Chávez a big loser in hostage liberation

Por Venezuela Real - 6 de Julio, 2008, 22:16, Categoría: Imagen gobierno / Chávez

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
The Oppenheimer Report / Miami Herald
July 06, 2008

The biggest loser of last week's Hollywood-styled Colombian army rescue of 15 hostages in the hands of the FARC guerrillas, in addition to the rebels themselves, was Venezuela's narcissist-Leninist President Hugo Chávez.

Judging from Chávez's own public statements and the contents of thousands of e-mails found in FARC laptop computers seized March 1 when Colombia's military raided a guerrilla camp inside Ecuador, Chávez was hoping to use the hostage crisis to become the ultimate power broker in the Colombian armed conflict and become South America's most powerful political leader.

RECOGNITION

Chávez, as well as Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, had been openly asking for international diplomatic recognition of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels as a ``belligerent force.''

This would have given the Colombian guerrillas much-needed political oxygen after a series of crushing defeats by the Colombian army.

In a speech to the Venezuelan Congress earlier this year, Chávez said that the FARC guerrillas ''are not terrorist organizations,'' but ``real armies that occupy space in Colombia's territory and deserve recognition. They are insurgent forces that have a political project, a Bolivarian project that is respected here.''

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe vehemently rejected the Chávez-Correa proposal to give diplomatic recognition to the FARC. The United States and the 27-member European Union have long categorized the FARC as a terrorist group, based on its widespread violence against civilians.

TWO-TIER STRATEGY

What exactly was Chávez trying to achieve? According to thousands of e-mails found in the laptop computers of slain FARC commander Raúl Reyes, which Interpol forensic computer experts certified were not tampered with by the Colombian government, Chávez and the FARC were pursuing a two-tier strategy.

On the one hand, both sides were exploring a hostage release that would give Chávez an international propaganda victory -- some Chávez supporters had even raised speculation about a Nobel Peace Prize for the Venezuelan president -- in exchange for his pledge to obtain international diplomatic recognition for the FARC.

On the other hand, the two sides secretly used their hostage negotiations as a pretext to justify meetings to build closer political and military ties.

Dozens of e-mails in the rebel computers show that the FARC commanders and Chávez were building what they referred to as a ''strategic relationship'' to strengthen the Bolivarian movement in the region.

There are at least eight references to an estimated $300 million in financial assistance that Chávez had pledged to the FARC rebels. In addition, the e-mails show that the FARC had agreed to give military training in irregular warfare to the Venezuelan army, and that the Colombian rebels even had an ''office'' at Fuerte Tiuna, the headquarters of Venezuela's military command in Caracas.

''The strategy was to create an international mediation group fashioned after the Contadora group that mediated in the Central American conflict in the 1980s, but aimed at consolidating Chávez's leadership in the region, and at using Chávez's clout to achieve international diplomatic recognition for the FARC,'' a senior Colombian official told me in an interview last week.

UNDERMINED

But a series of events undermined the Chávez-FARC plan. The Colombian raid into the FARC camp in Ecuador, which resulted in Reyes' death, the subsequent death of the FARC's top leader Manuel ''Sure Shot'' Marulanda, and last week's Colombian army release of the best known FARC hostages -- former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors -- crippled the Chávez-FARC strategy.

While hundreds of other hostages remain in the hands of the FARC, the Colombian government -- rather than Chávez -- is now seen as close to winning the military battle and having the best chances of freeing all the hostages.

My opinion: Chávez is down but not out. With oil prices at $145 a barrel, he will be able to continue buying allegiances in the region with his petro-dollars.

As we often say in this column, Chávez's grandiose continental ambitions will continue as long as the United States -- rather than curbing its absurd oil consumption -- continues paying him $34 billion a year for oil imports.

But for the time being, Chávez's grand regional strategy has suffered a big blow.

He will concentrate in trying to build up support at home to avoid suffering a defeat in November's regional elections.








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