Caracas, August 22, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) — As part of an effort to negotiate a deal between the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) guerrilla group, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with families of Colombian hostages yesterday in the Presidential Palace in Caracas. The Venezuelan president will travel to Bogotá next week to discuss the issue with the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
"I pray to God that we can modestly help in your grand efforts to have positive and happy results for everyone," said Chavez upon receiving the group of family members on Monday. "I hope we can help so that those efforts aren't in vain and that we can achieve a humanitarian exchange."
The Venezuelan president has offered to be a neutral observer and mediator in the efforts to achieve an agreement between the guerrilla forces and the Colombian government and to make Venezuela a neutral country in which negotiations could take place and prisoners on both sides could be released.
Chavez even offered to release Colombian paramilitary forces that were captured in Venezuela in 2004 as a part of the deal. The forces were detained in 2004 on a farm outside Caracas and were being trained in a conspiracy to overthrow the Venezuelan president.
From the presidential palace Chavez spoke directly at the leader of the FARC, Manuel Marulanda, and to Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, to ask them to work together for a humanitarian exchange of 45 hostages held captive by the FARC for some 500 guerrillas imprisoned by the Colombian government.
"To Uribe, with all your heart, and to Marulanda, with all your heart, let's make this possible. Let's not let things get in the way, as they are today," said Chavez.
"Marulanda, this is Chavez speaking from the presidential palace. Wherever you are, I don't know you, but I am speaking to you as a brother to Colombia. I am waiting for a sign from you, so that each sign may be one more step toward figuring this out. Let's not close ourselves off in positions that have closed the way to other negotiators," said Chavez, who expressed his desire for unity and peace.
"I hope we can achieve an agreement between you, the FARC, and the Colombian government for a humanitarian exchange," he said. "We hope for many more things in the mission of peace and union between the Venezuelan and Colombian people."
Chavez did not rule out the possibility of speaking directly with the FARC guerrillas in order to negotiate a deal. According to the Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba, who has requested the assistance of President Chavez in mediating the conflict, meeting with both sides might be necessary.
"If we listen to one side we have to listen to the other side because this is about resolving a conflict," she said.
Cordoba requested the help of Chavez several weeks ago in mediating in the conflict between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. Among the hostages being held by the FARC is Colombia’s ex-candidate for president Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. citizens, and several other Colombian politicians and government officials.
The FARC, on the other hand, is demanding the release of some 500 rebels being held by the government as well as the demilitarization of certain regions of the country, a demand that has been rejected by the Colombian government.
Chavez said that he would be meeting with the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Bogotá next week as part of the process of negotiating a solution to the conflict. He emphasized that this was the first time the Colombian government has accepted the intervention of Venezuela in the conflict, and expressed that he has faith that he will get a positive response from the FARC.