Mérida, August 8, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Rumors spread recently that Ingrid Betancourt, a hostage of the Colombian FARC guerrillas, will soon be released in Venezuela, but President Hugo Chavez says he is unaware of such plans. He reiterated his offer, though, to mediate in the conflict between the guerrilla army and the Colombian government.
Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian senator and candidate for the presidency, has been held captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), since she was kidnapped in 2002 during her presidential campaign. Patricia Poleo, an anti-Chavez journalist based out of Miami, claims to have evidence that Betancourt is being held in Venezuela and will be released soon by the FARC in the state of Apure near the border with Colombia as a part of a deal between the French government and the FARC.
Poleo assures that the Venezuelan president is the "mediating negotiator" between the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy and the FARC. While French authorities have not denied this information, Colombia’s Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo expressed doubts about Poleo’s information and said his government is not aware of any plans to release the hostages.
On Sunday, during his TV and radio program Aló Presidente, Hugo Chavez reiterated a long-standing offer to mediate in the conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government and help them reach an agreement, including calling a conference among multiple nations.
The Colombian Senator Piedad Cordova was present at the Venezuelan president’s TV program and asked Chavez to help in negotiating a deal between the two sides of the conflict. Chavez expressed his desire to help Colombia achieve peace, but also denounced a campaign against his government to accuse him of supporting the FARC.
"We have always said that in the case of Colombia we are willing to do what we can to achieve peace," he said in response to the request of Piedad Cordova. "We would like to help, Piedad, but of course that depends on the actors over there. What more can we do?"
"I commit to do what I can, although in Colombia they use these words to attack us. If I could make some kind of humanitarian agreement, I hope that I can," he said.
The Colombian foreign minister recognized the good will of the Venezuelan president and assured that he has always been willing to help Colombia.
"There is a permanent attitude of cooperation on the part of President Chavez and his government and that statement is along the same lines," said Minister Araujo, referring to Chavez’ statements on Sunday. Chavez "has always declared himself a friend of Colombia and a friend of peace in Colombia," said the minister.
Upon arriving to Argentina earlier this week, journalists asked Chavez about the Betancourt case and what he knew about her release. Chavez said he did not know what they were referring to and showed surprise at their questions.
"I am trying to digest what you are asking me. I hope (Betancourt) is freed, but I am surprised by that question," said Chavez claiming to not be informed of the situation.
Betancourt is one of 45 hostages being held by the FARC, some from as many as 10 years ago, including three U.S. defense contractors held captive since their spy plane went down in the Colombian jungle more than 4 years ago. The FARC guerrillas hope to trade these hostages for the release of many guerrilla insurgents being held prisoner by the Colombian government, but it is unclear whether there is an agreement to release any in the near future.