In his first public address to the FARC's new leader, Alfonso Cano, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the "out of step" guerrilla movement should release its hostages so that peace talks could begin.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has urged the new leader of Colombia’s rebel FARC movement to unconditionally release all the hostages the group is holding.
"I believe that the time has come for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to release all the people it has up in the mountains unconditionally. It would be a great humanitarian gesture," Chavez said on his weekly TV and radio show Sunday.
It was the first time Chavez publicly addressed the new leader of the FARC, Alfonso Cano. "I say to Cano: let's go, release those people," Chavez said, adding that then peace talks could begin, with a group of countries supporting the process.
It’s not the first time Chavez has called for an unconditional release of FARC hostages. “What’s new is that Chavez said it was time to wind up the guerilla insurgency in Latin America,” explains FRANCE 24’s Pascale Mariani in Bogota. Indeed, Chavez declared that "guerrilla wars have become history in Latin America."
The declaration marked a sharp change for Chavez, says Mariani. “These last few months, Chavez has been more inclined to justify the existence of the guerilla. He had even called the international community to recognize the FARC as a legitimate armed force. So why change now? Because Chavez is under fire for his links to the FARC. Especially since the discovery of secret documents on the computer of Raul Reyes, the FARC number two who was killed in Ecuador. Chavez is accused of financing the FARC and of helping them obtain arms. So Chavez’s new stance shows he now wants to distance himself from the FARC, especially given that the guerilla insurgency has been weakened lately,” says FRANCE 24’s correspondent.
Colombia’s justice and interior minister, Carlos Holguin, said Chavez’s words had “surprised” him. "He is a great defender and ally of the guerrillas, so it is so surprising," he told Caracol television in Bogota.
Chavez adopts new stance to change of FARC leadership
The context of Chavez’s speech has also changed. It’s the first time he directly addressed Cano since the latter was named FARC leader in May. The political situation of the FARC has dramatically changed since its top leaders, Manuel Marulanda and number two Raul Reyes, died. Reyes was killed during a Colombian attack against a FARC camp in Ecuador on March 1.
Chavez had led mediation efforts to release the hostages in the autumn of 2007, but Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended the Venezuelan leader’s role saying he had overstepped his mandate. Six FARC hostages were released in January, but Reyes’ death further strained relations between Venezuela and Colombia. Colombian officials have said that files on Reyes’ computer showed that Chavez’s government had been financially supporting the FARC.
Chavez on Sunday said his contacts with the FARC had been “destroyed” by Reyes’ death.
“The new FARC boss represents a new generation of guerilla leaders who might be more open to dialogue than the old, stubborn Murulanda,” says Pascale Mariani, “so this new configuration means that a unilateral release of hostages – as Chavez demands – is more likely.”
Some 750 people – including the French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt - are held hostage by the Marxist guerillas.
Date created : 2008-06-09