FRENCH CONNECTION -- France's six-month presidency of the European Union, which began July 1, got an expected prestige boost last week with the release of Ingrid Betancourt from her six-year captivity in the hands of Colombian FARC terrorists. France played no part in the daring rescue operation: the significant supporting role belonged to the United States. But it was to Paris, not Washington, that Betancourt dashed within 24 hours after her release; and the next day footage showed her in the arms of President Nicolas Sarokozy, not President Bush.
Betancourt had French family connections and is "culturally" French by background. Her captivity was a cause célèbre in France, and her release had been one of Sarkozy's campaign promises. French diplomatic efforts in that direction had not achieved much; but as soon as the news of her release was flashed around the world Sarkozy dispatched French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Bogota to ensure her "repatriation."
The Americans, meanwhile, were playing down their participation in the rescue and properly giving all the credit to the Colombians. You didn't see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Colombian capital, although some feel that a senior U.S. presence would have been appropriate. The Sarkozy government has shown a growing interest in Latin America even as U.S. influence in the region becomes more tenuous. Observers say the Betancourt connection will be useful to Paris, especially if, as she says are her plans, she returns to Colombian politics.