Colombia: High Drama on the Eastern Plains

While most of the world was bringing in the New Year, a political circus unfurled on the so-called Llanos Orientales. The drama involved heads of state, Hollywood directors, leftist guerillas and humanitarian agencies. The plot revolved around an attempt by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to secure the release of three hostages held by the FARC. While the initiative was cloaked in gestures of good will and cooperation, the plot was driven by duplicity, deception and manipulation. There were no good guys in this play, only rogues and innocent victims.

The scene opened in August, when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe invited President Chavez to commence negotiations with the FARC to secure the release of the political prisoners still held by leftist forces. The invitation took everyone by surprise. Chavez and Uribe are bitter rivals, firmly ensconced in the opposing poles of the political spectrum. However, Uribe was under pressure to shift the public’s attention away from the endless stream of scandals, accusations and investigations linking members of his administration to paramilitary forces. With the evidence showing his direct connection to the paramilitaries starting to mount, the Colombian leader needed to create a new focal point. However, the invitation to Chavez was risky, and it was heavily opposed by Washington. There were good reasons for the opposition. Colombia was the most important piece that was missing in Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution. With Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia firmly under his control, the incorporation of Colombia into the revolutionary movement would integrate most of the Andean region under his command. Peru would be the only missing piece. Given the results of the last presidential election, it would only be a matter of time until Peru would also fall into his orbit. Not surprisingly, Chavez’s popularity surged in Colombia as the Venezuelan leader promised to secure the release of the hostages. The 45 hostages are the last vestiges of the Colombian conflict. Therefore, the public is keen to see their release, bringing an end to the bloody civil war. Therefore, the public welcomed Chavez with open arms. He quickly dominated the Colombian airways and media channels. The cooperation of French President Sarkozy and other heads of state gave Chavez an air of legitimacy, erasing his recent blunders. Realizing the inroads that the Venezuelan leader was making, Uribe quickly threw hurdles into the process and eventually withdrew Chavez’s authority to negotiate their release. Of course, this infuriated the Venezuelan leader who was building a political foothold in his neighboring country. The FARC also wanted to keep the issue going. Therefore, they released videos and pictures showing that the hostages were alive. The Venezuelan leader immediately announced that the guerillas would release three of the hostages, setting in motion a caravan of international leaders and celebrities that would receive them on the eastern plains of Colombia. Former Argentine President Kirchner flew to Villavicencio, along with Hollywood director Oliver Stone and emissaries from Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and France. A fleet of Venezuelan helicopters and private jets, painted with the Red Cross insignia, were also dispatched to the llanos. The video images of President Chavez briefing what appeared to be a virtual military invasion of Colombia were repeatedly beamed into homes as the countdown to the New Year started, almost checkmating Uribe in the process. However, the Colombian president had one last move to make. The southern radius around Villavicencio, which was the most likely place where the release would take place, was quickly militarized, forcing the guerillas to melt back into the jungle and calling off the entire operation.

The hapless band of emissaries and journalist decamped from the eastern plains on New Year’s Eve, leaving Chavez in the lurch. For the icing on the cake, within hours of the failed rescue, Uribe released a report that one of the hostages who was to be released, a child born in captivity, had already been returned to Bogota. The report, which was passionately read by the Colombian president on national television, detailed the poor health of the child, as well as the abuse, neglect and torture that had been imparted on the infant. Although the baby had been in Bogota for two years, the atrocious condition of the child vilified the FARC, their associates and all of their actions—allowing Uribe to emerge the victor. In the end, the political ambitions of the leaders in Colombia and Venezuela drove the script, but the victims were the people whose hopes were stirred. The international humanitarian community, France and former President Kirchner were pawns in the drama. The aching aspirations of family members hoping to secure the release of their loved ones, and the desire of 44 million Colombians to see an end to a horrible war were tragically dashed.

2 Responses to "Colombia: High Drama on the Eastern Plains"

  1. mark turner   January 10, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    U.S. grudgingly acknowledges Chavez role on hostages Jan 10, 2008 3:41pm ESTWASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States grudgingly acknowledged Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s role in freeing two women hostages in Colombia on Thursday but made clear it was not about to ask his help to free three Americans there.U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey warmly welcomed the release of the two women held for years in Colombia’s jungles by Marxist rebels but avoided praising the leftist Chavez, an outspoken critic of the United States who has described U.S. President George W. Bush as the devil.”We welcome the release of these two hostages,” Casey told reporters of former Colombian vice-presidential candidate Clara Rojas and ex-congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, who were being flown to freedom on helicopters Chavez sent to pick them up.”We are also appreciative of the leadership of (Colombian) President (Alvaro) Uribe, in terms of trying to secure the release of these hostages, and we welcome the good offices of any individuals who can help secure that, in cooperation with the Colombian government,” he said.He also called on the FARC, a peasant army created in the 1960s and now largely funded by Colombia’s cocaine trade, to release all its hostages, who include former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002, and three U.S. anti-drug contractors captured in 2003.Casey praised the efforts of Uribe in securing the release of the two women and said the United States would continue to work with his government on freeing the others. He largely avoided mentioning Chavez.”I think that anybody, including President Chavez … who has a role to play that is positive and that supports President Uribe and the Colombian government’s efforts is to be welcomed,” Casey said.Asked if Washington was willing to work with Chavez to try to release the U.S. hostages, Casey replied: “Well, we continue to work with the government of Colombia. The government of Colombia and President Uribe are the ones who are ultimately responsible for managing whatever process is involved here.”He added that the United States would do “anything and everything” it could to secure the release of its hostages but would not directly address whether this might include talking to Chavez.(Writing by Arshad Mohammed, editing by Cynthia Osterman)

  2. RL   January 11, 2008 at 3:27 am

    Surprising to see that you use some of the guerrillas lies in your story “The southern radius around Villavicencio, which was the most likely place where the release would take place, was quickly militarized, forcing the guerrillas to melt back into the jungle and calling off the entire operation.” False. That was the last resort after a long series of excuses and delays that FARC (while trying at the same time to recapture Emmanuel from the colombian social security services)used to gain some time. AS has been shown by the late happy events the guerrilla didn’t need the media-Hollywood circus at all or any military space. Also in the past the FARC never had a problem to free anyone in a very simple way when rescue was paid, regardless of military circumstances.