U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND
HEADLINE NEWS FOR WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 2, 2008
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SOUTHCOM RELATED ARTICLES
1. Detainee Death At Guantanamo Rings Alarm
Source: Associated Press 01/02/2008
By Ben Fox
Several Guantanamo Bay prisoners are seriously ill, lawyers say, rejecting US claims after the
death of one prisoner that no other detainees are in immediate medical danger.
On Sunday, a 68-year-old Afghan died from cancer at the isolated US base in southeast Cuba,
heightening lawyers' concerns over clients held at Guantanamo for suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban links.
"Many attorneys are concerned," said H Candace Gorman, a Chicago lawyer whose Libyan client
held at the camp has Hepatitis B and tuberculosis.
At least four of the 275 men held at Guantanamo Bay are gravely ill and another has become
psychotic, lawyers told The Associated Press.
The death of Abdul Razzak at the prison clinic marked the first time any of the more than 700 men
who have been held at Guantanamo Bay has died from natural causes, the military said. Four prisoners
committed suicide. The US now holds about 275 men there.
The sick prisoners have ailments that include liver infection, heart disease and another possible
case of cancer, and lack adequate medical treatment, according to lawyers for the men.
Razzak was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in September and had been receiving chemotherapy
treatment since October, the military said. His death was expected, and he had been living in the clinic in
recent weeks as his condition deteriorated, said Navy Cmdr Rick Haupt, a spokesman for the Guantanamo
Haupt said he did not know if Razzak was allowed any final contact with family in Afghanistan
before he died.
US authorities accused Razzak, who had been held at Guantanamo since early 2003, of being a
senior leader of a 40-man Taliban unit - an allegation he denied. No charges were ever filed against him.
"There are so many ill people there - according to my client and clients of other attorneys - that it's
just a matter of time before someone else dies from this medical neglect," Gorman said.
Haupt said no other detainees are in any immediate medical danger. Military authorities have long
praised the medical care at Guantanamo - noting last year that they have performed more than 300
surgical procedures and treated hepatitis, battlefield wounds, tuberculosis, appendicitis, malnutrition and
"We go to significant lengths to provide every bit of medical care to the detainee population,"
The military brought a surgical team and a mobile cardiac lab to Guantanamo - at a cost to US
taxpayers of about $US400,000 ($A457,000) - for a heart procedure on Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani
businessman accused of supporting al-Qaeda.
Paracha refused the treatment. His lawyers insist it is too risky to allow the procedure to be done at
Guantanamo and want him transferred to a properly equipped cardiac care facility. In November, he said
his chest pain is so severe that "he is convinced he is dying," said Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer with the
British legal rights group Reprieve.
Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, also from Reprieve, said he has at least two seriously ill clients,
including Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for the Al-Jazeera TV network who is being evaluated by
doctors at Guantanamo after he complained of pain and blood in his urine. The lawyer said that cancer is a
possibility, but he does not know the results of the cameraman's latest examination.
Stafford Smith also said that another client, Ethiopian national Binyam Mohamed, is apparently
psychotic - engaging in such behaviour as smearing faeces on the walls of his cell.
Gorman said her client, Abdul Hamid Abdul Salam Al-Ghiszawi, has not been treated for his
hepatitis or tuberculosis and has developed a severe liver infection. In court papers, she said: "Al-
Ghiszawi is dying a slow and painful death."
Lawyers for a detainee from Yemen, Abdulkhaliq al Baidhani, say he has gone blind in one eye
and his sight is deteriorating in the other. Doctors at Guantanamo have told him he needs an operation to
save his eyesight, but military officials have not authorised the procedure and he fears he will be blind by
the time he leaves the prison.
2. Pentagon: Cancer Killed Guantanamo Detainee
Source: McClatchy Newspapers 01/31/2007
By Carol Rosenberg
MIAMI -- A long-held Afghan detainee that the U.S. military labeled "an experienced jihadist"
died of cancer at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay on Sunday.
The Pentagon's Miami outpost, which supervises the prison camps, issued a statement to announce
the death of Abdul Razzak, about 68, of Afghanistan.
If ongoing Navy Criminal Investigative Service probes of the earlier deaths of four captives
uphold initial findings of suicide, the Afghan's death of colon cancer would be the first of natural causes.
A doctor who briefed reporters in early December during a hospital tour at the prison camps
indicated that a captive had been diagnosed with some form of cancer and was being given chemotherapy.
But the physician did not indicate that death was weeks away.
Southcom said a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross was "present to
witness the care provided to the detainee prior to and at the time of death."
An autopsy was planned, but no independent criminal investigation.
