|Rodrigo Granda under arrest by Colombian security forces.|
Caracas, February 23, 2005—According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, French diplomatic sources confirmed yesterday that the Colombian government had authorized a meeting between the "foreign minister" of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Granda, and the French Ambassador to Caracas to negotiate the release of ex-Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt.
According to El Tiempo The French government hoped that Betancourt could be freed and so arranged for negotiations, with the approval of the Colombian President, between French and Venezuelan diplomats to contact and negotiate with the FARC.
Ingrid Betancourt, who holds both Colombian and French nationalities, was kidnapped by the FARC three months before the Colombian presidential elections, on February 23, 2002. After her abduction, the French government sent a series of delegations and humanitarian organizations to Colombia in hopes that they would be able to convince the FARC to liberate Betancourt. After all attempts failed, French President Jacques Chirac decided that in light of the situation the best course of action would be to negotiate directly with the FARC.
According to diplomatic sources, the Colombian government authorized a meeting in April, 2004 between Rodrigo Granda and the French Ambassador to Venezuela, Pierre-Jean Vandorne in the French embassy in Caracas. A Swiss delegation also attended and a proposition was put forth that Betancourt, as well as a group of kidnapped women, would be exchanged for FARC prisoners held by the Colombian government who have serious illnesses. As 2004 came to a close, indications emerged alluding to the possibility that a negotiation would soon be finalized.
However, efforts by French authorities were thwarted when the Uribe administration circumvented international law and, according to Venezuelan officials, violated Venezuelan sovereignty by paying Venezuelan police officers to kidnap Rodrigo Granda in Caracas on the 13th of December. His arrest ended the negotiation process.
French authorities had hoped to discuss the actions of the Colombian government with Colombian president Alvaro Uribe during his visit to Europe in the first week of February. However, he came down with a severe ear infection, was hospitalized for four days, and was forced to cancel the trip.
According to Betancourt's husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, Uribe purposely frustrated efforts to exchange prisoners. Over the course of the past week he has given several interviews on his new book, "Looking for Ingrid" in which he has urged Uribe to "tell the truth" about the actions of his government. "The president knew that Rodrigo Granda would speak in Venezuela with Swiss people…in order to carry out the swap of the kidnapped people in Colombia," Lecompte affirmed.
|According to Venezuelan authorities, the Interpol arrest warrant for Granda was not submitted until January, several weeks after his kidnapping in Venezuela.|
The High Level Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, denied that the government of Alvaro Uribe had authorized meetings between Granda and French authorities or even knew about the possible prisoner exchange. "This is false, it has no basis. Granda was never contacted for the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt, or for any other person who was kidnapped," asserted Restrepo in an interview with RCN.