In a diplomatic low point for the U.S., former President Jimmy Carter visited with terrorists in the Middle East last week. At a time when the Bush Administration is seeking to make some progress in Middle East peace negotiations, President Carter’s trip was, to say the least, not helpful and counterproductive to our national interests in the region. This week another high-level Democrat has engaged in diplomatic adventurism in the Western Hemisphere. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson made a trek to South America to meet with characters in Venezuela. As with former President Carter’s trip, Gov. Richardson’s timing was “impeccable” and may put at risk, not help, the safety of three American hostages held by a Colombian terrorist organization.
The FARC-People’s Army has held three Americans hostage since 2003 when a plane they were in went down in the Colombian jungle. The FARC murdered the pilot, American Thomas Janis, as well as a Colombian national, Luis Alcides Cruz. The State Department is offering up to $5 million for information leading to the apprehension or conviction of anyone involved in this terrorist act. It has also been working tirelessly to secure their release. As for the family members, this a very difficult situation and they deserve every ounce of support. Even more frustrating for them must be the fact that the mainstream media has paid little, if any, attention to this matter. If this were an abduction in another region of the world, the coverage would be much different.
It is not clear what Gov. Richardson promised family members before making this trip. One would hope it is not creating a false expectations that the Chavez regime would be able to secure the release of the hostages in the near future. Gov. Richardson told the media while in Venezuela that he was “cautiously optimistic that we can re-engage the hostage negotiation process.” After his meeting with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, Richardson told the waiting press that “[w]e started joking about who had the better curve ball,” referencing several U.S. ball players. Gov. Richardson also said that Chavez had agreed to assist in the effort to secure the release of the Americans. The true curve ball was the one served by Hugo Chavez to Gov. Richardson.
Ever since Colombia uncovered several computers owned by the FARC, the “Reyes Computers,” that included evidence that could link Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, and possibly others, to the FARC terrorists, leaders such as Hugo Chavez have become worried. The political theater at the Organization of American States (“OAS”) a few weeks ago notwithstanding, the Reyes Computers may finally provide concrete evidence of cooperation with terrorist organizations by Venezuela and possibly others. In Chavez’s case, in recent weeks, he has become uncharacteristically low-profile on this issue. As it plays into the Bolivarian Revolution, Chavez is a an ardent supporter of the FARC terrorism movement. Chavez uses the FARC as a check to its primary rival in the region, Colombia. Up until now, however, the latter argument went largely unsubstantiated and direct links between the two were mostly circumstantial. Not any more.
For quite some time now, the Bush Administration has taken notice of Venezuela’s political and other regional shenanigans. Not only have Reyes Computers allegedly uncovered financial links between the FARC and Venezuela, but the Colombian operation also uncovered that the FARC may have been dealing in the black market trade of uranium. These and other issues fuel reports that there is an executive inter-agency review process underway considering whether Venezuela should be added to the state sponsors of terrorism or terrorist havens list. Neighboring Ecuador, who has provided safe haven to the FARC alongside its border with Colombia, is reportedly also under inter-agency review for a haven designation. A report may be released as soon as this week.
In light of the aforementioned, Hugo Chavez has needed a public relations distraction and Gov. Bill Richardson, reportedly unwittingly, gave him one. The trip demonstrates a great naiveté about the FARC situation. The FARC is not about to give up one of its most powerful leverage points, American citizens, just because Hugo Chavez comes on bended knee asking for their release. Chavez knows that. The FARC has suffered some significant defeats during the past few years and our Americans only increase in value to them. Why would the FARC release them now? Given recent events in the region, if anything, Gov. Richardson’s trip may have further reinforced the latter to the FARC and put the American hostages in greater danger. Chavez knows that too.
With this visit, Chavez will find a way to exploit this situation to his advantage because he knows that Gov. Richardson does not represent the Bush Administration or the U.S. Government so what does he have to lose by engaging in gratuitous public relations? Chavez will also use it to beat up on Colombia some more. With Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) keeping the Colombia free trade agreement on life support, some say she has already pulled the plug, Chavez has every incentive to play the role of a faux peace mediator. Chavez does not want the FTA with Colombia to pass. Furthermore, he does not want Venezuela listed on a state sponsor of terrorism or haven list. Some say he does because it would fuel his ego, but the economic consequences of such a designation could be a distraction he just does not need right now. Chavez knows this all too well.
Nothing good will ever come from negotiating with the likes of Hugo Chavez, or other Latin American dictators such as Raul Castro in Cuba. These governments coddle and support terrorists, drug smugglers, money launderers, as well as regional criminal enterprises. Gov. Richardson’s trip only complicates U.S. interests in the Andean region and may put the lives of our hostages in more risk, not less.