The criminal investigation of twelve politicians and journalists for alleged guerrilla links could be an insurmountable hurdle for already difficult efforts to obtain the release of some 40 hostages held by the FARC.
Colombia’s chief prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, announced late Thursday that he would begin investigating nine people in four countries, including prominent politicians in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, for alleged links to guerrillas of the FARC.
Iguaran also asked Colombia’s Supreme Court to investigate three Colombian lawmakers, including Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has been leading the mediation effort. Her close relations with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez have made her persona non grata with many Colombians. Cordoba said the probe was “an attack on reason.”
Among those who Iguaran said he would investigate is Jim Jones, a Washington-based Latin America expert who has been working with Democrats in Congress in a bid to release FARC-held hostages, including the three Americans.
For family members of hostages, the announcement of the investigation was a difficult blow.
“This buries the process,” said Olga Lucia Gomez, director of Pais Libre, a nonprofit organization that keeps track of kidnappings and offers help to victims and their families. “Nobody will want to be a contact if they are accused of being criminals.”
The investigations stem from thousands of files recovered from computers belonging to Raul Reyes, the FARC’s No. 2 man, who was killed during a controversial cross-border raid in Ecuador in March. Since then, the Colombian government, basing its case on the files, has accused President Chavez of helping to finance and arm the FARC. The investigations would mark Colombia’s first attempt to use evidence found in the computers in a judicial process.
Also found in the guerrilla’s computers were at least two letters sent by Jones offering advice to the late Reyes. In one, he urged Reyes to stand firm in requesting the release of two FARC members imprisoned in the U.S. in exchange for three “gringo” U.S. contractors held by the FARC. “That’s just,” Jones’s letter says. “It must be so.”
In a statement, Jones called the investigation “totally ludicrous.” He said he was using his “cordial” decade-long relationship with the FARC – which dated from his days as a United Nations antidrug advisor – to obtain the release of some hostages the guerrillas are willing to exchange for guerrilla prisoners held in Colombian prisons.
Jones said he was neither a member of the FARC, nor did he approve of hostage taking and other FARC practices.
In Washington, Massachusetts Democratic Representative James McGovern, who has met with Jones in a search for an “interlocutor” with the FARC, said it was important that Colombian authorities differentiate “between people who communicate with the FARC for the purpose of getting a humanitarian accord and people who communicate with the FARC for the purpose of sending them arms.”
McGovern said the U.S. and Colombian governments had been fully briefed about efforts involving Jones to achieve the release of the hostages. These efforts, which involved Senator Cordoba, helped produce “proof of life” evidence of the three U.S. captives. In December and January, seven captives were released by the FARC, as well. A U.S. State Department official said Jones had never been briefed by the U.S. on the hostage situation, unlike other people involved in efforts to free the hostages.