The Venezuelan president made an appeal to a rebel leader to begin talks after meeting families of hostages
As he tries to boost his popularity in Latin America, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said he is ready to broker an humanitarian deal between the government of Colombia and guerrilla leaders to release hostages held by rebel groups. The South American head of state - well reputed by the FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group- made a public appeal to guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda to begin talks.
“Marulanda, this is Chavez. I don’t know you, but wherever you are, I speak to you as a great Colombian, here with Colombian family members of those in captivity. You know that Colombia's President has asked our friend Senator Cordoba for a facilitation meeting. She has asked for my help. This occasion presented itself and I only want to help", addressed the Venezuelan President to the leader of the FARC.
Chavez made this appeal shortly after meeting families of hostages held by marxist guerrillas in neighbouring Colombia - including the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt. The left-wing Chavez has asked the Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba to help him make contact with the rebels, so he can act as an intermediary.
Relatives of the hostages held by the FARC welcome Chavez intentions. “We cannot ask for more”, told the mother of Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician who was kidnapped in 2002 while campaigning for presidency. Mrs. Yolanda Pulecio told reporters that the metting was “very emotive”.
The Venezuelan president has offered to be a neutral observer and mediator in the efforts to achieve an agreement between the guerrilla forces and the Colombian government and to make Venezuela a neutral country in which negotiations could take place and prisoners on both sides could be released.
Chavez even offered to release Colombian paramilitary forces that were captured in Venezuela in 2004 as a part of the deal. The forces were detained in 2004 on a farm outside Caracas and were being trained in a conspiracy to overthrow the Venezuelan president.
The FARC share the same ideas of Chavez. Both believe in a leftist “Bolivarian Revolution”, named after South American hero, Simon Bolivar and the response came quickly.
According to news reports, Raul Reyes, a prominent member of the FARC, sent a message to Chavez less than 24 hours after Chavez asked FARC to contact him. Source told the Venezuelan press that Reyes and Chavez could meet after Chavez is expected to hold talks with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez in Bogota on Aug. 31.
According to sources, the deal would consist of the exchange of 45 “exchangable” hostages – including three US anti-drugs agents- for as much as 500 guerrilla rebels captured by the Colombian military.
Chavez’s move is seen by analysts as an attempt to boost his popularity in neighbour Colombia, ruled by a popular conservative President since 2002. It could also increase his popularity across South America, where he is seen as an anti-US leader – which is welcomed there- but with authoritarian ideas.
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