was a Colombian military
resulted in the freedom of 15 hostages, including former Colombian
presidential candidate Íngrid
. The hostages had been held by the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia
(FARC). The operation took place on July 2,
2008, along the Apaporis River
. According to Colombian
officials, the operation's success resulted from a ruse played on
the FARC by Colombian Military Intelligence.
hostages freed were Marc Gonsalves,
Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell, three American military
contractors employed by Northrop
Grumman and 11 Colombian military and police.
members were arrested.
The operation's name was derived from the Spanish
term for "check" in chess
The intelligence gathering for the operation began long before it
was actually carried out; according to one American official,
Colombia had managed to place a mole
within the FARC itself one year, if
not more, before the operation. According to a colonel involved in
the operation, Colombia had located the hostages roughly four
months before the rescue. Between this time and the actual mission,
Colombian forces spotted five of the hostages while they were
bathing in the Apaporis river (including the three Americans),
leading them to plant motion-sensors and video cameras along the
waterway. At one point a FARC guerilla accidentally kicked a device
while walking in the jungle to relieve himself; however, the
surveillance operation's cover was not blown.
The idea of tricking the FARC into regrouping the hostages was
seriously considered in late May, and the following month General
Freddy Padilla de Leon brought the rescue plan to his civilian
bosses. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos is said to have agreed
quickly to the plan; President Álvaro Uribe, after weighing the
possible diplomatic consequences, also approved it.
Santos said the FARC rebels had been tricked into handing over the
hostages by soldiers posing as members of a fictitious
non-government organisation that supposedly would fly the captives
to a camp to meet rebel leader Alfonso
; to prepare for the role, they took acting classes for a
week and a half. Two soldiers impersonated a cameraman and
journalist from pan-Latin American TV station teleSUR
, two posed as fellow guerilla fighters, and
four troops dressed as aid workers. Several aspects of the mission
were apparently designed to mimic previous Venezuelan hostage transfers
the actual composition of the group and the type and markings of
the helicopters used.
According to Betancourt, the hostages were moved early on the
morning of July 2 across the river to a landing zone where they
were told by their captors that they were going to be moved to a
helicopters came to the landing area
in Guaviare, where one, carrying Colombian agents wearing Che Guevara
T-shirts, landed to pick up the
hostages. In total the helicopter spent 22 minutes on the ground,
during which time the hostages were handcuffed and loaded aboard;
the pilot and copilot communicated with fellow security personnel
Two rebels, including the local FARC commander César
, boarded the helicopters
along with the hostages, persuaded to hand over their pistols, and
were subdued in the air by Colombian forces. Betancourt later told
a press conference she at first had had no idea she was being
rescued until she saw her captor naked and blindfolded on the floor
of the aircraft. She and the others were told: "Somos el
Ejército Nacional. ¡Ustedes están en libertad!"
(We are the national army. You are free).
In case of failure, Colombia had prepared an armada of 39
helicopters to ferry 2000 troops plus U.S. advisors. They would
have been brought within a half-mile of the original landing zone
in under 15 minutes.
Alleged foreign involvement
The United States reportedly provided a transport plane and a
medical team for the liberated hostages. According to Der Spiegel
, Colombian authorities had used
American spy satellites to track the location of the hostages since
the beginning of 2008.
Israeli tracking technology is believed to have been used in the
rescue. Some reports also highlighted the role of Global CST
, a company owned by former Israeli
Brigadier Generals Israel Ziv and Yossi Kuperwasser, which has a
US$10 million contract with Colombia to provide security advising
and equipment. According to Colombia's W
, the Colombian military denied that Global CST
played any direct role in the operation.
Defence Minister Juan Manuel
emphasized, at a press conference on July 4, that there
was no direct foreign involvement of any kind in the operation.
