In Colombia, Fénix and Jaque are words that have earned a whole
new meaning. No doubt, they will remain in the minds of many Colombians
for decades to come, in the same place where they keep memories related
to events as important as the Siege of the Palace of Justice in 1985 or
the death of Pablo Escobar in 1992. The two words were used as code names in the most important operations that Colombia’s military forces have undertaken in the recent past. Indeed, they altered the scenery of the conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, perhaps forever.
Fénix brought upon the death of FARC commander Raúl Reyes in northern Ecuador in March 2008. Jaque, carried out a year ago, produced
the liberation of fifteen FARC-held hostages, including Ingrid
Betancourt, a former presidential candidate, and three American
Both military operations represented a heavy blow to the FARC,
weakening their bargaining position, exposing their links with leftist
leaders in Latin America and reminding everyone once again that they are the world’s most vicious kidnappers. The two are symbols of how much President Uribe has achieved in the fight against FARC. They were momentous events that filled the Colombian military and the government with the support and the gratitude of thousands of citizens. With Fénix and Jaque, history was in the making.
But success in the two operations was never a certainty for the Uribe administration. Fénix and Jaque
could have gone terribly wrong and the government put a great deal at
stake when they ordered the military to carry them out. Bombarding
Reyes’ camp in Ecuadorean territory without the authorization or the
knowledge of that government was illegal and
awfully risky. It could very well be interpreted as an act of war, and
indeed, Venezuela seemed eager to start one with Colombia over the
The diplomatic storm that came after the attack could have had
disastrous consequences for the Colombian government, after no other
head of state in the Americas, besides President Bush, supported
President Uribe’s decision. The liberation of the eleven hostages was an
extremely dangerous bet, as well. Deceiving the kidnappers and taking
those men and women to freedom without firing a single shot was no easy
task. With one small inconsistency, the ruse could have ended in a
bloodbath and in a huge disaster of international proportions. Such a
conclusion may well have spelled the end for Mr. Uribe’s unbelievable popularity.
With that much at stake, many a leader would
have withdrawn into inaction. If Reyes was not killed then, perhaps the
military could capture him later. Would it really make a difference if
the hostages were not freed that day? It is easy to picture
fainthearted advisers asking the President to be prudent and wait. But
Mr. Uribe knew that he was doing the right thing. With the bravest, best trained soldiers in Latin America under his command, he had the courage to say ‘go’
and play with whatever cards he had. Surely, he was well aware of the
dangers and the consequences ahead of him, but he was ready to take
responsibility for the outcome. Indeed, he fared the diplomatic fallout of both Fénix and Jaque with mastery, facing allegations over the intrusion on Ecuadorean territory and the use of the Red Cross emblem. The
President’s determination without hesitation was key to the success of
the operations – that same attitude has made him the great leader that
has revived Colombia.
Now, a new presidential campaign is starting
to unfold. Far too many politicians have expressed their desire to run
for the highest office in the country, and the electorate is
understandably confused about who should lead Colombia until 2014. No
doubt, what the country needs is somebody who finishes the work of Mr. Uribe
and who is able to make the tough decisions that come with the
presidency. Colombia needs someone with guts. So, dear voter, when you
decide which candidate you shall support throughout this long road towards election day, ask yourself this question: would your candidate have had the backbone to order operations Fénix and Jaque if she/he had been in President Uribe’s shoes? If
the answer is no, or you are unsure, choose someone else. Colombia is
too dangerous a country to have a feeble leader on top. We need no cowards living in Palacio de Nariño.
Bear this short test in mind and use it when you make your pick for President. Colombia will only win this long crusade against death and crime under a strong leader who is not afraid of big gambles and who is willing to defend the interests of Colombia before the international community. Fénix and Jaque will be remembered as two of the best moments of the Uribe administration, but once Mr. Uribe leaves the job, someone else will have to fight the many battles to come with the same determination. The choice, dear voter, is in your hands. Don’t mess it up.
Author Gustavo Silva is Colombian and studies
Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton University in the
U.S. He has his personal weblog.