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Can Chavez free other FARC hostages?

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Can Chavez free other FARC hostages?


So far, the Chavez method has worked. But could it point the way to the release of further jungle hostages? After securing freedom for Consuelo Gonzalez and Clara Rojas, Hugo Chavez is ready to mediate some more with Colombia’s rebels. To see his first efforts bear fruit near San Jose del Guaviare, the Venezuelan leader sent his interior minister to the jungle clearing.

Extraordinary scenes followed as the newly-liberated women bade an almost fond farewell to their captors. There was even talk on the telephone between the Marxist FARC fighters and President Chavez.

The rebels’ gesture in freeing the pair has spurred hopes for an exchange of FARC guerrillas held in government jails for other hostages. Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin expressed gratitude to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for what he said was proof of goodwill. “We are sure it is a door that is opening,” he added. “It is just the beginning.” He said other releases would come, in the form of exchanges. “That is the way,” he added. “That is the line that is going to lead us to peace.”

Such comments, given the success of the Chavez mission, pile pressure on Colombia’s president to be flexible in negotiating such a swap.

Last June, Bogota released dozens of jailed rebels, hoping the FARC would reciprocate. But the fighters want Alvaro Uribe to pull back troops from a rural area the size of New York, to create a safe haven to facilitate hostage releases.

Despite breaking off Chavez’s formal mediation role last year, the Colombian leader congratulated his Venezuelan counterpart for his efficiency in obtaining the unilateral and unconditional liberation of the two women.

Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt remains in her jungle jail. Many now believe Hugo Chavez is her only hope for freedom.

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