Caracas January 11, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) – U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey praised Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's efforts to secure the release of two hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but only grudgingly acknowledged the role of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after being prodded by journalists during a press conference on Thursday.
Although authorized by the Colombian government, the mission to rescue the two hostages, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalo de Perdomo, was carried out by Venezuela with the participation of the International Red Cross, after the FARC announced in December they would unilaterally release the hostages to leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, "or to whom he designates", but not to rightwing Colombian President Uribe.
"We welcome the release of these two hostages," Casey told reporters as Venezuelan helicopters sent by President Chavez were flying the two women to freedom.
"We are also appreciative of the leadership of [Colombian] President [Alvaro] Uribe, in terms of trying to secure the release of these hostages, and we welcome the good offices of any individuals who can help secure that, in cooperation with the Colombian government," he said.
Only after being interrogated by journalists specifically over the role of the Chavez government did Casey grudgingly comment, "I think that anybody, including President Chavez … who has a role to play that is positive and that supports President Uribe and the Colombian government's efforts is to be welcomed."
When asked if the US government was willing to work with Chavez to secure the release of three US intelligence operatives, Thomas Howe, Keith Stannsen and Marc Gonsalvez, who were captured by the FARC in 2003 when their spy plane crashed in the Colombian jungle, Casey replied, "Well, we continue to work with the government of Colombia. The government of Colombia and President Uribe are the ones who are ultimately responsible for managing whatever process is involved here."
Repeatedly asked whether the US was disposed to work together with the Venezuelans to obtain the liberation of the US hostages, Casey reiterated each time, "We will continue working with the Colombian government."
When asked why the US would not work with the Chavez government Casey simply refused to address the question.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Nicholas Maduro criticised the attitude of the U.S. government, saying "There are three North American intelligence agents that are held by the FARC and the government of George Bush has not moved a finger to achieve the liberation of these three North Americans."
Maduro also responded to opposition critics in Venezuela who have complained about the operation to release the two hostages aruging that Chavez should prioritise problems in Venezuela over the problems of other countries.
"I can't believe that they [the opposition] try to innoculate, with the venom of their hate and rage, the happiness of millions," Maduro said.
Minister of Justice, Ramon Rodríguez Chacín who oversaw the rescue mission also responded to opposition criticisms saying that it is in Venezuela's interest to promote peace in Colombia because the conflict in the neighboring country affects Venezuela — an estimated 2 million Colombians, refugees from the 40 year civil war in their home country, live in Venezuela and clashes between the FARC and the Colombian military and rightwing paramilitary groups have often spilt over the border into Venezuelan territory.
Despite the often tense relations between Uribe and Chavez, Uribe thanked his Venezuelan counterpart. "We've won the freedom of two compatriots thanks to the efforts of President Hugo Chavez, to whom we give infinite thanks," he said. "However we regret the continuing plight of the the remaining hostages."
Maduro thanked Uribe for "recognising the labor of President Chavez" and assured that Chavez would continue fighting for a humanitarian accord in Colombia and was disposed to renew his role as a mediator between the Colombian government and the FARC for the liberation of all the remaining hostages.