Just a few this week.
- Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe has just signaled a willingness to release many – perhaps hundreds – of FARC guerrillas in Colombian prisons immediately if the guerrillas release Ãngrid Betancourt (who is reportedly very ill) and other high-profile “exchangeable” hostages.
With this offer, Uribe appears to be yielding on two of his stated “immovable” conditions in a hostage-for-prisoner exchange: a requirement that freed guerrillas not be able to re-join the FARC, and a requirement that guerrilla prisoners charged with crimes against humanity not be included in a swap.
Will the FARC respond positively to this gesture? My guess is no: the guerrillas have given every indication that they are wedded by what appears to be their chief demand: the demilitarization of two counties east of Cali as a venue for “humanitarian exchange” talks.
This at least was the FARC’s position when “RaÃºl Reyes,” the group’s principal spokesman on such issues, was alive. Will the post-Reyes FARC leadership take a different approach? Again, my guess is no.
If the FARC do say no, of course, Ãlvaro Uribe once again comes out way ahead politically, as he can tell the world that he made another audacious gesture and was once again spurned.
- Colombian authorities have found 30 kilos of what appears to be depleted uranium buried near a highway south of BogotÃ¡. The barely radioactive metal is believed to belong to the FARC.
It may be the uranium mentioned in a paragraph of one of the communications between guerrilla leaders found on a laptop computer recovered at the site where FARC leader RaÃºl Reyes was killed on March 1. “It’s exactly the same material listed on Reyes’ computer,” said Colombia’s armed-forces chief, Gen. Freddy Padilla.
That paragraph discussed a possible purchase of uranium for $2.5 million a kilo. If this is the same uranium, the FARC were ripped off terribly. The uranium found Wednesday can be bought for less than $100 a kilo.
Colombian officials, and much recent press, have speculated that the FARC may have sought to craft a radioactive “dirty bomb” out of the uranium. That would not be possible with the uranium that was just found, which has a very low radioactivity. Charles Ferguson, a nuclear affairs analyst at the Federation of American Scientist, explained it this way to Bloomberg News:
“You could stand next to this material for days and nothing would happen to you, unless you dropped it on your foot.”
International Atomic Energy Agency officials are to visit Colombia next week to investigate the find; we will know more then. In the meantime, expect a few days of WMD hysteria.
My guess, based on the partial information made available so far, is that the FARC knew exactly what it was buying: depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium is not useful for building dirty bombs or carrying out other spectacular mega-terrorist schemes. But it is useful for piercing armor, which is why the United States frequently uses munitions coated with depleted uranium.
Perhaps the FARC wanted the super-dense metal in order to take down more of the helicopters that have done them so much damage on the battlefield. Or perhaps they sought the depleted uranium to help penetrate armored cars, as Cesar Restrepo of BogotÃ¡’s Security and Democracy Foundation told Bloomberg:
“The FARC may have wanted this material to build a stronger rocket that destroys the president or a minister’s armored car, not create a weapon of mass destruction.”
This is not as scary as a dirty bomb, perhaps. But it is alarming enough on its own.
- Arrest warrants have been issued for 15 soldiers in relation to the horrific February 2005 machete massacre of eight men, women and children in the “peace community” of San JosÃ© de ApartadÃ³ in northwestern Colombia. Prosecutors have built a case using evidence from a former paramilitary informant, who claims that the massacre was the product of joint military-paramilitary collaboration.
Let us remember, with some bitterness, the words of President Uribe and other Colombian officials in the days after the massacre, who denied that troops were in the area, sought to blame the deed on the guerrillas and made statements linking the community’s members to the FARC.