Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said Colombia’s FARC rebels should
lay down weapons for four months to help start peace talks, toughening
his stance towards the Marxist group Washington says his government
Chavez made his comments a few days before the Summit of the
Americas, a meeting of regional leaders in which Chavez and U.S.
President Barack Obama will both participate.
Chavez was speaking in support of a proposal by Colombian President
Alvaro Uribe, who last week called on the rebels to cease hostilities
as a sign they are interested in talks.
“The president said if there is a peace proposal the government is
ready, that they should stop their activities for four months,” Chavez
said during a press conference with Uribe in Caracas.
“I think that’s fair, the FARC should take note of this.”
With the help of billions of dollars in U.S. aid, the Colombian army
has largely driven the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia from
cities into remote mountain and jungle camps, rescuing their most
famous hostage, politician Ingrid Betancourt, and killing top leaders.
At the summit in Trinidad this week, Chavez will forcefully propose
the United States drops its trade embargo against his close ally Cuba,
but has also said he is open to talks with Obama.
The United States last year accused Venezuela’s top two intelligence
chiefs and a recently retired interior minister of helping the rebels
In an interview soon after taking office, Obama said Chavez exported
terrorist activities and supported the FARC, which is widely hated in
Colombia for attacking civilian targets and using bombs in urban areas.
The Colombian army has also used unethical tactics including killing
peasants and disguising them as rebels to improve their body count.
Laptops found by Colombia in a rebel camp last year were seized on
by Washington as evidence of cooperation between Venezuelan officials
and Colombian rebels.
Chavez has in the past called on the FARC to be recognized as a legitimate army and not considered terrorists.
But he has gradually stepped up pressure on the rebels who have
fought the Colombian government for decades, telling them to hand over
without preconditions dozens of hostages held in jungle camps.
On Wednesday he said he was neither a friend or an enemy of the
rebels. “Venezuela and our government do not support armed or violent
movements in Colombia or in any part of the world,” Chavez said.
“I am not an ally of the FARC, I am not a friend of the FARC — but you know that I am not their enemy.”