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Outcry over Uribe’s Decision to Terminate Venezuela’s Role in Hostage Accord

Caracas, November 23, 2007, ( - The unexpected decision, Wednesday, by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to terminate the mediating role of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in negotiations to secure the release of 45 high-profile hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has prompted widespread criticism in Colombia.

Families of the hostages reacted with shock and indignation as they gathered outside the presidential palace in Bogotá on Thursday to protest Uribe's announcement with banners and T-shirts emblazoned with calls for peace talks and shouting for Chavez's return.

Jose Uriel Perez, whose nephew, Luis Alfonso Beltran, was captured by the FARC in 1998, said, "We thought it was very brave what President Chavez and Senator Cordoba did in three months compared to what the government has failed to do in 10 years."

"Nothing touches this government: not the deaths, nor our mourning, nor the pain the families of the kidnapped live with," he continued.

Juan Carlos Lecompte, husband of French-Colombian citizen and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, held by the FARC since 2002, said Uribe had broken off the negotiations in a "brutal manner."

Fabrice Delloye, ex - husband of Betancourt, and father of her two children, Melanie and Lorezon, agreed. "What outrages me about Uribe is his permanent hypocrisy. He is always looking for a pretext to stall the exchange of hostages for the imprisoned guerillas. He never stopped putting obstacles in the way of previous efforts."

Polo Democratico Senator, Gustavo Petro said that with the measure the Colombian government is condemning the hostages to death or indefinite captivity. "Those who lose are the hostages. President Uribe cannot continue reacting instinctively without taking into account the human life that he is sacrificing."

The Comptroller General, Julio Cesar Turbay, governor of Valle de Cauca, Angelino Garzon, and Colombian ex-president Ernesto Samper Pizano (1994-1998) have also criticized Uribe's decision.

In addition to the French government, the National Council for Peace in Colombia (NCP) and the Commission for Peace in the House of Representatives have asked Uribe to reconsider his decision and meet with president Chavez to continue dialogue.

The NCP has proposed three way talks between the Colombian, French and Venezuelan presidents, to explore ways to continue advancing the process for a humanitarian accord. However, Uribe insists that his decision is irreversible.

According to Diego Quintero, the brother of Alberto Quintero, one of eleven deputies kidnapped by the FARC and killed in disputed circumstances in July, Uribe has demonstrated "no political will to advance a humanitarian accord."

Uribe announced the decision late Wednesday after U.S Ambassador William Brownfield sharply criticized Chavez's mediation earlier that day saying, "We are 2 months and 22 days into the negotiations, and we still don't have proof of life [of the hostages]."

Brownfield, formerly Washington's top envoy to Venezuela before being posted to Colombia, had particularly tense relations with Chavez, who has charged the US diplomat with interfering in Venezuelan internal affairs.

The United States supplies about $600 million a year in military aid to Colombia and is hostile to the Venezuelan President, who US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice has described as a "negative influence in the region."

Uribe cited a phone call by Senator Piedad Cordoba to Colombian General Mario Montoya, during which Chavez spoke to Montoya for approximately one minute and asked how many Colombian soldiers were held captive by the FARC, as the basis for terminating Chavez's mediation.

Chavez said he was surprised to hear the news early Thursday morning. "We had advanced, we had positive expectations, we had spoken with the families of the hostages, and now, for some reason that does not appear as a reason to me, Uribe has decided in a unilateral manner, without a phone call, without consulting us, nothing, to suspend the work we have been doing," he said

However, he assured, "I respect the decision of president Uribe, but I am very sad for Colombia. The path was opening up, with difficulty, but there was a path opening up," he said. "It was the beginning of a dialogue to try and bring peace back to Colombia."

Chavez said he hoped the Colombian president would change his mind and reiterated his call to the FARC to deliver proof by the end of the year that the hostages are still alive. The French government has also repeatedly called on the FARC to provide evidence that Betancourt and the other hostages are still alive.

However, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who said the negotiations would be resumed by Luis Restrepo Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, argued that that proof of life is not necessary to continue negotiations with the FARC. "Everyone knows that apart from the 11 deputies that were assassinated by the guerillas, they are alive. We do not require proof of life to make an exchange," Santos declared.

Polo Democratico, the principal opposition party, accused the Colombian government today of having no genuine interest in an agreement to liberate the hostages and has called on unions, social movements, and human rights organizations to mobilize against the government to urgently demand an agreement for a humanitarian exchange.

Under pressure today Uribe has announced that he won't rule out the possibility of hostages being received by Chavez, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, or the Red Cross, if the FARC decide to liberate them "unilaterally."

Published on Nov 23rd 2007 at 6.15pm