Sindy Tumay was arrested late Thursday with proofs-of-life for the FARC’s hostages in her possession. Military intelligence agents had followed her from remote Guaviare department.
“The proofs of life were hidden by Ãlvaro Uribe’s government so that we could not bring them to President Sarkozy.”
That is what Colombian Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba, who until November 21 was an officially authorized mediator for the FARC prisoner-exchange talks, told an interviewer from the Mexican daily El Universal. In a piece published this weekend, CÃ³rdoba made the very serious allegation that the Uribe government sought to undermine the mediators by intercepting the videos and photos of many FARC hostages, which it then made public on November 30. Sen. CÃ³rdoba implies that President Uribe knew that the proofs-of-life existed a week earlier, which influenced his decision to put an end to the role that she and Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez were playing in the talks.
The Colombian government denies this, of course. “I don’t know what Piedad CÃ³rdoba’s interest might be, or whether she is having hallucinations,” said the head of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla.
Sen. CÃ³rdoba does appear to have some of the facts wrong. But what did the Colombian government know, and when did it know it? Could it be possible that President Uribe pulled the plug on a promising negotiation process because he feared a handover of proofs-of-life at an event in Caracas – an event that would give the FARC momentary access to top foreign diplomats and perhaps even U.S. members of Congress?
We really hope not. But consider this hypothesis, from Sunday’s edition of the Colombian newsweekly Semana.
The interception of the proofs of life was an intelligence operation that was very precisely planned and executed. All data indicate that Sindy Yuley [the guerrilla courier whom troops apprehended late Thursday night] was followed for a long time, at a distance of few meters, day and night. It is admirable that the military managed to follow her from the town of TomachipÃ¡n, in [the southern province of] Guaviare, to Meta and later to BogotÃ¡, without losing her trail or that of the proofs. Although the authorities deny that they knew what her mission was, it is evident that they waited with a watchmaker’s patience, until she met with her contact from Caracas.
… But if the capture was precise, so is the political chessgame at play behind it. If military intelligence had knowledge of the proofs of life more than a week ago, it is possible that President Ãlvaro Uribe already knew of their existence at the moment he suspended the mediation of President Hugo ChÃ¡vez and Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba, on November 21. It is quite probable that, as Uribe himself said, the political calculations that the goverment made by nominating these mediators had failed. With [FARC leader] IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez soaking up press attention in Caracas without having made any substantial humanitarian gesture, and with ChÃ¡vez far too talkative, the scenario became too complicated for the government.
That is why Piedad CÃ³rdoba’s and ChÃ¡vez’s phone call to [Army Chief] Gen. Mario Montoya, which triggered the breakdown of their mediation, apparently gave the government the opportunity it needed to shut things down.
The hypothesis that Uribe knew that the proofs were already on the way explains ChÃ¡vez’s disproprortionate fury. As well as the intention that he apparently had this [past] weekend – with the relatives of the hostages in Caracas and certainly with the proofs – of showing that the FARC were indeed moving toward the exchange.
This morning’s news reports that the Uribe government is seeking to give a bigger role to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Can yet another disappointing outcome possibly be avoided? We can only cross our fingers.