The BIG news this July 3 has been the release after six years of captivity of French-Colombian activist and politician Ingrid Betancourt. She has French nationality through her first marriage, and can claim to be part French through the ancestry of her father's family. She has been in the headlines in France for years, her captivity having given her almost the status of martyr. When Sarkozy was elected he made her release a priority, especially after he had successfully negotiated the release of the Bulgarian nurses held captive in Libya.
Sarkozy and his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made several clumsy attempts to win her release through "diplomatic" methods that included an invitation to the terrorist guerillas holding her to come to Paris, a notion for which they were severely criticized.
As much as Sarkozy would love to claim credit for this spectacular event, it now appears that her liberation was due solely to the incredible courage and skills of the Colombian Army, who had worked out to the minutest detail a complex and dangerous plan for tricking the terrorists into releasing her (and three Americans also held hostage).
Here are some excerpts form the story as it appeared this morning in the Washington Times:
PARIS (AP) - As it meticulously planned and executed its daring rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages, Colombia kept a very important person out of the loop: French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
That is stunning because Betancourt is a dual French-Colombian national, her captivity was a cause celebre in France and Sarkozy had maintained a drumbeat of diplomatic pressure to try to spring her from the hands of Colombian rebels.(...)
Gueant explained on French TV that while Colombia did tell France months ago that a military operation was being contemplated, "it is true that we weren't expecting it at that precise moment." Gueant added that the French played no role in what Sarkozy called the "extremely brilliant" Colombian army rescue.
But Sarkozy is a master of spotting public relations opportunities, and this was too huge to miss. Having collected himself, the French leader gathered Betancourt's children, Melanie and Lorenzo, and her sister Astrid to his side and led them out before the cameras, for an address Wednesday night that French television stations broke into normal programming to broadcast.(...)
The image boost for Sarkozy from Betancourt's release comes after a rocky first year in power, where he's suffered slumping polls and often failed to maintain the statesmanslike poise that he displayed Wednesday night, standing quietly behind Betancourt's children as they breathlessly described their delight.
Just this week, Sarkozy started France's six-month presidency of the European Union on an undiplomatic foot, ripping into the bloc's trade chief. He accused Peter Mandelson in a television interview of making job-destroying concessions in global trade negotiations. The public spat with Mandelson _ who responded though his spokesman that Sarkozy's criticisms were "wrong and unjustified" _ cast a pall over what promises to be a tricky spell for France at the helm of the EU.
For French readers not super-saturated with this story, Le Figaro traces the life of Ingrid Betancourt. Here are passages from the article:
It was in 2001 that this fame led her to commit an error laden with consequences: pushed by a successful editor, she published, in France first, an autobiography that the Colombian public would not forget for a long time. In it she presented herself as destined to be a great woman: "I am discovering especially the hope that my mere presence arouses in the people," she wrote, quite the megalomaniac. The Colombian writer Oscar Collazos mocked her "incurable snobism", and the media in Bogota, that had paid in blood in the fight against drug-traffickers, belittled the boasts of "Joan of Arc of the Andes." (...)
In February 2002, she was kidnapped:
In 2002, she became nonetheless a candidate for the May 26 presidential election. She distributed Viagra in the streets " so that the country arises again". But her charm no longer had an effect. She wanted to symbolize the fight against corruption, but she had the wrong theme. It was no longer a priority of Colombians, who were dreaming only of civil peace. And on this subject also, Mme Betancourt made an error: she advocated negotiating with the FARC terrorists, while her rival Alvaro Uribe took a hard line. (...)
Three days later the candidate insisted on venturing by car into the zone held by the guerillas. She was kidnapped and joined fifty other political prisoners and more than a thousand other hostages of the FARC, seized for ransom. (...)
For English readers, the BBC has a readable account of her life. It closes with this bit of news:
She also showed her ordeal had done little to diminish her political ambition as she revealed: "I continue to aspire to serve Colombia as president."