"Abdul Razzak was assessed to be an experienced jihadist with command responsibilities and was
assessed to have had multiple links to anti-coalition forces," Southcom said in a statement, announcing the
death. "He was detained in Guantanamo as an enemy combatant."
Defense Department documents say he was born Jan. 1, 1939, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Military
officials have generally attributed a date of birth of Jan. 1 when a detainee did not know the precise date.
The Southcom statement said the colon cancer was discovered after the detainee complained of
abdominal pains in September. Chemotherapy began in October, it said.
At the prison camps, Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt said by telephone Sunday afternoon an autopsy
would be performed on the dead detainee, but the cause was clear. "It's colon cancer, and the death is
attributed to that cancer."
It was not clear Sunday whether the man's remains would be repatriated to Afghanistan for burial.
That decision would be made "sometime in the future," Haupt said.
He also said he did not know whether the man's family had been notified and whether there was
any effort to reach any relatives prior to his death.
"The government of Afghanistan has been notified," he said.
No investigation was planned, "because it was a medically-attended death," Haupt said. "Nothing
is suspect about this death."
Just last week the Pentagon sent 10 Saudi captives home from the remote prison camps, reducing
the detainee population to "approximately 275."
Haupt was unable to say Sunday whether the dead detainee had been the eldest in the prison
"We make every attempt to preserve life," he added. "We regret every loss of life. He was treated
3. Guantanamo Bay Detainee Dies Of Cancer
The Afghan native, 68, was accused of being a member of the Taliban. He is the prison's first inmate to
die of natural causes.
Source: Los Angeles Times 12/31/2007
By Carol J. Williams
MIAMI — A 68-year-old detainee from Afghanistan who was being held at the U.S. prison in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, died Sunday of cancer, a military spokesman said.
Abdul Razzak was the first of about 800 men jailed at Guantanamo Bay over the last six years to
die of natural causes. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in September after complaining of
abdominal pain, said Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a prison spokesman.
Razzak, whose age was estimated by the military when he arrived at the prison in 2003, had been
undergoing chemotherapy since October and was being held at the prison's medical center in recent days
because his condition had worsened, Haupt said.
A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is the only group allowed
by the military to observe prisoners, was present "to witness the care provided to the detainee prior to and
at the time of death," Haupt said.
The group is allowed to visit prisoners on the condition that its representatives do not disclose
information gleaned from the exchanges.
"The remains of the deceased are being treated with the utmost respect," Haupt said.\
He said the prison's cultural advisor on Islam was making sure that the remains were handled in a
religiously appropriate manner. He said an imam was en route to the base.
Razzak was the fifth detainee to die at Guantanamo Bay. The others committed suicide: two
Saudis and a Yemeni in coordinated hangings in June 2006 and a Saudi in May.
An autopsy will be performed before Razzak's remains are released to Afghan authorities, Haupt
The military said Razzak was a member of the Taliban and had fought against U.S. forces who
invaded Afghanistan four weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He was also accused, based on affidavits from anonymous witnesses, of commanding a Taliban
terrorist cell, helping run a terrorist training camp near his native Kandahar and participating in an
assassination plot against Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Razzak was arrested in Afghanistan in January 2003, and was brought to Guantanamo Bay the
At a November 2004 tribunal at the prison, the first formal examination of the military's
justification for his imprisonment, Razzak denied the claims against him and said he was living in exile in
Iran at the time of his alleged offenses.
The tribunal panel deemed Razzak an "enemy combatant," and two subsequent reviews of his case
supported continued detention.
But the panel's reports noted that an anonymous witness told U.S. forces that Razzak, a former taxi
driver, was the victim of mistaken identity.
4. US Says Guantanamo Prisoner Dies Of Cancer
Source: Reuters 12/30/2007
MIAMI, Dec 30 (Reuters) - An Afghan detainee has died from cancer at the prison camp at the
U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, authorities said on Sunday.
Abdul Razzak, 68, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for colorectal cancer, was
pronounced dead by a doctor at the base on Sunday morning, the U.S. military said in a statement.
He was the fifth prisoner to die in captivity since the detention and interrogation camp opened in
2002, Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a spokesman for the military's Joint Task Force Guantanamo, told Reuters.
The other four deaths at Guantanamo, which currently holds about 290 prisoners, were the result
of apparent suicides, according to the U.S. military.
The United States has drawn intense international criticism for holding foreign captives for years
without charge at its naval base in southeast Cuba.
Haupt said Razzak was detained in Afghanistan in January 2003 and was a "committed jihadist."
He did not elaborate except to say that Razzak, who would have turned 69 next month, was
accused of "actively engaging the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan." He had been held in Guantanamo
since January 2003, Haupt added.
