Colombian Senator: Chavez is “The Only Person” Who Can Deal with the FARC

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, “is the only person who can achieve a humanitarian accord” with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), says Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba.

Caracas, September 14, 2007 (— Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, “is the only person who can achieve a humanitarian accord” with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba, from the opposition Liberal Party told the Spanish language BBC El Mundo yesterday. "Not because president Chávez has a relation with the FARC,” she continued, “but because there are coincidences in terms of the political conception of how the countries of Latin America, should be.”

President Chavez’s proposal to mediate hostage negotiations at the express request of Cordoba, was accepted by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in August. After a meeting with Chavez in Bogota on August 31st, Uribe agreed for Venezuela to host separate meetings in Caracas between Colombian officials, the FARC, and Colombia's other main leftist guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN).

However, during his weekly program Alo Presidente on Sunday, Chavez revealed he had received a letter from the FARC leader Manuel Maralunda saying he was unable to visit Caracas and instead invited the Venezuelan president to meet him in FARC controlled territory in Colombia. Chavez indicated that if the Colombian government approved he was "willing to go into the deepest part of the largest jungle to talk Maralunda.”

The Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, responded Monday by ruling out as “inappropriate” and “unviable” any meeting between Chavez and the FARC on Colombian soil. However, Restrepo said the Colombian government supported “an encounter between President Chavez and a delegation of the FARC in Venezuelan territory.”

Córdoba argued yesterday that Chavez’s proposal, to hold the talks in Colombia, should be “evaluated,” rather than simply being rejected out of hand. Córdoba also affirmed that Chavez's mediating role in the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC is supported by the majority of the Colombian people. However, she warned, there are "people interested in causing this process to fail.”

Colombia 's Foreign Minister, Fernando Araújo expressed his doubts over the potential success of Chavez's mediations. “I don't believe this mediation will have any result because the FARC are not interested in an accord with anyone… They are narco-traffickers dedicated to terrorism,” he said in a statement earlier this week.

However, Araújo seems to have changed his tune recently, as the Colombian daily Diario Hoy reported today that Araújo, now “has faith” that the mediations will succeed while at the same time he imposing limitations on Chavez's role, saying “he can mediate, but not negotiate.” Araújo, again rejected any possibility of a meeting taking place on Colombian soil, saying, “In no part of Colombian territory should there be liberty for guerrillas.”

Venezuela has received international support for Chavez's role, with French President Nicholas Sarkozy affirming his support for Chavez's mediation and for a meeting between Chavez and the FARC.

Also, in an unexpected statement on Wednesday, the US Ambassador to Colombia and former Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, said the US government supports the participation of “any leader, government official, politician or personality of any country in the world” who could secure the liberation of three US hostages, as well as others held by the FARC and the ELN

To date the mediations have resulted in talks between Colombian officials, including the High Commissioner for Peace and the ELN facilitated by the Venezuelan government in Caracas on September 7. Additionally, last Saturday the FARC handed over to the Red Cross the bodies of 11 Colombian deputies, who they claimed were killed in crossfire between its fighters and government forces in June. The Colombian government has denied any involvement and has accused FARC of executing the deputies.

The FARC is also hoping to exchange 45 hostages, including former presidential candidate and French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt, held captive since 2002 as well as three U.S. citizens held captive since their spy plane crashed in the Colombian jungle over 4 years ago, for 500 guerrilla insurgents held in Colombian prisons. The FARC is also calling for the demilitarization of the South Western region of Colombia, a demand that the Colombian government has rejected.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro told a press conference yesterday that Venezuela would continue working towards a future meeting with the FARC and said he believed that Chavez's “enormous efforts, for life, for peace, for an humanitarian exchange,” would “contribute to peace in Colombia. This is what the Colombian people want,” he concluded.