The meeting between the two Latin American heads of state has been coined by Colombia’s newspaper El Tiempo as “decisive.” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, in the hopes of facilitating a humanitarian exchange between the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) rebels and the Colombian government.The Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional has stated that if the agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels goes according to what is planned now; a total of 500 FARC prisoners will be given freedom in exchange for 45 persons kidnapped by the FARC. The deal also includes the demilitarization of 2 Colombian districts.
Before arriving, Chavez had expressed that he was worried about the rigid agenda that the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had created with his negotiating team for the one-day summit. The Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, stated that Chavez’s negotiating team was not able to convince Uribe to meet with the families of both the kidnapped and imprisoned FARC members. Something that Chavez was hoping could be arranged. Chavez also believed that the summit should take longer than the time deemed convenient by the Colombian government. The official visit and meeting by the Venezuelan head of state with his Colombian counterpart was only for 5: 45 minutes. The director of the weekly journal VOZ, Carlos Lozano, also stated his disapproval of the short time the Colombian government had given the visit. El Tiempo stated that Lozano believed that the time given to Chavez was not enough to construct the things necessary to facilitate the humanitarian agreement. El Tiempo has indicated, however, that there is the existence of a “parallel agenda” and that Chavez might have stayed a little longer in Colombia after the meeting with Uribe. Chavez’s parallel agenda apparently included a meeting with family members of those that have been kidnapped by the FARC and of the imprisoned FARC rebels.
The Venezuelan head of state arrived to the Colombian military Airport of Canam yesterday afternoon. Where he told reporters that he had come with the best of intention and was optimistic about the things he could do to facilitate the exchange. The international block of countries that want a successful humanitarian agreement to be brokered, and for the FARC to agree to liberate those they have kidnapped is quite large. The newspaper El Tiempo states that Chavez has the support of a substantial amount of countries that include: France, Italy, Nicaragua, Spain, Switzerland, Bolivia, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Brazil and the United Kingdom. El Tiempo also states that this support is one of the “main cards” that Chavez will play to pressure both sides to agree to some of his points.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has had a lot of interest in this humanitarian agreement since he assumed office a few months ago. Both El Tiempo and the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal have also stated that Sarkozy had talked to both Chavez and Uribe by phone previous to their meeting at the Colombian presidential retreat outside of Bogota. Sarkozy was also the key influence behind Uribe’s decision to liberate Raul Reyes, a former spokesman of the FARC. He was liberated a few months ago in the hopes of facilitating the dialogue with the rebels and is now presently in Cuba. One of the people kidnapped and to be released if the agreement goes according to plan will be Ingrid Betancourt. Betancourt is a former Colombian presidential candidate that was kidnapped in 2002 by the FARC rebels, who is also a French national and thus a main priority for Sarkozy. The Spanish newspaper, El Pais, today stated that her husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, has a lot of hope of what might come about in this meeting. Lecompte stated that those that have been kidnapped have expressed that the FARC rebels admire Chavez, and although they could easily not listen to his demands, it is his belief and that of many that they will certainly take into account what he has to say. Some, however, believe that the relationship between the FARC and Chavez is more concrete. Like an anonymous European diplomat, who told France Presse that the FARC could not afford to say “no” to Chavez. The diplomat accused Chavez of turning a blind eye to the guerrilla’s activities in the Colombian-Venezuela border and thus facilitating both the weapons and drug traffic. One should note, however, that such statements are very controversial and no substantial evidence has been found on such serious allegations.
Although finding an answer to the humanitarian agreement was Chavez’s main concern and reason for traveling to Colombia. Uribe and Chavez also talked about of economic topics that they deemed as essential to both countries. Like the gas pipeline that both nations are building, problems with border toll charges and commerce between both nations.
At the end of the meeting Uribe allowed Chavez to mediate the humanitarian exchange. El Nacional stated that Chavez has expressed that he wishes to negotiate directly with the leader of the FARC, Manuel Marulanda (or Tirofijo as he is commonly referred to) in Caracas, Venezuela sometime soon. Chavez also stated that he was also going to meet with members of the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional), another large Marxist guerrilla group in Colombia, and with the head of the Colombian government peace commission, Luis Carlos Restrepo. The ELN is currently having an exploratory peace dialogue with Colombian officials in Cuba. Uribe also made it clear that he was going to continue to classify the FARC as terrorists, because they are “mistreating a democracy.” Spain’s El Pais stated that Uribe has firmly said that the demilitarization of any Colombian territory is not an option at the moment and that he will only release the guerrillas that are willing to lay down their weapons. El Nacional also stated that Chavez said that Venezuela was considering re-entering the Andean Community of Nations after their formal withdrawal the 22 of April 2006. The Andean Community of Nations is a trade bloc that currently includes: Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Both leaders also told the press that the gas pipeline between Ballenas-Maracaibo will be inaugurated the 12th of October this year.