Operation Jaque (Operacion Jaque)
On July 2, 2008, the Colombian military conducted an operation to free a group of hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, including three US military contractors with Northrop Grumman, 11 members of the Colombian military and police and Ingrid Betancourt, former Green Party candidate for president of Colombia. As a result of Operation Jaque (from the Spanish word for check in chess), all the hostages were released and two FARC members were arrested.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, agreed to the strategy developed by General Freddy Padilla de Leon. In order to convince FARC to bring together the captives in one group, soldiers would pretend to be aid workers with a (fictitious) non-governmental organization, accompanied by a South American television journalist and a cameraman. The goal was to trick the FARC members into believing the captives were being flown to meet with FARC commander Alfonso Cano at a remote camp. The operation was similar to successful hostage transfers in Venezuela, making it more believable to FARC.
Interviews with the released captives, especially Ingrid Betancourt, described in detail what happened during Operation Jaque. The captives were handcuffed, told they were being moved to a new location and put on a helicopter, along with a local FARC commander and member, who eventually handed over their weapons. Unbeknownst to FARC, standing at the ready were 39 helicopters prepared to bring in, within 15 minutes, 2000 Colombian troops, along with US advisors.
The media fueled controversy following the success of Operation Jaque with accusations of foreign involvement by the US and Israel, as well as allegations of payments to FARC by the Colombian government whose leadership staunchly denied any payment was made. Colombian citizens, on the other hand, expressed overwhelming approval, as President Álvaro Uribe's popularity soared to from 73 percent to 91 percent. His defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, was elected president after Uribe's term expired.
Operacion Jaque, a book by Colonel Luis Alberto Villamarin Pulido, was published in February 2009 (and later in e-book format) with extensive detail about the operation and many photographs.
On 3 September 2012 renowned Colombian painter and sculptor, Cristobal Gaviria (www.cristobalgaviria.com), presented a painting (right) to the government, honoring the courage and cunning involved in freeing the hostages from their bondage via Operacion Jaque. The painting was accepted in a formal ceremony by President Juan Manuel Santos.
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