Caracas, January 15, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reiterated on Monday his belief that peace in Colombia will not be achieved by military means and made a call for an internationally mediated solution to the conflict. The conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the Colombian government is a political problem, which requires a political solution said Chavez.
Speaking in Guatemala, where he attended the swearing in ceremony of the newly elected president, Alvaro Colom, the Venezuelan leader renewed his call to describe the FARC and Colombia's second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), as belligerent forces instead of as terrorists, saying that recognition of the guerrillas could be the first step towards peace in Colombia.
Chavez received international praise last week after a Venezuelan led humanitarian operation secured the release of two FARC hostages; ex-Colombian legislator Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo and Clara Rojas, former Colombian vice-presidential candidate and running mate of French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt still held by the FARC.
However, Colombia rejected an earlier call by Chavez on Friday to remove the FARC and the ELN from the international terrorist list, saying they had carried out indiscriminate civilian bombings, kidnappings, and trafficked drugs.
"The FARC are a cancer that we are going to exterminate soon and I believe in 2010 – when the Uribe government ends – that we will be able to say that Colombia is a country without terrorists," Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo said.
Likewise, US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack brushed off Chavez's request saying, "You'll excuse me if we don't take that advice."
"Look, they earned their way onto the terrorism list," McCormack said, adding that despite the release of the two Colombian politicians last week, the FARC continues to hold many hostages, including three US intelligence operatives.
However, Chavez dismissed the U.S.'s "sarcastic" criticisms during his weekly television show Aló Presidente on Sunday, saying, "Those most interested in seeing this war continue are the United States," which funds the Colombian government's counter-insurgency war against the guerrillas to the tune of $600 million per year.
He also insisted that if it is necessary to have a terrorist list, then that list should be headed by the US government because of its illegal invasion and massacre of innocent civilians in Iraq.
"If we call the FARC terrorists because they launch bombs and explosives, which is lamentable, but it is a war…then what should we call the United States? A hyper-terrorist state?"
Chavez noted that despite more than 40 years of civil war in Colombia, the FARC had only been included on the international terrorist list at the behest of Colombian President Uribe, after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
If the FARC is recognized as a belligerent force, Chavez explained, then they will have to abide by the Geneva Protocols, which establishes that if an insurgent group expects to be recognized, it must renounce policies such as kidnapping and violent actions against civilians.
Chavez also assured that he is going to ask the FARC to give up their use of kidnapping, which he described as a "mistaken policy."
Meanwhile, ex-hostage Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, who arrived home in Bogota yesterday, said she is going to devote all her efforts to achieve a humanitarian accord in Colombia to facilitate the exchange of a further 45 high profile hostages held by the FARC for 500 guerrillas held in Colombian prisons, a process in which she said President Chavez has a vital role to play.
Chavez reaffirmed that he is disposed to continue working towards the liberation of all the hostages held by the FARC. He added that he did not want to interfere in Colombia's internal affairs, but that the problem has gone beyond that nation's borders and that after Colombia the country most affected by the conflict was Venezuela – fighting between guerrilla groups and the Colombian military and rightwing paramilitary groups has often spilt over into Venezuelan territory and some 2 to 4 million Colombian refugees are estimated to live in Venezuela.
In contrast to earlier statements by his government, President Uribe, who also attended the swearing in of Colom in Guatemala, said Colombia would consider dropping the terrorist label of the FARC and the ELN "in the moment in which they demonstrate good will and want to negotiate peace."
Mélanie Delloye, daughter of Ingrid Betancourt, said she supports the re-initiation of Chavez's mediating role in the conflict, which was abruptly terminated by Uribe in November last year and that "the granting of belligerent force status to the guerrillas would allow for dialogue and open the path towards peace in Colombia."