However, he did say that a U.S. surveillance aircraft monitored the
Allegations of payment
On July 4, 2008, Radio Suisse
reported that unnamed "reliable sources" had told
it the rescue took place after a payment of USD
20 million by the United States. According to
, the French Foreign Ministry
payment of any ransom by France.
Frederich Blassel, Radio Suisse Romande
Colombia's W Radio
that, according to
his source, the release was not negotiated directly with FARC but
with Gerardo Aguilar, alias César, one of the two guerrillas
captured during the operation, who would have received the payment
20 million. According to Blassel,
the two rebels could be given new identities by Spain, France, and
The Minister of Defense Juan Manuel
, and Vice President Francisco Santos
, in response to
these claims, denied any payment. "That information is absolutely
false. It has no basis. We don't know where it comes from and why
its being said". The Minister of Defense also added with a touch of
irony that "Actually, it would have been a cheap offer, because we
were willing to give up to USD 100 million..." "We would be the
first to inform publicly, because it is part of our rewards system
policy, and besides, it would speak much worse about the
According to Colombia's El Tiempo
and W Radio
, General Fredy Padilla de León
of the Colombian Armed Forces, denied the existence of any payment
by the Colombian government. General Padilla argued that if any
payment had been made, it would have been better to make it
publicly known, to use it as an incentive and to cause confusion
within FARC's ranks. William
, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, also denied the
In February of 2009 Gerardo Aguilar was extradited to US by the
Colombian Supreme Court on charges of narcotrafficking. He was
charged with exchanging coca for weapons and supplies and with
smuggling 1,000 kg of coca into the US since 2002. His sentimental
partner, Nancy Conde Rubio (alias Doris Adriana) had already been
extradited under charges of conspiring to aid and giving material
support to terrorist organizations, after being captured in an
Misuse of a Red Cross emblem
On July 15, 2008, it was reported that according to unpublished
photos and video footage viewed by CNN
the network declined to buy from its source and whose authenticity
it could not verify, Colombian military intelligence misused an
official International Red
emblem during the rescue operation.
According to CNN, the material in question showed one man wearing a
bib with the official symbol for the Red Cross shortly before the
rescue operation began. CNN also reported that one frame of a
heavily edited official video released by Colombian authorities two
days after the operation showed a person who seemed to be the same
man, wearing what appeared to be part of a Red Cross bib.
According to international legal expert Mark Ellis, misuse of the
Red Cross emblem would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions
and may constitute a
, because it could possibly
endanger the work of official humanitarian workers in the
During a national press conference, Colombian President Uribe had
asked former hostage Ingrid
if she had seen any emblems on the helicopter
participating in the rescue mission, which she denied.
According to CNN, the unpublished video footage showed the presence
of a logo with the words "Mision Internacional Humanitaria"
(International Humanitarian Mission), consisting of "a stylized red
bird made up of wavy red lines above two curved branches of blue
leaves", pasted on the sides of the helicopter. The same logo appeared
on the web site for a NGO of the same name said
to be based in Barcelona, Spain, though CNN was unable to contact or verify
the existence of the organization.
An official Red Cross spokesman told CNN that "the International
Committee of the Red Cross cannot confirm that its logo and/or the
Red Cross emblem were used...the ICRC maintains an ongoing
confidential dialogue with the Colombian authorities on a variety
of humanitarian issues, including news reports that the Red Cross
emblem may have been used in this operation."
CNN's report mentioned that Colombian rebel groups FARC
misused the Red Cross emblem in earlier incidents.
On July 16, Colombian President Álvaro
announced that an internal investigation had found that
one of the officers who participated in the operation had
individually decided to make unauthorized use of a Red Cross
emblem, claiming that he was nervous and feared the presence of
armed guerrillas. President Uribe said that Defense Minister
Juan Manuel Santos
to the International Red Cross.
Colombian government's declarations, Red Cross spokesperson Yves
Heller stated in Bogotá, Colombia that
"parties to the conflict must respect the Red Cross emblem at all
times and under all circumstances."
