robot, driven in a totally unexpected way. Clearly she had it all planned from the jungle. Just as Mandela did, just as that frail creature in Burma has been doing, to whom she also referred. These people mature when posted in front of such ordeal and they gain such a vision that once freed they have all the adrenaline necessary to carry them for the rest of their lives. Not a day to waste anymore for them!
By squaring herself with Uribe she has obtained several points: 1) she has put herself beyond right and left positions and just like Uribe she can represent all of Colombia (do not forget that Uribe, just as Ingrid, come from the center left Liberal party of Colombia); 2) she has helped to strengthen the unity and resolve of ALL Colombians, starting with her won family that has had to praise, reluctantly, Uribe; 3) she has shown a lot of political flair by acknowledging that now Colombia is a center right to right country for the foreseeable future and she is not wasting time with lost causes and 4) she is now a front runner for the next presidential election if she choses to run. This last point is of course obvious, but not only because of her ordeal in the jungle which made her a "people's" celebrity. No, she jumped on the Uribe band wagon without any hesitation, without any misstep. Her ability to take such incredible advantage of an emotional and political moment reveals her as an extraordinary politician.
But that is not all that she did in 24 hours. She was diligent in conveying to the whole world the horror of her captivity, through her tale on how her captors made her do forced labor to get medicine. Or how the coming of Clara Rojas child, Emmanuel, came upon. The difference is that now all listen to her and the nondescriptly cruelty of the FARC will hit home some that it never hit. And she did it all with class.
And yet it is not all. She showed that the jungle did not kill her humanity when she went to receive her children. She also revealed her rather brilliant plan to be busy on the front scene while she gets used to the six years of world issues she has missed: she will be working for the freedom of other hostages anywhere. I can see her visiting Burma......
The woman has a plan that includes a presidency and a Nobel Peace Prize. And she has what it takes to get them.
The future ahead of us
Ingrid Betancourt freedom has implications that go much deeper than what we thought at first, and this is due by how her freedom was gained and how Uribe and herself took advantage of it. Indeed, the perfection of it raises the best conspiracy theories that one could dream of. I am sure that some are thinking now that a ransom was paid to simplify everything, that Uribe briefed her before she was released, and other wild guesses. Maybe there is some truth in it after all, but would that matter? Both acted as statesman, true ones, something really rare in the world of politics today. Compare their actions to those of, say, Cristina Kirchner, and you will understand what I mean, the quantitative leap between Uribe and Betancourt and, well, anyone else in the Americas presidential mansions.