Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez called for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to end its four-decade struggle to overthrow Colombia’s government. It is suprising, because just months ago, he called for Colombia’s largest guerilla group to be recognised as a legitimate insurgent force.
A day before president Chavez comments, Colombian authorities announced the capture in eastern Colombia of two Venezuelans, including one man identified as a Venezuelan national guard officer, carrying 40,000 AK-47 assault rifle cartridges. Colombians said the weapons were for use by the guerrilla group.
In recent weeks, Colombian officials have been accusing Venezuela’s government to have attempted to provide arms and financing to the FARC. Since the organisation has been classified by the European Union and the United States as a terrorist group, Venezuela might face economic sanctions if the claims are true.
“You in the FARC should know something”, said Chavez in the broadcast of his Sunday television program, during which he also called on the rebels to release dozens of hostages, including three American military contractors. “You have become an excuse for the empire to threaten all of us”, he said, talking about the United States.
Possible disintegration of the group
It was not clear whether the FARC would heed Chavez’s call or even respond to it. While Venezuela’s president is admired within the ranks of FARC as an iconic leftist leader, the FARC is better prepared than any rebel group in recent Latin American history to soldier on. Thanks to cocaine trafficking and ransoms given after abductions, they are able to finance their struggle.
As in the past year several senior commanders in the group have been killed, including their leader, Manuel Marulanda. Besides Colombian intelligence operatives have recently infiltrated the group’s top echelons.
“The guerrilla war is history”, said Hugo Chavez in his televised remarks. It might mean that he has been acknowledging the possible disintegration of the group.
“At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place”, he continued.
But his shift may also have been influenced by the possibility of political isolation. Initially, Venezuela rejected Colombia’s claim on Saturday, that one of the Venezuelans captured with the munitions cache was a military officer. But on Sunday Venezuelan officials softened their tone and said they were investigating.