On Jan. 10 a group of about 20 rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released two hostages in the southeastern department of Guaviare in an arrangement worked out with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias and Colombian ex-senator Piedad Cordoba. The hostages, Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo and Clara Rojas, were then taken to Santo Domingo, Venezuela, and later to a meeting with Chavez and Cordoba at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.
Gonzalez was a deputy in Colombia’s lower house of Congress when the FARC kidnapped her on Sept. 10, 2001; the incident received little attention, due to terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, the next day. Rojas was the vice presidential candidate of the small Oxygen Green Party; the presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian dual national, remains in captivity. Rojas had a baby, Emmanuel, while with the FARC.
The release was a victory for Chavez’s mediation efforts, but it followed several embarrassing failures. Chavez and other international dignitaries were preparing to receive the two hostages, along with the three-year-old Emmanuel, on Dec. 31, but the release was suddenly suspended. The Colombian government then revealed that the rebels had in fact placed Emmanuel in foster care in Bogota through a government agency. The hostages confirmed to Cordoba that they and their escorts were delayed for nearly three weeks in the jungle, in part because of a bombing campaign by the Colombian military.
Gonzalez criticized the way the FARC treated the male hostages, saying they were constantly kept in chains; Rojas called the FARC a criminal organization. But they both asked Chavez to continue his mediation efforts to free the remaining hostages. The Colombian government estimates that the FARC holds 745 hostages, 45 of them politicians or soldiers the rebels hope to exchange for some 500 rebels in government prisons. On Jan. 11, during his annual report to Venezuela’s National Assembly, Chavez asked the international community to recognize the FARC and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), as “belligerent forces” rather than as “terrorists,” saying the designation was necessary to advance the peace process. France, Spain and Switzerland have sent emissaries to South America to help in negotiations for further releases. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 7 from Reuters, AFP, Prensa Latina, DPA; Jan. 11 from correspondent, Reuters, AFP, DPA)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 13