|The hostages' apparent rescue has grave implications for the Farc [Reuters]
Will Stebbins, Al Jazeera's Americas bureau chief, examines the implications of the freeing of 15 Farc hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, for Colombia, its president, and the Farc rebel group.
There can be no underestimating Colombian military intelligence.
They have racked up a series of successes, culminating in the dramatic rescue of both Ingrid Betancourt and the three US contractors, along with 11 other Colombian soldiers and policemen.
In a single blow, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym Farc, has been stripped of its most valuable bargaining chips.
Yet this was a theatrical blow, subterfuge rather than violence, which may have far more serious implications for the Farc.
'Out of a movie'
Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian defence minister, described the rescue operation as "something out of a movie".
The idea that an organisation that for years resisted every sort of pressure - including the relentless assault of the US-backed Colombian military - was, in the end, tricked into giving up its most prized assets, does require some suspension of disbelief.
The only conclusion can be that the Farc has been thoroughly penetrated, and at a very senior level, as has been the official claim for some time by the Colombian government.
Such claims now have to be taken seriously.
It would seem that no further military operations against the Farc are necessary.
This devastating blow, in which not a shot was fired, may very well sow the seeds of mistrust that could lead to the movement's self-destruction.
They must all be wondering who among them made the deal.
Neither can there be any overestimating the political triumph that this represents for Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president.
|The release represents a stunning victory for Uribe [AFP]
This is the ultimate justification for his policy of refusing to negotiate for the release of the hostages, and insisting on a military solution.
It will also eclipse any of the scandals that his administration has been battling, such as the buying of votes for a constitutional amendment to allow for Uribe's re-election, and high level government connections with right-wing paramilitaries, as he will be basking in the glow of Betancourt's rescue for some time.
The scandals have never threatened Uribe's popularity ratings, which have always been very high due to the very real security gains in urban centres such as Bogota and Medellin.
But his ratings will now be stratospheric, both domestically and internationally.
It may very well blunt the human rights criticisms that have been an obstacle for one of Uribe's principal policy objectives: a trade deal with the US.
With the rescue of the three US contractors, the Colombian president will now have a debt to collect.
The only storm clouds threatening an otherwise bright political horizon appear to be emanating from the prize itself.
Betancourt has announced that she still hopes to serve her country as president.