Colombian presidential candidates Antanas Mockus and Juan Manuel Santos both say that they support future military rescue missions of hostages, following the Colombian army’s successful liberation of four FARC captives on Sunday.
In an interview with W Radio Tuesday morning, Green Party candidate Mockus called rescue mission “Operation Chameleon,” “admirable” and said that he would “enthusiastically” support Colombia’s armed forces in any future rescue plans.
The former Bogota mayor commented that rebel group the FARC are at their weakest and the Colombian armed forces should take advantage of this to attempt more rescue missions of the remaining 17 members of Colombia’s police and army, who still remain in FARC captivity.
Mockus said that the Colombian military’s success was the result of increased training and education of its soldiers. He stressed the need for this education to continue so that the armed forces can become even “more impactful with the best technology and more intelligence.”
The Green candidate also reiterated his previously stated position that he is against a humanitarian exchange of FARC hostages for incarcerated guerrillas. He called such a deal “an arbitrary petition by the FARC.”
Mockus said that “the day when kidnapping in Colombia will be fully overcome is not far off” and he called for the FARC to release all of their remaining hostages.
Juan Manuel Santos
For his part, Santos called Operation Chameleon a triumph for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe‘s “democratic security” policy. He highlighted the need to maintain the initiative and promised to continue and strengthen it, if he becomes president.
The Partido de la U candidate stressed that as president he would continue with the policy of rescuing the hostages and rejected the idea of negotiating a humanitarian exchange. He added that the FARC must be pressured to liberate all of their hostages.
Political analysts say that the Colombian military’s rescue of the four FARC hostages a week before Colombia’s second round presidential election will give former defense minister Santos an added edge.
“The voters showed in the first round elections that they were betting again on President Uribe’s democratic security agenda. Obviously, this rescue strengthens that candidacy,” said Leon Valencia from Bogota based NGO Nuevo Arco Iris.
“There was a point in the election campaign when it seemed that the agenda was going to change a little towards the theme of corruption. But that was an illusion, people think that security is the main issue,” Valencia added.
Political scientist Alejo Vargas from the Universidad Nacional agreed with Valencia, stating that the rescue “will strengthen Santos’ candidacy even more.”
For analyst Ruben Sanchez from the Universidad del Rosario, the execution of Operation Chameleon a week before the second round election may not be entirely coincidental.
“This is an operation that has been organized a while ago and was reserved for this time. It may reduce [voter] abstention, awaken voter enthusiasm and that will be reflected in votes for Santos,” Sanchez said.
However Sanchez rejected the suggestion that Mockus will lose votes to Santos due to Operation Chameleon.
“The votes for Mockus are already his and they are based on a very open and conscious protest against Santos’ candidacy. They won’t drop,” Sanchez said.
Valencia said that missions such as Operation Chameleon “are prepared a long time in advance and it shouldn’t be ruled out that it may have been planned to coincide with electoral event. Uribe and his government coalition have been very adept at hitting the guerrilla and using those hits politically.”
The Colombian armed forces conducted some of their most successful operations against the FARC, under Santos’ tenure as defense minister between 2006 and 2009. In 2008 “Operation Checkmate” rescued Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. military contractors and 11 members of the armed forces held hostage by the FARC. In the same year, FARC leader Raul Reyes was killed in a Colombian army raid on a rebel camp over the border in Ecuador.
Santos, a firm “Uribista,” is widely acknowledged as the presidential candidate that Uribe unofficially supports.
In Colombia’s first round presidential election held on May 30, Santos came in first with 46.57% of the vote, followed by Mockus with 21.47%. Given that no one candidate won the majority vote required to win the election outright, Santos and Mockus will face-off in a second round election on June 20.
The latest voter poll indicates that Santos will win the second round run-off with with 65%, while Mockus will win 28% of the votes.