(eTN) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has done it again. He once again helped free Colombian hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
After six years of captivity at the hands of leftist rebels, four Colombian hostages gained their freedom in a jungle clearing Wednesday after captors turned them over to representatives of Venezuelan PresidentHugo Chavez and the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to local reports in Bogota.
Freed were ex-legislators Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran, Luis Eladio Perez and Jorge Eduardo Gechem. They met a helicopter-borne delegation that included the Venezuelan Interior Minister Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin and a Colombian senator.
Whether it is pure altruism or politically-motivated, Chavez’s triumph in brokering the release of the four hostages is more effort than the Colombian government, which has taken a very stern stance in dealing with rebels, can claim.
Venezuelan media is touting the hostage release as a “successful humanitarian operation “Camino a la Paz” (Way to Peace), for receiving from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia the former legislators, was termed by the Venezuelan executive an act of brotherhood between the two peoples.”
According to published reports, Venezuelan state television showed them as they were escorted to the meeting point in the Colombian jungle by a dozen guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who were wearing fatigues and carrying carbines. Planned for nearly a month, the release took place in the state of Guaviare, where on Jan. 10 the FARC released two female hostages, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez.
“Thank you for bring me backing to life,” freed ex-legislator Polanco said, as one of her captors handed her several bunches of flowers. “I’ll leave one of these on the tomb of my husband and the others to my children. It’s all that I can bring them from the jungle.”
After being held in captivity for four or more years, the four ex-legislators were then given medical exams and flown in helicopters to the western Venezuelan army base of Santo Domingo then boarded a small jet and proceeded to Caracas’ Maiquetia airport, where they were met by family members. They reportedly were taken to the Miraflores presidential palace for a meeting with Chavez.
In January, the Venezuelan president garnered international praise for his role in negotiating the release of two long-time rebel hostages–Clara Rojas and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, who were both held for more than five years in jungle camps by the FARC.
It is important to note, however, that Chavez’s efforts have not been controversy-free. The Venezuelan president Chavez had suggested that countries should drop the FARC from the list of terrorist organizations. A suggestion that was globally panned, as the FARC is recognized by most governments as a terrorist organization that depends heavily on narcotics and ransom from kidnappings to fund its activities.
At present, the FARC is holding many high-profile captives including three defense contractors from the US, another 40 political prisoners, Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt and some 700 are being held for ransom.
(with wire inputs)