Venezuelan humanitarian mission secures release of four more FARC hostages

Four former Colombian legislators, held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for years, were reunited with their families in the Simon Bolivar International airport near Caracas at 6.10 pm today after a successful Venezuelan led humanitarian mission.
Former Colombian legislators reunited with their families at Simon Bolivar International Airport (YVKE Mundial)

Caracas, February 26,
2008, ( – Visibly overcome with emotion, four former
Colombian legislators, Gloria Polanco, Luis Eladio Pérez, Orlando Beltrán and
Jorge Eduardo Géchem – held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) for years – were reunited with their families in the Simon Bolivar
International airport near Caracas at 6.10 pm today after a successful
Venezuelan led humanitarian mission.

Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez, who received the four ex-legislators in a brief welcome ceremony
at Miraflores Presidential Palace, assured that Venezuela would "continue
searching for a thousand ways to liberate all the hostages, and beyond this
towards peace in Colombia."

Chavez also called on
the FARC to relocate French-Colombian hostage and former presidential candidate
Ingrid Betancourt, held for 6 years, to a site much closer to medical
facilities, after Luis Eladio Pérez informed him of her delicate state of

Beltrán thanked the efforts of Chavez and Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba,
whose mediation for a humanitarian exchange of 45 high-profile hostages held by
the FARC for 500 guerrillas held prisoner in Colombian jails, was terminated
abruptly by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in November last year.

are evidence before the whole world of what you have done for Colombia," he

Pérez exhorted the Venezuelan chief of state to continue the struggle for a
humanitarian exchange in order to achieve the liberation of all the captives,
while at the same time commenting on the lack of solidarity shown by Colombian
government entities.

The mission to rescue
the hostages, dubbed "Path to Peace," by Chavez, began at 7.25 am (local time)
as two Venezuelan helicopters, emblazoned with International Red Cross symbols,
departed for Colombia from the Santo Domingo airport, Tachira in the southwest
of Venezuela. Venezuelan Justice Minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín and Senator
Piedad Córdoba, as well as four representatives of the Red Cross formed part of
the mission.

Due to the delicate
state of health of the hostages, particularly that of Géchem, who is believed
to have a heart condition, two doctors were also on board to provide immediate
medical attention.

After arriving at the
Colombian airport of San José del Guaviare, the mission then departed at 9.06
(local time), to an undisclosed location in the Colombian jungle where, Red
Cross representative Bárbara Hinterman told Caracas based Latin American TV
channel Telesur, the hostages were released "within minutes."

Hinterman revealed
that an agreement had been reached between the Colombian and Venezuelan
governments to land in Colombian territory in the case that one of the hostages
needed urgent medical attention. However, all of the hostages were in a stable
condition she assured.

This is the second
unilateral hostage release by the FARC this year after Clara Rojas and Consuelo
Gonzalez de Perdomo were handed over to Venezuelan authorities on January 10.

On February 2 the FARC
announced the unilateral liberation of the former legislators, Gloria Polanco
de Lozada, Luis Eladio Pérez and Orlando Beltrán, for health reasons and as
another gesture to make amends to President Chavez after Uribe terminated his
mediating role.

Days later, Iván
Márquez, spokesperson for the FARC, confirmed that ex parliamentarian, Jorge
Eduardo Géchem, would also be liberated.

However, on February
13 the FARC said that the hostage release had been suspended due to Colombian
military operations in the area.

Then on Monday Chacín
and Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Nicolás Maduro, announced that they had
received the coordinates for where the hostages would be liberated.

The group was escorted
to the area La Paz de El Retorno, in the Colombian province of Guaviare, by a
battalion of 60 guerrillas.

Families of the
hostages, waiting at Simon Bolivar International airport watched as Caracas
based Latin American news channel, Telesur, showed unedited footage of the
moment in which the four hostages were released to Minister Rodríguez Chacín
and Senator Córdoba.

In between moments of
great emotion, each of the hostages spoke, thanking President Chavez and Piedad
Córdoba and expressed their hope that this new gesture by the guerrillas would
open the path to a peace accord in Colombia.

"President Chavez,
here is a Colombian that had lost all hope, I did not know if I would return
alive, if I would see my sons, but thanks to God, the Virgin Mary, to you
Chavez and to Piedad Cordoba, today I can embrace my children," Polanco said.

In a communiqué to
Caracol Radio minutes after the hostage release was announced, the FARC said
this would be the last unilateral hostage handover and called on the Colombian
government to clear the military from Florida and Pradera provinces and enter
into a process of negotiations for a humanitarian exchange.

In a nationally
televised announcement President Uribe welcomed the release of the hostages and
said, " We want to thank the efforts made by the President of Venezuela, Hugo
Chavez, the honorable Senator Piedad Cordoba for this unilateral and
unconditional liberation, and to thank also the Venezuelan government."

However, Telesur
reported that Colombian Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos immediately
rejected the possibility of a demilitarized zone in Florida and Pradera.

Maduro, who received
the four ex-legislators at the Simon Bolivar International Airport, said that
the gesture of President Chavez to contribute to peace in neighboring Colombia
had suffered an "avalanche of attacks by the enemies of peace, the promoters of
war and those who want violence."

On the other hand, Maduro added that President Chavez had received messages from governments and political leaders from around the world thanking him for his efforts, and called on "Venezuelans and Colombians to celebrate this victory" as a step towards peace.