In the ongoing saga between Venezuelan despot President Hugo Chavez and Colombian democratic President Alvaro Uribe, Chavez for the moment appears to have the upper hand. He basks in the glow of – finally – securing the release of two female hostages from the narco-trafficking and kidnapping terrorist FARC [the Spanish abbreviation of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] organization.
However, analysts in Caracas and Bogota, the countries’ capitals, are betting Chavez has overplayed his hand and that Uribe will prevail not only against his Venezuelan nemesis but also in his war of attrition against Colombia’s guerrilla gangs.
Uribe ended 2007 with the powerful revelation that one reason FARC’s once bruited, oft delayed Christmas release of three hostages had not taken place was that Emmanuel – born in captivity – was in fact already in a Bogota foster home. Undoubtedly under great pressure from an embarrassed Chavez, the release of the two ladies, both prominent politicians and one Emmanuel’s mother, ultimately took place this past week.
The cracks in the Chavez – FARC peace façade are already appearing: less than 72 hours following the two ladies’ release, FARC gunmen kidnapped six others from a beach on Colombia’s Pacific coast.
At the same time, Chavez’s plea for FARC and ELN, the two leading guerrilla groups, to no longer be called “terrorists” but belligerent combatants was rejected out of hand, not just in Bogota and Washington but also by the European Union, indicating how low the once romanticized revolutionary “freedom fighters” have fallen.
Leftist Colombian political figures are separating themselves from Chavez’s attempt to legitimize the FARC. Carlos Gaviria, head of the far left Polo Democratico party, as well as Senator Gustavo Petro, a Polo Democratico leader and close friend of Chavez, have both deplored the Venezuelan’s call to end the guerrillas’ terrorist designation.
All sides are holding Afro-Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba accountable for her ardent support of Chavez and, implicitly, the FARC. A prime factor: several weeks ago, more than five million citizens marched in the streets of the country’s main cities, demanding that the kidnapping stop and those held be released.
The Chavez-FARC alliance is not new. The FARC has enjoyed safe haven basing rights in the western jungles bordering Colombia for its troops and safe houses in Caracas for its leaders for many years. More recently, Venezuelan authorities have enabled some 300 tons annually of Colombian cocaine through the country for re-export to Europe and the U.S. – a highly profitable arrangement for both FARC and Chavez.