Colombia Begins Freeing Rebels

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s strategy to release 193 captured Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) detainees may not be going according to plan (“Colombia Begins Freeing Rebels” June 5, 2007). Bogotá hopes that by releasing its political prisoners, the FARC will in turn feel pressured to free a number of high profile hostages it holds. With 56 “exchangeable” celebrity hostages being currently held, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, her campaign manager Clara Rojas, as well as several U.S. defense contractors, their release would mark a significant victory for the now embedded Colombian president. To some, President Uribe’s actions might seem to be motivated by compassion and aimed at ending the personal suffering of the kidnap victims. However, one must not forget that for nearly five years, Uribe has refused to consider swapping any of the guerilla members for the estimated 3,000 hostages held by the FARC. With the growing pressure of both national and international critics, including from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who successfully pleaded for the release of imprisoned FARC leader Rodrigo Granda in exchange for Betancourt, Uribe was forced to act. Yet, even if the mounting pressure finally made Uribe act to implement a strategy, the rebels have been dismissing his initiative as a farce to distract public attention from Colombia’s current massive paramilitary scandal involving many government officials and vigilante operations. Even with the realization that his actions might have come five years too late, Uribe is going ahead with his plan, yet there is no indication that even offering up big fish like Granda would result in the release of high profile hostages, thus gaining a small victory for Uribe in his battle against the FARC and for his own reputation.