Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ordered the military to intensify operations against the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, FARC, following their rejection of a possible humanitarian exchange of hostages for imprisoned guerrillas, arguing that Uribe's government was illegitimate.
The order scuttled hopes of breaking a deadlock over talks with FARC, which has held scores of hostages, as part of Latin America's oldest and most numerous Marxist insurgency strategy. Apparently a government envoy on a humanitarian mission met with FARC leaders in their jungle hide-out but they demanded the unconditional demilitarization of vast tracks of land recovered by the Colombian Army plus questioning the Uribe administration as "illegitimate and paramilitary". "We authorized a Colombian citizen with contacts to make a gesture for a hostage exchange; he went in good faith for the government and brings back a FARC threat" Uribe said. "Faced with this threat, we have to get tough with these bandits". The announcement is a set back for the families of politicians, police and soldiers held for as long as ten years in secret rebel camps. They want Uribe to negotiate an exchange of jailed guerrillas for 61 key hostages held by FARC. The hostages include Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian national and former presidential candidate captured five years ago this week, and three US citizens caught while on a drug eradication mission in 2003. FARC which began fighting for land reform in the 1960s based on Marxist ideology is now deeply entrenched in Colombia's cocaine trade, managing a billion US dollars annual budget which helps recruit and finance an army of 17.000 with foot soldiers paid more than regular members of the Colombian army. "Let those FARC bandits no longer deceive the Colombia people, and international public opinion. They demand facilitators, humanitarian gestures, we go long and they reply with threats", said Uribe. Uribe's statements followed the publication of an interview with FARC number two Raul Reyes who described the Colombian president as a "man locked in his delirium to rescue by fire and sword the prisoners" and "a stalwart enemy of humanitarian exchange". However Reyes insisted FARC remains intent in a humanitarian exchange of hostages with the 500 guerrillas imprisoned but given the recent revelations of the close links between politicians next to Uribe and the extreme right paramilitary groups, this leaves "the government with no legitimacy". "Every day the illegitimacy of the Uribe administration is ever so evident, which means we are left with no valid interlocutor to sign an agreement with. This government is only interested in pleasing the White House and begging for more dollars to keep the war going and for corruption consumption", added Reyes. According to Mexican intelligence sources FARC works closely with the Mexican drug cartels that then distribute it to United States and Europe. It is believed 55% of Colombian cocaine is dispatched to Mexico by the Colombian guerrillas making up 78% of their income. Following the disappearance of the Medellin and Cali cartels, FARC controls 80% of coca crops in Colombia and is responsible for the processing of almost all of the cocaine, according to US and Colombian intelligence sources. This week also Colombia's leading newspaper El Tiempo published a report on FARC "new war plan" for the next four years including recovering land lost to the government's military strategy, increasing 50% the current number of forces and collecting additional hundreds of millions of dollars particularly in "urban areas". The plan apparently was discovered in a raid by Colombian forces on a FARC camp. Closer links with "China, Vietnam, North Korea and Venezuela" are also contemplated in the plan. But this Thursday a former head of the secret police under President Uribe was arrested and charged in connection with the murders of labor leaders and academics while collaborating with far-right militias responsible for some of Colombia's worst massacres. Jorge Noguera, former head of the Department of Administrative Security, DAS, deepens a scandal that forced the resignation of Uribe's foreign minister earlier this week and has badly shaken the president's political camp. Noguera, who as a regional campaign chief also helped get Uribe elected in 2002, was arrested as he gave testimony in the chief federal prosecutor's office. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison. Noguera, who has been questioned by prosecutors at least five times, is alleged to have given the far-right paramilitaries a hit list of human rights workers and trade union activists while he was in charge of domestic security. A number of those named in the list were later killed.