What if Ingrid Betancourt had been in Ecuador Saturday?

    Since learning of the assassination of the FARC leader, Raul Reyes, in Ecuador Saturday morning, my mind has been spinning.

Today I have been thinking about how much easier is the work of a photographer than that of a writer.  One snaps a picture and the picture is there; the writer has to assemble words to try to convey the same image.  Even short stories require hundreds of individual words, each carrying a variety of meanings and interpretations. Writing is like working a jigsaw puzzle.  Photography is taking the photo on the box.

Since Saturday, I have had a hard time sleeping through a complete night.  I awake; grab a paper and pencil, or flip a switch on my tape recorder, or run and turn on the computer.  I have started so many commentaries and have finished none.  Hence the thought occurred to me that maybe I should try to be an amateur literary photographer, sharing snapshots of what is passing through my mind.  Not looking for meaning, necessarily, but not avoiding the feelings that seem to be keeping me awake.  Here’s my album:

Photo 1:  Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, takes full responsibility for a pre-emptive strike in a foreign country and then lies to the president of that country about what happened.

Photo 2:&nbsb; I am standing in an open field in Wyoming with the Rocky Mountains in the background visiting with Tom Ogg, son of a ranching couple.  I don’t remember the topic of conversation, only his words:  “In Wyoming we judge a man by his word.  If you can’t trust what a man says, he isn’t worth much.”

Photo 3:  An old photo of Uribe and the president of the United States, George W. Bush, Uribe’s mentor (or should I say “master”?) together.

Photo 4:  Smiles abounding on the faces of military leaders in Colombia as they announce the deaths of Colombian citizens.

Photo 5:   President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela says there was something obscene, something diabolical in the smiles.  Chávez is a soldier.  You don’t celebrate the death of other soldiers.

Photo 6:  Chávez calls the death of Reyes an assassination.

Photo 7:  Colombia and the U.S. call the FARC terrorists; President Chávez calls for a minute of silence in memory of Raul Reyes whom he describes as “a true revolutionary.

Photo 8:  A commentator says that Reyes really wasn’t so much a guerrilla as a diplomat, in charge of presenting the FARC’s position to the world.

Photo 9:  President Chávez warns President Uribe of the consequences should Colombian officials illegally enter Venezuela.  He should have added the word “again” at the end of the sentence.  They did enter illegally a few years ago and kidnapped Rodrigo Granda, the “ambassador” of the FARC on December 15, 2004.  He was eating in a restaurant in Caracas and had been openly attending meetings here with intellectuals and other people from throughout the world.  Uribe told Chávez that he had been captured in Colombia.  It was not true, but Chávez at first excused him saying that the police in Colombia had lied to Uribe.  The Colombian government responded they didn’t do anything wrong.

Photo 10:  I am in first grade; my sister is in eighth.  She takes me to school.  I give her my hand and ask her to lead me as I play blind and close my eyes.  She leads me into a tree.  I beg her not to do that again.  She promises—and leads me into another tree.  In those days of childhood, if you crossed your fingers when you said something it didn’t count.  You could lie.  I wonder if President Bush and President Uribe also learned that custom when they were children.

Photo 11:  My imagination suddenly runs wild:  Mexican military airplanes bomb an encampment of twenty Mexicans who have crossed the Rio Grande and are two miles within the U.S. border asleep in tents.  Mexican soldiers arrive in helicopters, surround and kill the survivors, and drag two bodies they want back across the border.  Mexican authorities smile and rejoice over the death of their brother and sister Mexicans.  For some strange reason, so do U.S. authorities.  But they decide to file a diplomatic protest—someday.

Photo 12:  The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner says:  “It is bad news that the man with whom we were in conversations (over the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt) has been killed.”

Photo 13:  President Rafael Correa:  “The conversations were sufficiently advancing for the liberation in Ecuador of twelve more hostages, among whom was to be Ingrid Betancourt.”

Photo 14:  The tired face of Ingrid Betancourt accompanied by the question in my mind of what would have happened if Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages had been in the encampment that Saturday morning, waiting to be released to Ecuadorian authorities?  

Photo 15:  Fear in the faces of relatives of the 40 people still held in captivity by the FARC.

Photo 16:  Relief as the FARC announces they will continue in their efforts to achieve an interchange of prisoners and will not effect reprisals on the hostages.  

Photo 17:  Continued concern on the part of the relatives that President Uribe will do something that will cause the death of the hostages.  Why does he seem to be putting obstacles in the release of the hostages?  Betancourt was a presidential candidate at the time of her kidnapping, constantly fighting against corruption and an opponent of Uribe.  Is Uribe afraid she might be a candidate again?  What would she have to say about Uribe today?

