The phenomenal hostage rescue mission in the jungle around Bogota, long planned and perfectly executed by the Colombian military yesterday, continues unfolding in the telling of its details. Not all of it is immediately evident, though a certain photo in the New York Times comes close to revealing the part of the story not yet covered by major media. On the face of it, the picture shows the entire group of the rescued, some of their rescuers and associates, and some family. Lined up for a group shot, the back rows were standing, the front row kneeling on the tarmac.
That Times piece thoroughly recounted the story of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) kidnappings and the daring rescue operation.
CNN ran an online piece Thursday about the Americans who returned home today to a quiet reunion with their families. It was a little-addressed side of the story, welcomed in America, but briefer than the universal story of the rescue that captured the world’s attention.
Time magazine online quickly put out a dramatic account of the successful mission, saying the Colombian army scored “one of the most stunning hostage rescues in the history of a country where human abduction is virtually a national pastime.”
The story colorfully captured the drama and details behind this amazing operation. It’s a compelling account of the revolutionary struggle and the people at the center of it. “Among the 15 people liberated was the most high-profile FARC hostage of all, former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt — a French-Colombian whose six-year-long captivity had become a cause célèbre in Europe — as well as three American defense contractors who had been held for more than five years, one of the longest U.S. hostage ordeals ever.”
The BBC produced an account of the full story, the timeline, and just-released video of newly released Ingrid Betancourt’s reunion with her children, as all the major media did to some degree.
There are a few points these stories didn’t quite capture. Neither did the kidnappers.
They were there to be seen, though, on CNN’s excellent coverage of the hostage rescue Wednesday evening, as the suddenly freed group emerged from the helicopter for the first time, in scenes of hugs and tears and jubilant faces. The immediate crowd greeting them included Betancourt’s mother, government and military officials, those closely involved. After many hugs and kisses, after initial tears were brushed back, Betancourt turned around and made the sign of the cross and closed her eyes momentarily. She did this several times over the next several minutes. When she went before the assembled press microphones for the first time, she spoke of the rescue as ‘God’s miracle’, a reference she repeatedly made. Betancourt said she had started the day that morning praying the rosary, and that the Virgin came to her aid. She spoke of faith, and closed her eyes, face up to the sky, and thanked God.
In only one camera angle among all the video airing in this coverage, one could see, briefly, that among that crowd assembled at the helicopter to greet the rescued group, a priest in alb and stole was next to Betancourt’s mother.
CNN interviewed the Colombian military chief and the US ambassador in Colombia about the operation, and one of them credited many people for working long and hard for freedom for the hostages and peace in the country. They included government, the military, and the Church, he said, and then he continued by giving more details of the military planning.
Yes, the Church played a role. The Church in Colombia has actively been working for peace and justice for…ever….and it was instrumental in this mission, somehow. So was the faith Betancourt embodied. A lot of these articles refer to her disillusionment and depression in captivity. That was the image captured in the photo the guerillas released some time ago, the photo famously circulated among her supporters. The woman who very shortly after being whisked out of the jungle some six years after being kidnapped and humiliated, however, spoke with strength and grace and dignity, and she credited God for a miracle. Her serenity was plainly visible.
Today, when she was reunited with her children, Betancourt wore a rosary around her wrist, and said she prayed it again this morning. Somewhere deep in the middle of one of these news stories, there was a line quoting her as saying that someday, she still hopes to be able to serve her country as president. This ordeal didn’t rob her of the desire she was pursuing when she was kidnapped. That sense of service and active pursuit of justice and peace are strongly informed by her faith. It’s the force more powerful than all the guerillas in the jungle. Whether it’s seen or unseen.
We saw it in her televised words and actions from the time of her release. You could see it in the Times‘ photo, where in the center, Ingrid Betancourt is kneeling next to her mother, praying.
Sheila Gribben Liaugminas is an Emmy Award winning journalist who reported for Time magazine for more than 20 years. Until recently, she hosted the popular national radio shows The Right Questions and Issues and Answers on Relevant Radio. This story first ran on her blog at InforumBlog.com