The outspoken left-wing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has stirred up controversy with remarks about Marxist guerilla groups which are holding hundreds of hostages in Colombia.
Just a day after brokering the rare release of two of the hostages, Chavez called on Latin America and Europe to remove FARC and the ELN from their list of terrorist organisations. He told Venezuela’s National Assembly: “Although it will bother some people, I say the FARC and the ELN are not terrorist bodies. They are armies, true armies that occupy space in Colombia.”
The Colombian government defended its use of the word ‘terrorists’ to describe the groups, saying they fund their operations with the cocaine trade, they recruit children and plant land-mines to topple a democratically elected government.
The Colombian presidential spokesman said: “They are terrorists because they have only caused massive movements of people, pain, unemployment and poverty.” Chavez is determined to secure the release of more hostages held by the FARC guerillas, Colombia’s oldest and largest guerilla army. Along with the second largest left-wing group, the ELN, they say their decades-long fight is to secure greater equality in Colombia.