September 20, 2007
Brazil is offering its support -- and its neutral territory -- to help Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez mediate a prisoner exchange between the Colombian government and that country's leftist rebels.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is expected to offer Chávez the use of Brazilian territory when the two presidents meet in the Amazon city of Manaus on Thursday.
Chávez is attempting to negotiate an exchange of imprisoned Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas for rebel-held hostages, including three U.S. defense contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen.
''Brazil trusts President Chávez as a mediator of this conflict and has offered the possibility, should it be necessary, of holding meetings on Brazilian soil,'' Lula da Silva spokesman Marcelo Baumbach said at a news conference at the presidential palace in Brasilia.
Both Brazil and Venezuela share borders with Colombia and would benefit from any easing of tensions in the neighboring nation.
The two leaders also are expected to discuss some proposals by Chávez -- a fiery populist harshly critical of the United States -- for regional integration.
The proposals include a natural gas pipeline spanning South America and the Bank of the South -- a development bank Chávez envisions as a homegrown alternative to U.S.-based lenders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
A proposed joint venture for nationally run oil companies Petroleo Brasileiro SA and Petroleos de Venezuela SA to build a $4 billion oil refinery in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco was announced with much fanfare in 2005. But more recently Petrobras has been talking about completing the refinery on its own.
Lula da Silva and Chávez will meet Thursday evening with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.