Colombian leftist rebels freed a former governor held hostage for more than seven years.
“I’m free!” declared Mr. Jara after he reunited with his wife and now-teenage son at the Villavicencio airport. Jara, who had been kidnapped by FARC rebels in 2001, was the fifth hostage released over the past few months by the FARC.
Mr. Jara was released two days after the FARC guerrillas released three police officers and a soldier who were abducted more than one year ago. The FARC was expected to free another hostage, Sigifredo Lopez, before press time.
Colombian Senator, Piedad Cordoba, who maintains close ties with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan government, was instrumental in the release of the latest group of hostages.
The rebels have been holding hundreds of people in jungle hideouts for ransom or political leverage. Camilo González, an analyst with the Indepaz peace studies group, told the Christian Science Monitor that the rebels’ decision to do this is part of a FARC effort to regain political relevance: “It is the FARC’s way of trying to recover some political initiative after a disastrous year,” he said. Another political analyst, Gérson Arias, disagreed slightly: “They may have finally realized that it is politically counterproductive to hold civilians,” Mr. González told the Monitor. He argues that the FARC strategy, meant to be a bargaining tool to persuade the Colombian government to release rebel fighters from prison has “lost relevance.”
“You cannot change the country through kidnapping” Jara said at a press conference shortly after his release, although he emphasized that the government must negotiate with the FARC in order to see political gains with the rebel group. He called it “the only solution.”
Robert Wood, acting spokesman for Public Affairs in the U.S. State Department: “We welcome the release of four long-held hostages, three policemen and one soldier, and call on the FARC to immediately release all remaining hostages. There is no justification for the FARC’s continued victimization of innocent people.”
Filed under: Front Page News, July Volume II - 2008, Latino/Caribe | Tags: Colombia, farc
By Farhana Jamal, Islamic Post Staff Writer
Although immense happiness is expressed at the release of more FARC-held hostages, among them former presidential candidate for Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, Columbian Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, unofficially referred to the operation as “something out of a movie.”
Betancourt was captured by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) while campaigning in hostile territory in 2002.
According to Santos, who acted as spokesperson for the Colombian government after the release of Betancourt, the operation involved infiltrating the hostages’ guards. The official story regarding the rescue operation, although internationally questioned, was related as follows:
“The hostages were divided into three groups, so the guerrillas were persuaded to bring them all together at a point where they would supposedly be transported to the south of the country to be under the direct orders of Alfonso Cano,” Santos said.
Cano serves as the rebels’ top leader.
“It was arranged that the hostages would be picked up at a predetermined site by helicopters belonging to a non-existent humanitarian organization, and for Cesar [a rebel cooperating with the government] himself and another member of his staff to travel with the captives to personally hand them over to Alfonso Cano,” he said.
“But the helicopters, which were really army aircraft, picked up the hostages and took them to San José, the capital of Guaviare,” Santos said.
According to Al Jazeera, “The idea that an organization …was, in the end, tricked into giving up its most prized assets, does require some suspension of disbelief.”
Internationally, the rescue has sparked a great deal of debate; yet, in addition to a “suspension of disbelief,” as Al Jazeera wrote, acceptance of the tale, as its told, also requires a suspension of memory. Oddly enough, most news outlets have not referenced the story the Associated Press carried last month in which a FARC member made a call to the Colombian government offering to release Betancourt and other hostages if those rebels performing the task of delivering her safely were allowed to go free.
On June 13 , Colombian president Alvaro Uribe made a public announcement that he had accepted the FARC offer and conditions, in order to release Betancourt and three FBI agents.
“Just now, the director of the DAS [Administrative Department of Security] told me she received a call from FARC, in which a FARC individual told her: ‘If the president promises, through DAS, not to extradite a FARC member, then they would go ahead with the immediate release of hostages,'” said Uribe in a statement.
“I made the pledge. I told them yes, we promise not to extradite this person [who delivers Betancourt and the others], but that they should release their hostages,” Uribe said.
No mention of this pledge has been made in recent news reports.
Colombian Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo received a similar proposal last month, in which a FARC contact asked for guarantees that rebels involved in any hand-over could go into exile to other countries such as France, in order to avoid extradition to the United States.
It was recently learned that the rebel, Gerardo Antonio Aguilar, and his companion, Alexander Farfan Suarez, despite promises to the contrary, are being extradited to the U.S.
A reportedly happy, joking Aguilar entered the helicopter. In new photographs, the man appears to have been beaten without any attempts at disguise.
Caption: Cesar (above) to be extradited. “I made the pledge. I told them yes, we promise not to extradite this person [who delivers Betancourt],” said President Uribe.
The reason for sensationalizing the hand-over of Ingrid Betancourt remains unclear; it is, therefore, unknown how the rescue will influence regional politics.
However, one thing is for sure; someone is not telling the truth. According to VHeadlines, Aguilar, in comments communicated by his attorney, has said he and his comrade were deceived into delivering between 15 and 40 captives that day as a result of messages that appeared to come from the FARC secretariat. The FARC, in turn, insists the two were turncoats; the Uribe administration touts a espioge master plan; and no one at all is mentioning that everything seems to have gone according to plan from the outset of last month’s talks.
