Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-New York), William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts) and Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) talking to (mostly Colombian) reporters earlier today.
In a speech on Sunday in MedellÃn, Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe leveled a strange accusation.
Iâ€™m worried about some national and international politicians who recommend to the FARC that they donâ€™t accept [President Uribeâ€™s proposed 150-square-kilometer â€œencounter zoneâ€ for prisoner-exchange talks between the guerrillas and the government]; that the only way is a full demilitarized zone [the 800 square-kilometer, two-county zone that the FARC has demanded as a pre-condition for such talks].
And I say so because I have learned this week, to my sadness, that some politicians have been making this recommendation to the FARC. They tell them, â€œNo. Donâ€™t accept that. Someone will intervene with Sarkozy to pressure Uribe.â€
â€¦ [Other politicians] are saying to the FARC: â€œNo. Set a gringo free. Free a gringo and that way we can pressure Uribe to demilitarize an entire zone.â€
Who was he talking about? In an interview with Colombiaâ€™s Caracol radio network this morning, he offered another clue â€“ one pointing to Washington: the culprit is â€œa low-ranking politicianâ€ in the United States.
What? Who in the world of Washington politics would possibly be doing something as ridiculous as advising the FARC to insist on a full demilitarized zone?
The Colombian newsmagazine Semana speculated today that the most obvious candidate for Uribeâ€™s ire would be Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has been one of the members of Congress most interested in the efforts to win freedom for the FARCâ€™s hostages.
Of all [Democrats], the one who has the most relations with hostage relatives, and who has most often shown interest in their liberation, is McGovern, a congressman whose power is less than that of other very recognized legislators like Charles Rangel and Nancy Pelosi.
If Uribe is indeed thinking of McGovern, he is flat wrong. Why would Jim McGovern advise the FARC to take a position that isnâ€™t his? The same Semana article explains, “[McGovern's] concern is for the freedom of the kidnapped people, and he knows well that demanding a full demilitarized zone would totally obstruct the process.”
As I understand it, during his contacts with Sen. Piedad CÃ³rdoba â€“ the Colombian government-appointed â€œfacilitatorâ€ for prisoner-exchange talks between August and November â€“ Mr. McGovern never supported demilitarizing the entire municipalities of Florida and Pradera. Neither he nor any of the other Democratic congresspeople who have been in contact with Sen. CÃ³rdoba were thrilled about the idea.
The Democratic congresspeople who signed a letter in March offering to help the process were endorsing a European proposal for a much smaller zone â€“ a proposal that President Uribe also supported. It makes no sense, then, for any of them to have advised the guerrillas to do anything to â€œpressureâ€ President Uribe into accepting a proposal they donâ€™t support themselves.
Nor did Mr. McGovern oppose President Uribeâ€™s proposal for a smaller demilitarized â€œencounter zoneâ€ in which to hold prisoner-exchange talks with the FARC. In fact, I had the impression that his office viewed President Uribeâ€™s proposal as a positive step.
So to whom, then, was President Uribe referring? We would like to know who in the U.S. political arena is offering such counter-productive advice to Colombian insurgents.
Our dismay at President Uribeâ€™s latest comments is tempered, however, by this afternoonâ€™s revelation that the FARC may release three of its hostages. This in turn is combined with disappointment â€“ if not surprise â€“ that the FARC rejected President Uribeâ€™s offer for a smaller demilitarized zone.
Those who may be freed are Clara Rojas, Ãngrid Betancourtâ€™s running mate, kidnapped in February 2002; her son Emmanuel, born in captivity about three years ago; and Consuelo GonzÃ¡lez de Perdomo, a senator from Huila department kidnapped shortly before September 11, 2001.
I met Clara Rojasâ€™ mother in BogotÃ¡ earlier this year, in a meeting with several FARC hostage relatives. She is of advanced age, frail in appearance if not in spirit. It was overwhelmingly sad to think that she might not live to see her daughter again. Let us all hope that this guerrilla offer turns out to be real and quickly realizable, so that Clara GonzÃ¡lez de Rojas can see her daughter and meet her grandson as soon as possible.
Senator Perdomoâ€™s daughter, MarÃa Fernanda de Perdomo, was the first hostage relative ever to contact us, back in 2002, to ask for any kind of help that might come from Washington. Back then, we got some statements of support from Capitol Hill, but few here seemed to care about the hostage situation because there was so little that anyone felt they could do about it.
MarÃa Fernanda has nonetheless persisted from her new home in the Washington area, despite living through the further tragedy of her fatherâ€™s death in 2003. She has continued to be an active advocate of a humanitarian accord, along with her sister, who remained in Colombia. Let us hope this is for real, and that her ordeal might be over soon.