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Chavez becomes an unlikely key person in Colombia kidnappings

Written by editor

(eTN) – It is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, not officials from Colombia, who is reaping praises for speaking against last Sunday’s kidnapping of tourists in a remote Pacific Ocean island in Colombia.

(eTN) – It is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, not officials from Colombia, who is reaping praises for speaking against last Sunday’s kidnapping of tourists in a remote Pacific Ocean island in Colombia.

This development comes as 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 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Repeated attempts to elicit a response from the office of Colombian Tourism Minister Luis Plata regarding the abduction of tourists Sunday in a Pacific Ocean beach resort have so far been futile.

The kind of inaction on the part of the Colombian government defies the very purpose of hosting world-class events such as the recently-concluded United Nations World Tourism Organization’s General Assembly, held in Cartagena last November. At that event, Colombia President Alvaro Uribe, whose father was killed in a botched kidnapping some 20 years ago, had brazenly given out his personal mobile number along with Colombian Tourism Minister Luis Plata’s.

While eTN did not make use of these numbers, the office of Minister Plata was contacted. Special advisor to Minister Plata, Santiago Ospina Franco, responded and said: “I’m sorry but the minister is out of the office in a meeting, and I haven’t been able to speak to him. If I can speak to him in the next hours I’ll let you know.”

At the UNWTO General Assembly last November, President Uribe then told delegates: “Terrorism has become the enemy not only of families, but also of tourism. We have more authority to combat these forces today. Certainly, I will get attacked by detractors just as much as I get supported by our people. But we don’t allow terrorists to lie and tell their story to the world. We don’t want terrorism to deceive the neighboring countries of our fatherland.”

The only statement of any kind addressing Sunday’s tourists’ abduction has come from the Colombian Navy. “Apparently, 10 uniformed bandits from the FARC, in addition to robbing these people of everything they had, kidnapped six of the 19 people who were on the boat,” Adm. Guillermo Barrera, the navy’s commander, told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Luz Naranjo, from the Medellin Tourism Office in Medellin, Colombia spoke exclusively with eTN. She said: “Here in the news, we are watching at lunch and the situation is that they [kidnapped tourists] were in the Pacific Ocean. They were not supposed to be there, as the beach, which is called Morromico beach, is an isolated beach that is not secured.”

According to Naranjo, “the captain of the boat stopped there, and when the stopped, the kidnappers were waiting there.” Among the six kidnapped Colombian tourists include two tourism businessmen, said Naranjo, adding that military forces have been deployed to the area to rescue the kidnapped tourists.

“The situation is very, very unfortunate for us,” she added. “Right now everybody is trying to find them; we hope they find them very soon.”

Naranjo also said that the captain of the boat that carried the kidnapped tourists is now under investigation. “We hope that the kidnapping does not have any negative consequences in tourism,” she added.

As of press time, Tuesday morning at 12:00 (two days after the kidnapping), neither President Uribe nor Minister Plata has issued a statement addressing the kidnapping situation. It is unclear whether any action from either will even be made.

As for President Chavez, he also suggested Monday that countries should drop the FARC from the list of terrorist organizations. Whether this is being used by Chavez to gain leverage in bargaining with the FARC is unclear at this time. What is clear is the negative response from various countries to Chavez’s suggestion. 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 and Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt.