May 15, 2008
CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez said Wednesday he will try to re-establish contacts with Colombian rebels in an attempt to win freedom for more hostages held by the guerrillas.
Chávez said he spoke by phone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and offered to ''try to make contact'' with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Sarkozy's campaign to free French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt so far has been unsuccessful.
''I'm going to try to do whatever possible to free not only Ingrid Betancourt, but all the people who are in the hands of the FARC,'' Chávez said during a meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates.
The FARC released six hostages to Chávez's socialist government earlier this year. But he said his links to the rebels were severed when a Colombian raid killed FARC leader Raúl Reyes on March 1.
Colombian officials say documents obtained from Reyes' computer have exposed years of cooperation between Chávez and the FARC, which finances its operations partly through kidnapping and drug trafficking.
International police agency Interpol is analyzing the documents and plans to present its findings on Thursday in Bogota, Colombia.
Chávez has vehemently denied lending support to the FARC, calling the accusations part of a U.S. campaign to destabilize his government.
The Colombian military strike that killed Reyes took place in Ecuadorean territory, sparking a diplomatic meltdown that prompted Chávez to briefly send tanks to Venezuela's border with Colombia.
Chávez accused Washington and its allies in Colombia of ''trying to do in Venezuelan territory what they did in Ecuador.'' He didn't elaborate.
Relations between Colombia and Ecuador continue to be strained over the cross-border military attack. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who also is implicated in the documents, insisted on Wednesday that they prove ``absolutely nothing.''
Speaking in Paris, Correa cast doubt on the authenticity of the computers, suggesting they may have been planted by the Colombians after the raid.
Correa also expressed hope for the release of Betancourt, who was kidnapped while campaigning for Colombia's presidency six years ago. She is among hundreds of rebel-held hostages, including three U.S. defense contractors.
The rebels have proposed swapping hostages for imprisoned guerrillas, and Chávez says he hopes to facilitate.
Chávez also expressed hope that relations with the U.S. could improve next year once President George W. Bush leaves office.
''We hope to establish a new level of positive and constructive relations,'' Chávez said.
Speaking from the oil-rich Orinoco River basin, Chávez noted that Venezuela ships the U.S. 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.
''The fundamental cause of the permanent aggression against Venezuela is not that we are a menace to the world,'' he said. ``It is these giant reserves of petroleum.''