Clara and Consuelo are free Time to cross fingers again
Jan 162008

Reps. McGovern and Miller meet with relatives of FARC hostages.

Greetings from the 8:20 American flight from Bogotá to Miami. I have no scenic pictures to post from this trip; this time, I was accompanying three members of the U.S. Congress who paid a four-day visit to Colombia.

It was an unusual delegation, since each one of the representatives had a different agenda. Rep. George Miller (D-California), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, was investigating labor rights, meeting with a wide variety of union leaders and judicial officials. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight, was investigating U.S. corporations’ alleged support for paramilitary groups; his work took him to two Colombian jails to meet with top paramilitary leaders. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) was looking into the issue that has been dominating the headlines coming out of Colombia lately: the FARC hostage crisis and the search for a humanitarian accord.

As a result, the three members of Congress were almost never in the same place. I accompanied Jim McGovern, which gave an incredible opportunity to speak with just about everyone who has played a role in the humanitarian accord issue – government officials, diplomats, NGOs, hostage relatives, analysts, journalists and “facilitators.”

Without revealing too much about what were a series of off-the-record conversations, I came away with the following conclusions about the present moment.

1. Hugo Chávez, from hero to zero – but still with a role to play. Only about 24 hours separated one of the Venezuelan president’s proudest moments from one of his biggest missteps. Last Thursday, a triumphant Chávez welcomed Colombian hostages Clara Rojas and Consuelo González, whom the FARC had released into his custody, and basked in grateful words from the two women and their families.

On Friday, however, Chávez angered many and confused most with a speech arguing that Colombia’s guerrilla groups are politically legitimate “armies” and calling on the European Union to remove the FARC from its list of the world’s terrorist groups.

Why in the world would Chávez have thought it wise to make this public plea, despite no recent change in the guerrillas’ terrible records of violating international humanitarian law? Was there some sort of quid pro quo in which Chávez promised the guerrillas that he would publicly advocate their political status in exchange for these or some future released hostages? (If so – if the result was winning freedom people who have spent so many years in captivity – then making an embarrassing speech would in fact be a small price to pay.) Or perhaps with Friday’s speech, was Chávez signaling the formal end of his facilitation role by abandoning any claim to neutrality?

Whatever Chávez’s reasons, one thing is certain: his speech guaranteed that the FARC will not be taken off of anybody’s terrorist lists anytime soon. The European Union requires that all twenty-seven member countries unanimously agree to remove a group from its list of terrorist groups. If the Venezuelan president really wanted to help the FARC get off this list, he would have pursued quiet diplomacy. Instead, by making a public plea, Chávez forced many of these member countries to respond publicly – and of course, the answer was “no.” Now that they have been forced to go on record saying “no” once again, it will be that much harder to get them to reverse themselves and say “yes” at some point in the future.

Chávez’s words of sympathy for the FARC, and those of some of his ministers, have made it extremely difficult to conceive of him ever facilitating or mediating a humanitarian accord to release all of the hostages. He is now almost irretrievably unacceptable to one of the two parties to the conflict – the Colombian government – which does not regard him to be an honest broker.

This does not mean that Chávez should be fully marginalized from the hostage situation. He could play an important role in easing contacts and transmitting messages, or even convincing the guerrillas to make further goodwill gestures. He remains, by far, the FARC’s preferred interlocutor. And of course, any effort to cut Chávez completely out of future talks carries the risk of the Venezuelan leader playing a “spoiler” role from the sidelines.

The plane is going to land soon. There is still some ground to cover here. Posts over the next day or two will discuss:

2. The U.S. Congress members’ offer to meet with FARC was generally well received.

3. Some sort of demilitarized zone seems inevitable, but the FARC will have to yield a lot.

4. All serious facilitation efforts should be allowed to go forward until one, or a combination, is acceptable to both parties. There are many possible actors to choose from.

5. Before any talks begin, discreet professionals must do a lot preparatory “staff work” out of the spotlight.

9 Responses to “Humanitarian exchange (1): Chávez, from hero to zero”

  1. o-lu Says:

    Me pregunto si Chavez no esta en conversaciones mas avanzadas con las Farc de lo que se cree… Es posible que este grupo esté pensando en las opciones de vida, a titulo individual, de los combatientes. No creo que se animen a dejar las armas en Colombia (es muy posible que muchos sean asesinados), en cambio es factible que ingresen al proyecto bolivariano chavista y por esta razon el lider esté ayudando a limpiar su imagen. En tal caso, su mensaje seria para consumo interno (de ahi los aplausos en el recinto oficial), no para el exterior (donde las posibilidades de sacar a las Farc de esa lista son débiles).

    Fijate Adam, suponiendo que se aceleren las cosas, qué va a pasar con los guerilleros? Recuerda el sentimiento de desconfianza historico hacia el gobierno que tienen los movimientos guerrilleros campesinos desde las épocas de Guadalupe.


  2. Christopher Colbow Says:

    Is a demilitarized zone of any sort really in Uribe’s interest following the debacle of Pastrana’s demilitarized zone in San Vicente and the resulting humiliation to the government of Colombia.

    I believe that the majority of Colombians would like to see a continuation of the military operations against the FARC. There is a vocal minority that would like some steps to be taking towards peace and reconciliation; however, the majority want to continue punishing the FARC. Why else did Uribe win another term in office with so much popular support.

  3. Alejandro Pelaez Says:

    Nunca habia pensado en la hipotesis de O lu, es interesante. SIn embargo, lo más probable es que Chavez este pensando en un proceso de paz en Colombia que convierta a las FARC en un actor político relevante para el proyecto bolivariano.