Geneva, Switzerland, Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal declared that
"it was important for us that this clarification was made by the
Colombian authorities at the highest level" and said that the
international organization accepted the Colombian government's
Unauthorized use of real NGO information
16, 2008, Colombian newsweekly Revista
Semana published an online article stating that the
International Humanitarian Mission NGO didn't
exist, arguing that it was created by the Colombian military for
the purposes of carrying out the rescue operation, and that its
website used information from a real Barcelona-based organization, Global Humanitaria.
cited a spokesperson for the Justice Department of Catalunya, Spain, who said that International Humanitarian
Mission was never part of Catalunya's central register of legal
According to Semana's investigation, the official
registry number used by the creators of the fake organization's
website had been copied from the site for Global Humanitaria. Cinta
Pluma, director of Global Humanitaria, denied having any
participation in Operation Jaque or in the establishment of the
false NGO, adding that they would consult their legal advisors
before taking any action regarding the issue.
On July 17, in an online press release, Global Humanitaria
expressed surprise at the unauthorized use of their organization's
registry number and website data, stated that they had never
participated in any humanitarian procedures involving FARC, that
they hoped to meet with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to clear
up the situation, and requested respect for the organization's work
Immediately after the hostage rescue El Espectador
commissioned an Ipsos
-Napoleon Franco poll, which found that President
Uribe's popularity had jumped from 73% to 91%, while 79%
(previously 69%) of those polled stated that they would vote for
Betancourt, describing operation Jaque, said "I am unaware of a
precedent to such a perfect mission. Maybe only the Israelis
…their wonderful commandos may be
reminiscent of the mission that took place here."
Immediately after the hostage rescue, Colombian military forces
cornered the rest of FARC's 1st Front, the unit which had held the
hostages captive. Colombian forces have so far elected not to
attack the 1st Front, but is instead offering them amnesty if they
- : David Emerson, Minister of Foreign
Affairs, welcomed the action of the Government of Colombia
resulting in the rescue of 15 hostages, "This is undoubtedly a
historic event in Colombia's search for a lasting peace. We share
the deep satisfaction and relief of the people of Colombia at the
safe return of these hostages to their families."
- : Chilean President Michelle
Bachelet stated that "This is a victory for democracy, peace
- : Ecuadorian defense minister Javier Ponce stated that the
liberation of the 15 hostages was something the world was waiting
for, but also lamented the way it happened, saying "It is a pity it
happened not as part of a peace process, but as a violent rescue by
the Colombian Armed Forces." He claimed it diminishes the chances
of a political resolution. The Ecuadorian Army is known to gear up
its efforts against FARC members that may exist
within Ecuadors territory.
- : French President Nicolas
Sarkozy spoke by telephone with Álvaro Uribe on the night before the
operation. He later thanked Uribe and gave a live news conference
with the children and sister of Íngrid Betancourt on the night of
July 2. Immediately after, the family and French Foreign Minister
Bernard Kouchner boarded a French
jet for Colombia. Various French political figures also expressed
their relief with the rescue. In Paris some drivers honked their
horns on the night of the rescue, and a public celebration was
scheduled for July 3.
- : Mexican President Felipe
Calderón telephoned President of Colombia Álvaro Uribe to
congratulate him on the successful operation, hailing the strategy
implemented to reinforce legality and order, which strengthens
democratic life and social coexistence in Colombia.
- : U.S. President George W.
Bush praised and thanked Uribe, and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
said she was delighted with the rescue of the three American
hostages. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, on a trip to Colombia, praised the
rescue effort and urged the release of all hostages. Democratic
presidential candidate Barack Obama
also expressed praise at the rescue.
- : Venezuelan President Hugo
Chávez stated that "We are overjoyed at the liberation of those
people ... and even happier to learn they were freed without
spilling a drop of blood."
List of hostages rescued
- (requires free registration)