By BoLOBOOLNE payday loans

Externalities of the Columbian Hostage Rescue

This last week there was a lot of news coverage of a "daring hostage rescue in Columbia."  Fifteen people were freed from the FARC.  Many had been held captive for years, including politician Ingrid Betancourt, and three Americans.  The press has been celebrating the victory along several lines.  How wonderful it is for these people to be set free after years of captivity.  How the US military helped plan and support the operation.  How the guerrillas were fooled into giving the hostages up without firing a single shot.  (Aren’t we smart!  Aren’t they stuipd?)

But there’s a dark side to this rescue that I haven’t seen anybody discuss.  The reason the guerrillas allowed those hostages to get on that helicopter without firing a shot because they thought it was operated by a humanitarian group.  It’s true that the operation relied on intercepted communications and a spy in the FARC’s command structure.  But the operation relied on a having military helicopter painted white and its crew claiming to be apolitical.  The press even describes the acting lessons the soldiers took to pretend to be NGO workers.  Oh those foolish rebels who fell for such a simple trick by trusting aid workers.  What dupes!

Now look at this from another angle.  Imagine you really are an NGO worker, trying to provide some kind of support service to remote Columbia.  How does knowledge of an operation like this make you feel?  Scared, probably.  From now on, rebels are going to doubt the legitimacy of all NGO workers.  They might think you’re in the Columbian military trying to take advantage of them again.  They might even start shooting down Red Cross helicopters.  The negative externality of this rescue is that all legitimate humanitarian work in the area has just gotten a lot more difficult and dangerous.

So as Santos brags that this rescue "will go down in history for its audaciousness and effectiveness" he ignores the fact that he just cashed in a bunch of good will to make this happen.  This stuff doesn’t grow easily like coca plants.  I’m glad those people have their lives back, but I am in no way convinced it was worth the sacrifice.  What’s going to happen next time there’s a public health crisis in the area?  The moral calculus is undoubtedly complex.  But ask yourself, would you trade the freedom of a dozen captives (including three Americans) for risking the well-being of many thousands of needy individuals?  How about for the lives of a half dozen International Red Cross workers murdered by suspicious rebels?

  1. Iago says:

    Leo

    Very good point you make here, and yeah, this is the first I have seen (or thought of) this angle on the rescue and its "success". I had however not been aware that the rescue team and the chopper were all made up to represent NGOers, or maybe I just missed that part through inattentiveness. If anything though, said sitcom might give a cold-hearted rebel/terrorist/freedom-fighter/thug/whatever a new strategy to make the other side look bad by knowingly and intentionally messing with some actual and recognized NGOers but claiming that they were thought to be the "enemy", or some such brouhaha. Total bummer scenario, this.

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