Venezuela to Mediate between Colombian Government and Guerillas in Caracas

As a part of recent attempts to reach an agreement between the Colombian government and the Colombian guerrilla group known as the FARC, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez traveled to Bogotá on Friday where he met with his counterpart President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe and agreed to hold negotiations in Caracas.

Mérida, September 1, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) — As a part of recent attempts to reach an agreement between the Colombian government and the Colombian guerrilla group known as the FARC, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez traveled to Bogotá on Friday where he met with his counterpart President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe. The two leaders announced that negotiations with the FARC for a humanitarian exchange of hostages will be held in the Venezuelan capital.

"I come with my soul, with my faith placed on being able to contribute to a humanitarian exchange, to the search for peace, peace for everyone, and in that task Venezuela and Colombia will always have an infinitely important role to play," said Chavez upon arriving in Colombia earlier yesterday.

President Chavez was received by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in the Presidential Residence Hato Grande, where they held a private meeting to discuss a possible humanitarian exchange between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. The Venezuelan President was asked to mediate in the Colombian conflict by the Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba two weeks ago and has since made efforts to meet with both sides of the conflict.

At the press conference after meeting with Uribe, Chávez announced that he would soon be meeting with a representative of the FARC in order to negotiate the release of hostages. Chavez recalled that he had received authorization from the Colombian government to make contact with the guerrilla forces and announced that the FARC had made contact with him in order to arrange a meeting.

"President Uribe has looked positively on Venezuela receiving a delegate from the FARC to talk about this topic," said Chavez during the press conference after the meeting. "We never would have taken this initiative without a green light from President Uribe. We have always said that we are at the service of Colombia to modestly try to help in resolving this conflict that also affects us."

The Venezuelan president considered the possibility of meeting with a FARC representative could happen sometime next week and suggested that his mediation in the conflict could go further than a humanitarian exchange of hostages.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla organization has been holding 46 hostages, including politicians, police, and military officials since as many as 10 years ago. Among the hostages is Ingrid Betancourt, former Colombian senator and candidate for the presidency, who has been held captive since 2002. Also being held are three U.S. citizens 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 about 500 guerrilla insurgents being held prisoner by the Colombian government, an offer that the FARC has proposed for several years.

But the FARC also demands the demilitarization of a southwestern region of the country, a demand that Uribe and the Colombian government have rejected. Uribe insists that the FARC organization is a "terrorist" organization and refuses to give in to any of their demands.

Chavez commented that he had received a message from the FARC on Friday, and assured that he would soon hold a meeting with representatives of the organization in Caracas to negotiate with them. The second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, also expressed interest in dialog in in Caracas, and Chavez affirmed the possibility.

"We have proposed it to President Uribe and he has immediately accepted and given instructions to the government Peace Commission," said Chavez. "It is possible that they will meet in Caracas with some representatives of the ELN."

Families of the hostages are optimistic and believe that Chavez could be successful in mediating a solution to the conflict. Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba expressed her optimism in the efforts of Chavez and the negotiations to take place in Caracas.

"President Chavez is very interested and well-intentioned in aiding this process. I think that the simple fact that Venezuela has accepted to have negotiations in their territory and that President Uribe has accepted negotiations with the FARC is a very hopeful beginning to the process," she said.