June 16, 2008 – President Hugo Chávez’s statement regarding the increasingly unproductive and ill-focused guerrilla war being staged by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) could be a hugely positive step towards reframing the terms and goals of hemispheric relations in this era. But the full realization of this development’s potential benefits hinge upon the Bush administration’s willingness to engage in constructive diplomacy. It must not allow itself to be gripped by a radical ideology or drowned by repetitive propaganda that all along has characterized its foreign policy making style. For once, Secretary of State Rice should urge negotiations rather than enflame the two warring sides to seek far-fetched goals thus guaranteeing that the conflict will not be resolved.
President Chávez’s comments reveal a dramatic reversal of his previous stance in favor of the guerrilla group and admirably contrasts with the sterile regional policy embraced by Washington. It was only last January that Chávez called for the FARC to be granted belligerent status by the international community, which would give the leftist guerrillas a sense of legitimacy and recognition under the terms of the Geneva Convention. Whatever the motivation for his move, Chávez’s statement is sure to improve his reputation in the wake of the discovery of the potentially embarrassing “FARC files” that were found on laptops seized after the March 1 bombing of a FARC unit camped just inside the Ecuadorian border. However, Chávez’s recent declaration that the FARC has been bypassed by history is too important a statement to be ignored or explained away as a publicity stunt.
Chávez’s call for peace and the release of hostages held by the FARC is a genuinely important and productive gesture and is perhaps the most daring promulgation on the regional dispute to date. Rather than continue his submissive role as Washington’s most faithful servitor, Colombia’s President Uribe should respond to Chávez in a sober and fully participative manner. The possibility of a positive relationship could represent the break that observers of the decades-long internal strife in Colombia have been waiting for.
As previously stated in ¡Necesitamos un Acuerdo Humanitario!, COHA believes that international pressure should now be directed towards all parties involved in the conflict – the FARC, paramilitary groups, and the Venezuelan, Ecuadorian, and Colombian governments – in order to accelerate a negotiated settlement. Therefore, President Chávez’s statement is to be thunderously applauded and he should be encouraged to continue his campaigns to end the violence in the region, affect the immediate release of all those taken hostage during the conflict and encourage the implementation of a immediate cease-fire between the two sides.
Furthermore, Chávez and Uribe should give careful thought to the transfer of the FARC’s entire force, estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 fighters, to Venezuela as part of a peace process. Once there, former combatants will be guaranteed their security as well as receive a subsidized pension and vocational training. The funding for such programs – which is likely to be no more than $100 million a year – will come, in large part, from Venezuela. This strategy would negate the problem of impoverished, idle, demobilized soldiers falling into organized crime rings. It would also provide the former FARC fighters with the personal security against possible political assassinations, which no Colombian president could guarantee with any certainty.