Published by Canada Free Press
By Richard Tinkler
US intelligence sources said yesterday that the move may be the first realistic chance of ending Latin America’s longest running and most destructive civil war.
If the negotiations succeed to demilitarize FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) they could have enormous international implications and lead to the speedy release of the remaining 700 hostages – most of them ordinary Colombian citizens – now held in wild jungle camps by FARC.
It will also deal a heavy blow to Colombian narcotics dealers who supply most of the cocaine entering North America.
And it could lead to an increased American presence in Colombia including the establishment there of a US military base.
FARC has been left totally dispirited by the loss of Ms Betancourt and the three Americans held with her and now has much reduced bargaining power to free the hundreds of its former members currently held in Colombian prisons.
Washington-based diplomatic sources have told CFP that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the leftist leader of Venezuela Hugo Chavez have already established links with the FARC’s 7-man executive and are ready to resettle those FARC fighters who fear assassination if they return to Colombian society.
One potential deal would be for FARC to announce that it was disarming and ending the war.
By way of return, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe would be asked to release all FARC prisoners not charged with specific acts of violence and to help resettle and guarantee security to all former FARC members who wanted to remain in the country.
Those who did not wish to remain – fearing revenge attacks from the Colombian military – would be offered resettlement in Venezuela or France.
The US would support and at least partly finance the scheme because it would remove the security and protection that FARC has provided – in return for hefty financial payments – to Colombia’s notorious cocaine producers and dealers.
President Sarkozy had made Ms Betancourt’s release from six years as a FARC prisoner a major issue for his administration. Ms Betancourt holds joint French-Colombian citizenship and her plight had become a cause célèbre in France. Even though France had almost nothing to do with the release in which Colombian forces, supported by US intelligence, tricked FARC into handing her and some other hostages over, President Sarkozy has managed to squeeze himself onto center stage and has won himself enormous political benefit.
Over the last few weeks he has been pushing through diplomatic channels for the release and together with Venezuela’s Chavez has been trying to persuade FARC to cooperate.
Hinting at the new secret negotiations President Sarkozy said yesterday in Paris: “Let it be clear, we will continue.”
All of this comes at a time when FARC guerrillas have reached their lowest point.
Where they once had 18,000 armed men and women in their jungle force, western analysts now estimate FARC strength at no more than 8,000.
In recent weeks two of their top leaders have been killed and their legendary leader has died of natural causes.
CIA-trained Colombian military personnel have infiltrated the organization, penetrated its communications systems, and bribed many of its remaining leaders.
And now, with the loss of its prized hostages, FARC has almost no bargaining chips to deal with Bogota.
Dr Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs – a Washington-based think tank that analyses Latin American politics – told CFP: “FARC has lost its zeal. The leadership is looking to its future. If the guerrillas are offered sanctuary – especially in Venezuela – that might provide a solution to end the war.”