Sarkozy wins political victory with Betancourt release

July 3rd, 2008 - 7:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris, July 3 (DPA) The Colombian security forces may have freed Ingrid Betancourt from the captivity of Colombia’s largest leftist insurgency group, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have won a political victory from the undercover operation. Betancourt, who holds a dual French-Colombian citizenship, was abducted by the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during an election campaign in 2002.

“Since Sarkozy took things in hand, everything gained momentum and today my mother is here,” Betancourt’s overjoyed daughter Melanie said after learning of her release.

For Sarkozy, who faced a wave of criticism from both within France and outside the country, those words were balm to his spirit.

A picture taken at the presidential palace with Betancourt’s children was political gold dust for Sarkozy.

Following her release early Thursday, Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, said she was “proud also to be a Frenchwoman and to have a small piece of France in my heart”.

France holds Betancourt in her heart, too: since she was abducted, countless French artists, politicians and individuals committed themselves to the cause of freeing her, and successive governments did all they could to secure her release.

Sarkozy was carrying on the work started by his predecessor Jacques Chirac, and reaping the political rewards now that Betancourt is free.

Betancourt was born in Bogota on the Christmas day in 1961 but grew up in Paris as her father Gabriel Betancourt represented Colombia at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

She married French diplomat Fabrice Delloye in 1981 and had two children with him, Melanie and Lorenzo, before they were separated in 1990.

At the age of 18, Betancourt said she wanted to be the president of Colombia, and prepared her political career at Paris’ elite “Sciences Po” university.

Her tutor was none other than former prime minister Dominique de Villepin.

When she was abducted by the FARC as she ran for president in 2002 on behalf of the Greens, Villepin was foreign minister.

He did everything he could to try and secure his former student’s release, and even organised an attempt to free her that ended in a diplomatic scandal in 2003.

He sent a Hercules C130 with a dozen soldiers to Manaus in Brazil to launch a raid into the Colombian jungle, but the attempt ended in failure and France was forced to apologise to Brazil for violating its sovereignty.

Sarkozy, who was a minister under Villepin, also pledged to make Betancourt’s release a priority after his election in 2007.

He kept close contact with Colombia’s right-wing President Alvaro Uribe, who forced a military solution.

Sarkozy also courted Uribe’s archrival, left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, asking him to contact the rebels.

In April he even sent a plane to South America to bring Betancourt home, but he failed as Villepin before him.

But Sarkozy’s actions kept Uribe on his toes to make sure he did not just let Betancourt rot in the jungle, and Betancourt drew strength to live through the hell of being held captive.

“I would like to thank President Sarkozy and all the French people, who were our support, our light and our beacon,” Betancourt said.

For the Betancourt children, Sarkozy is quite simply the hero that made their mother’s release possible.

“We thank Sarkozy, who did everything possible and who finally was the one who managed to free Mama and the other hostages,” son Lorenzo said.

“I believe a process has started at the end of which all will be freed.”

Following on from the release of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor from Libya in July 2007, Sarkozy can now pin Betancourt’s release to his chest.

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