February 26, 2008
Four former members of Colombia's Congress held by FARC guerrillas are to be released Wednesday.
CARACAS -- Four more high-profile Colombian hostages held by FARC guerrillas will be released as early as Wednesday, Venezuela's justice minister said Monday.
All four are former members of Congress who are ailing after having been held in jungle captivity for at least five years.
''In the name of our commander in chief [President Hugo Chávez], I want to announce that we already have the precise place where the four hostages held by the FARC are to be turned over,'' said Justice Minister Ramón Rodríguez. ``We are ready first thing Wednesday to collect those to be freed.''
They are Gloria Polanco de Lozada, Orlando Beltrán, Luis Eladio Pérez and Jorge Eduardo Gechem. Relatives of the first three flanked Rodríguez as he spoke.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, also hold 40-some high-profile hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors.
Chávez has devoted enormous time and effort in the past two months to free some of the high-profile victims.
After a couple of breakdowns, Chávez secured the release of former congresswoman Consuelo González and one-time vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas in January. It was a diplomatic coup for Chávez, as dozens of reporters went to the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas to witness Chávez greeting them with hugs and kisses. CNN's Spanish language network carried the proceedings live throughout Latin America.
Leftist Colombian Sen. Piedad Córdoba has played a key mediation role along with Chávez.
The FARC's ultimate aim is to exchange the high-value hostages for some 5000 of its fighters jailed in Colombia.
But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has rejected the FARC's demand to hold the exchange talks in a demilitarized patch of Colombia.}