    Es interesante ir encadenando lo que dice: primero solicito el estatus de beligerancia y la remoción de las listas de terroristas, al otro día matizó la cosa condenando el secuestro y señalando que todo era por la PAZ, hoy, según oigo, la paz solo es posible por medio del socialismo. En pocas palabras, la paz en Colombia solo es posible si las FARC (socialistas y bolivarianas) llegan al poder e imponen un regimen al estilo del vecino, o mejor, si se unen al vecino en una “gran Colombia”.

    Detras de todo esta el punto critico en el que se encuentran las FARC en este momento, necesitan una salida política rapida.

  4. Global Voices Online » Colombia: Congressional Delegation and Release of Hostages Says:

    [...] Isaacson of Plan Colombia and Beyond is returning from Bogotá, where he accompanied a delegation of U.S. lawmakers that visited Colombia. He provides some thoughts on the visit. Share [...]

  5. o-lu Says:

    No hay que pecar de ingenuos, la historia colombiana ensenha que un gobierno de izquierda no es posible, no sera posible en Colombia, mientras subsista la guerrilla. Si los colombianos no son conscientes de esto, desde afuera se ve muy claro.

    Alejandro, ud que es amigo de los analisis en términos de “rational choice”, digame, qué opcion de vida les da a los combatientes de las Farc después de una eventual desmovilizacion?

  6. Catalina Says:

    Hola Adam hace cinco dias sigo tu pagina pues buscaba info sobre las nuevas agendas para colombia planteadas por los democratas (info bienvenida) y con sorpresa leo sobre tu visita a Colombia . Curiosamente esta misma semana se conocio aqui en Bogota el rol de Bill Clinton en el proceso despeje del Caguan. Tu crees que la posicion democrata lleve a defender ahora el proceso de Acuerdo Humanitario lease via despeje Pradera y Florida? Si es asi , cual seria el rol de los republicanos?

  7. joseperez Says:



    The time has come to use our voices. To cease the silence which has allowed FARC to survive. To make sure that every leader in the world, every guerrilla, hears us when we say: We reject and condemn FARC – EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army). The fighting and violence must stop NOW.

    Again and again, FARC has been allowed to keep captive the thousands of kidnapped prisoners it has wrongfully detained for decades because their lies and tricks are repeated over and over again, to the point where nobody questions their veracity.
    There are few acts more destructive to the dignity of a people than the wholesale kidnapping of innocent civilians. Over the past few years, FARC has continued to illegal and unjustly hold captive the thousands of Colombians who committed no crime other than being in the wrong place, at the wrong time just like Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, they continue to reap the benefits of a vast drug production and trafficking empire just like Al qaeda and the Taliban, which has given them the money and resources necessary to commit countless crimes against the people of our nation. FARC’s unjustifiable actions have left our country degraded and stricken with poverty after more than forty years of simply trying to defend its people’s security and liberty.

    Friends from all over the world, today we are united in our cause:

    NO MORE!

    Let’s commit ourselves to join a million voices in this group so we can make a difference, and let the entire world know that we don’t need “People’s Army” here in Colombia; that FARC is a terrorist group, led by murderers and enemies of the people of Colombia and the world. Let us make sure the world knows that to be Colombian does not mean to be a drug dealer or a thief.

    This is a cause beyond all political interests or colors. It’s a humanitarian cause, encouraged by a simple sense of solidarity, for the sake and welfare of our citizens.

    Join us; We need our voices to be heard.

    A million voices against FARC.
    Join us at

  8. joseperez Says:

    plain and simple-f*** the farc!!!

  9. Andrs Vielma Says:

    Buenas Tardes, con todos mis respetos, creo que es necesario pensar e ir mas allá que lo que nuestros ojos nos dejan ver, deténganse a pensar por un minuto todas las posibles razones y circunstancias por las que Chavez dice que manejemos a las FARC como partido político con respaldo internacional.
    1° hablando de Política, pudiéramos estar todo un día escribiendo sobre el Chavez bueno o el malo según la inclinación política que tengamos.
    2° Hablando como militar, puede ser una artimaña militar, para darle tranquilidad a las FARC de que su movimiento o las razones del mismo, serán escuchadas y sus inquietudes tomadas en cuenta. (sin tomar represarías contra sus integrantes).
    3° Hablando como socialista (igualdad para todos y todas, seguridad social, alimentaria, económica, educacional, entre otras… ideas socialistas bajo la mirada del mundo entero por una patria soberana de sus actos y libre de su identidad, la cual ha venido realzando por la garantía de libertad en la que vivimos en Venezuela, la idea no es solo liberar a los rehenes sino también salvar las vidas a las personas que conforman las FARC (hombre, mujeres y niños).

    Tomando en cuanta los derechos humanos y los principios de libertad tenemos que poner fin a los secuestros por (mala praxis política), a la política de la onu en la que el veto lo dan unos países irreemplazables y que son ellos quienes deciden donde, como, cuando y por QUE, hay que entrar en guerra con cualquier otro país.

    Les recuerdo que hace unos años atrás se firmo un acuerdo mundial en el que estaban prohibidas las guerras, ahora bien, cual es la razón de las guerras actuales, armas químicas, nucleares entre otras…. sera que por solo pararse con el poder del veto podemos seguir permitiendo que el mundo entero viva en una sola preocupación por si uno de estos lideres decide vetar a un país o mejor dicho el representante de un país y así entrar en guerra en la que los que sufren son personas inocentes???? por favor hermanos del mundo, deténganse a pensar en esto: donde están las armas químicas, nucleares y digan si conocen cuantos contratos se firman antes de arrancar una guerra y si puedes investiguen los montos U$D a los que equivalen dichos contratos.

    Compatriotas del mundo……
    dejemos de pensar en nosotros y velemos por dar todos los días un aporte a los que mas lo requieren y no hable de dinero hable de principios, éticos, morales, familiares y educacionales.

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