Photo 18:  A question as I look at the smiling military officers:  if Colombian intelligence is so good, why didn’t the government wait until the guerrillas passed back across the border into Colombian instead of bombing them in Ecuador?

Photo 19:  A young dead man lying face down with two bullet holes in the middle of his back.  The precision of the U.S. technology given to the Colombian military is incredible:  to think that an airplane could shoot with such precision in the middle of the night.

Photo 20:  Young bodies strewn on the ground in their underwear.  Young people.  Human beings.  With dreams of a different world.  Why couldn’t they have been taken hostage?  Why did they have to be killed?

Photo 21:  The jungle and Raul Reyes.  It would take dedication to stay there for over thirty years struggling for a cause.

Photo 22:  The Palace of Nariño in Bogota and President Uribe.

Photo 23: The Colombian military announcing that they captured three computers and that with the help of intelligence agencies of other countries the material is being examined.  I wonder why the Colombian authorities are not capable of reading Spanish themselves.

Photo 24:  Colombian military authorities announcing that they have found matter in the computers to link President Rafael Correa with the FARC.

Photo 25:  The computer “reveals” that the FARC gave Chávez $150,000 when he was in prison in the 1990s.

Photo 26:  Page 188 of Bart Jones’s biography, HUGO:  “While Chávez and his supporters were so stretched financially that they sometimes lacked money for gas and other basics, food was not a problem.  They had far more dinner invitations in each town than they could possibly accept—often dozens.  They slept in the homes of supporters honored by the visit. When they heard El Commandante was coming to town, residents—many of them dirt poor—pooled their money and rented out a sound system or a hotel conference room for Chávez’s appearance.  Others gave him clothes.”  I wonder why he didn’t use the $150,000 “found” in Reyes’s computer.

Photo 27:  The host of a Venezuelan TV show asking how is it possible that so many people were killed in the bombing, but that the computers came out untouched?

Photo 28:  I am standing in front of my computer, writing whatever I want to write, but knowing that if someone robs this computer they can change the words to say whatever they want them to say.

Photo 29:  The special meeting of the Organization of American States.  I listen to many ambassadors speaking about the problem between Colombian and Ecuador and the need for dialogue.  But only Venezuela mentions that there is need for dialogue between the FARC and the Colombian government.  Four days ago there was a border conflict and the OAS is already meeting.  But after almost sixty years of internal conflict that has oozed over the borders into Venezuela and Ecuador, the OAS ignores the problem.

Photo 30:  Facebook duping millions into thinking that the only problem in Colombia is the FARC and mobilizing huge demonstrations on February 4.

Photo 31:  The February 4 demonstrations that concentrated on the forty hostages held by the FARC and that forgot to say anything about the violations of the Colombian government and the paramilitaries it has supported:  the eleven thousand people who have disappeared in the last twenty years, the four million who have been driven out of the country, the more or less 2,500 labor leaders assassinated, the four thousand leaders of the Communist Party of Colombia (PCC) and the Patriotic Union (UP) who have been killed, the genocide of indigenous people, and the more than two thousand mass graves that have been found in different parts of Colombia!

Photo 32:  Noam Chomsky writing in favor of a vigil on March 6:  “For far too long, Colombians have suffered torture, displacement, disappearance, and general misery under the dark shadow of paramilitary and military terror, constantly taking new and more menacing forms. To our everlasting shame, citizens of the United States have unwittingly made a decisive contribution to these horrors for close to half a century. The vigil on March 6 is a courageous stand by the victims and their supporters, in Colombia and around the world, a passionate plea for this savagery to be brought to a final end. Please join them in any way you can, and help to bring to this wonderful country the justice and peace that its people richly deserve.”

Photo 33:  Not taken yet.  I am waiting to see how many people in the world will show up to support the vigil on Thursday, March 6, for peace in Colombia.  I don’t expect many.  It wasn’t promoted like the Facebook demonstrations.  I wonder who all helped the Facebook effort.  The Colombian government says the FARC is sponsoring the March 6 one and so has no interest in participating.  They must have found that information in the computers—even before they found the computers.

I now stop and look back at the verbal photos in my album.  For almost sixty years there has been conflict in Colombia.  Both sides have committed errors, horrible errors.  But the past is past.

Today I am looking at the present.  One side is seeking dialogue and the release of hostages.  The other side is involved violating international principles, lying about what they did, and assassinating rather than taking live hostages four days ago.

I feel rather sure the second side will win the international media war.  But, maybe, someday….

(Charles Hardy is author of, Cowboy in Caracas:  A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s Democratic Revolution, published by Curbstone Press.  Other essays by Hardy can be found on his personal blog Cowboyincaracas.com .  You may write him at cowboyincaracas@yahoo.com.)

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