Filed under: July Volume I- 2008, Latino/Caribe, Politics | Tags: Chavez, farc, Venezuela
The Associated Press recently corrected an article which claimed that Chavez “urged world leaders to back the [FARC] armed struggle”. The correction mentions that the day after calling the FARC an “army” back in January, the Venezuelan president said, “I don’t agree with the armed struggle,” and called for a political resolution.
Colombia announced last month the opening of an international investigation based on computer files allegedly belonging to former FARC negotiator Raul Reyes.
The investigation will probe contacts between the leftist FARC rebels and prominent politicians, journalists and foreigners, including a U.S. consultant, the AP reported. The prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, also asked the Colombian Supreme Court to look into three opposition lawmakers including Senator Piedad Cordoba, who helped Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez broker the release of six rebel hostages earlier this year.
The foreigners placed under investigation include two Ecuadoreans, a Venezuelan and an American alternative development expert James C. Jones, who has been working with Democrats in the U.S. Congress.
Venezuela Analysis reported on June 12, however, that representatives of the International Police Organization (Interpol) told Ecuadorian Presidential Adviser Fernando Bustamante, in a meeting, that its investigation of the laptop computers which Colombia claims belonged to the FARC “does not determine if the computers provided were found in the guerrilla camp of the FARC during the incursion on March 1st; [nor] if they effectively belonged to Raúl Reyes, and even less so their contents,” according to a recent missive released by the Ecuadorian Foreign Relations Ministry.
Senator Cordoba told students in the western city of Cali that the investigation amounted to “an attack on reason.”
She said she’s been working for a prisoner swap “because I have a mandate from the families.” Cordoba’s close ties to Venezuelan President Chavez and her appearance in group photos with FARC leaders have upset conservative Colombians who overwhelmingly back Uribe’s efforts to defeat the FARC militarily with billions of dollars in U.S. aid, said the AP.
The other two Colombian lawmakers under investigation are Sen. Gloria Ines Ramirez and Rep. Wilson Borja, a former union leader who survived a 2000 assassination attempt by a right-wing death squad.
Cordoba is also a survivor of 2 assasination attempts, was kidnapped in 1999 by the AUC paramilitary group, and recently held up by immigration on a flight to NYC.
The Venezuelan placed under investigation is also a Chavez ally.
After the announcement of the investigation, the non-government organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) requested that the Venezuelan government “provide a full accounting of its relationship” with the FARC. Venezuela’s Ambassador to the OAS responded to the request by saying that HRW is joining with forces that want to oust President Chavez, Venezuela Analysis reported. HRW urged President Hugo Chávez to officially ban support for the FARC, and asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to investigate Venezuela’s relationship with the Colombian insurgents. The group also criticized Chávez for expressing sympathy for the FARC and for advocating that the FARC be treated as a political rather than a terrorist organization to help facilitate negotiations.
HRW has not had direct access to the computer files, according to the organization’s press release. Requests for access to these files, even by the Colombian Supreme Court, have so far gone unheeded by the Colombian and U.S. governments, in whose custody the files remain.
In the fallout of the March smart bomb which killed Raul Reyes, but left his computer intact to the point of retrieving valuable information, authorities of eleven countries have also requested from the Colombian government the computer files on Reyes’ computer after it was alleged that it also contained communications with people living in those countries. The countries mentioned by Universal News included: Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, Venezuela and Spain.
Jose Miguel Vivanco of HRW judged that “for any government to support a guerrilla group like the FARC that routinely commits atrocities against civilians is entirely beyond the pale.” He specifically referred to Chávez’s pronouncements in January 2008 that the FARC have “a political and Bolivarian project that is respected here [in Venezuela],” and Chávez’s call for a moment of silence to observe the death of Raul Reyes in March.
President Hugo Chavez subsequently denounced the FARC’s tactics. “The guerrilla war is history,” he said. “At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place.” In his weekly Sunday television and radio program, Chavez urged the new FARC leader Alfonso Cano to “let all these people go.” “There are old folk, women, sick people, soldiers who have been prisoners in the mountains for 10 years,” he added. The announcement was hailed by the United States officials as “good words,” but Chavez had also said back in January during the uproar over his alleged FARC support, “I don’t agree with the armed struggle.”
In an effort to clear its name, the Ecuadorian government has already committed to investigating Colombia’s accusations that Ecuador offered refuge to the rebels.
President Chavez has repeatedly denied that Venezuela provided any kind of material support to the FARC and that the only contacts his government has had with the FARC has been to facilitate the release of hostages held by the FARC. In early 2008 Chavez managed to convince the FARC to release six out of 45 of its high profile hostages.
At the UNASUR summit in Brazil, Chavez met with Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe behind closed doors. In a relaxed atmosphere, Uribe promised Chavez’s 6 year old daughter that she would be able to see peace as an adult, commenting to her on the merits of mutual respect. Chavez and Uribe spoke at length. [I told Uribe] “we will not meddle in the internal problems of Colombia,” Chavez commented afterwards, “our message is of peace.”
“Here, I ask for the world’s help… enough of so much war, the hour to sit down and talk of peace has arrived, we call on the world to seek this path,” he said.
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