"We make every attempt to preserve life here at Guantanamo and we regret any loss of life,"
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
5. Afghan Guantanamo Prisoner Dies Of Cancer: US Military
Source: Agence France-Presse 12/30/2007
MIAMI (AFP) — An Afghan suspect branded "an experienced jihadist" died of bowel cancer at
the US prison camp for "war on terror" detainees in Guantanamo Bay, the military said Sunday.
Abdul Razzak, aged about 68, was pronounced dead on Sunday morning after receiving
chemotherapy for cancer since October, a US military public affairs office in Miami said in a statement,
giving the cause as colorectal cancer.
"Abdul Razzak was assessed to be an experienced jihadist with command responsibilities and was
assessed to have had multiple links to anti-coalition forces," said the statement from the Miami base that
oversees the camp in Cuba.
"He was detained in Guantanamo as an enemy combatant, consistent with the international law of
Razzak was born in 1939, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.
His was the first confirmed case of death from natural causes at the prison. The deaths of three
captives in 2006 and another this year are being investigated after initial findings of suicide.
Guantanamo is home to about 275 detainees seized in various countries during the US "war on
terror" that was launched after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
It was not clear whether Razzak's remains would be sent back to Afghanistan, but the military said
the Afghan government had been notified.
"A cultural advisor and Imam are ensuring that the remains are handled in a culturally and
religiously appropriate manner," the military statement said.
6. Pentagon Sends 10 Saudis Home From Gitmo
Source: Miami Herald 12/29/2007
By Carol Rosenberg
The Pentagon has downsized the detainee population at Guantánamo again -- announcing Friday
evening that it had sent 10 presumably long-held captives home to Saudi Arabia.
The transfer mission reduced the captive census at the interrogation and detention center at the
U.S. Navy Base in southeast Cuba to ''approximately 275,'' a Defense Department statement said.
It was the latest in a year-plus series of releases from Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Kingdom where al
Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was born. Now, the largest single concentration of captives come from
Yemenis, bin Laden's ancestral homeland.
'The transfer is a demonstration of the United States' desire not to hold detainees any longer than
necessary,'' the Pentagon news release said, calling the release ``an unprecedented step in the history of
Under established Saudi procedures, the captives will be able to meet with their families but be
held for investigation and counseling and possible trial before being released into society.
The Pentagon did not name the men that were let go.
If Saudi officials follow past practice, they would likely identify them over the weekend on
official government websites.
The announcement came soon after former Australian captive David Hicks, 36, was released from
an Adelaide prison after the only conviction at a Guantánamo war court called a Military Commission.
The Saudi men had never been charged with any crimes and were instead held as ''enemy
combatants'' under procedures established by the Bush administration for indefinite detention of foreign
war-on-terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
Three Saudis have committed suicide inside the prison camp, which holds foreigners captured
around the world and shuttled to the remote U.S. base for interrogation for suspected of links to terrorism,
al Qaeda and the Taliban.
7. Guantanamo Convict Walks Free In Australia
Source: Reuters 12/29/2007
SYDNEY (Reuters) - The only Guantanamo Bay inmate convicted of terrorism offences,
Australian David Hicks, was released from prison on Saturday morning after spending over six years
behind bars, the majority in solitary confinement.
Hicks, 32, returned to Australia from the U.S. military prison on the island of Cuba in May after
pleading guilty to terrorism charges. He left prison in his hometown of Adelaide in south Australia.
Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and spent five years in Guantanamo before
becoming the first person to be sentenced under the alternate war crimes tribunals created by the Bush
administration to try non-American captives.
The former kangaroo skinner admitted training with al Qaeda and meeting its leader Osama bin
Laden, whom he described as "lovely", according to police evidence given to the court.
Media reports last week said Hicks was unprepared for freedom, suffered agoraphobia and had
retreated to solitary confinement in his Australian prison cell.
Hicks will still be subject to a strict control order which includes a midnight to dawn curfew. He
will not be allowed to leave Australia.
Under a plea bargain with U.S. military authorities, Hicks agreed to a gag order barring him from
talking about his experiences for a year, ending on March 26, while any money offered for interviews
could be confiscated under Australian law.
(Reporting by Fayen Wong; editing by Matthew Tostevin)
OTHER AOR RELATED ARTICLES
8. Chavez Accents Venezuela-Argentine Base
Source: Latin Press 12/29/2007
Caracas, Dec 28 (Prensa Latina) The joint Caracas-Buenos Aires pillar is an element of strength in
the movement to stop imperialism in the region, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday.
In his end of year greeting to the National Armed Forces, Chavez highlighted the support of
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez to the initiative of the Bank of the South.
The US government has been working for months to change intense fraternal relations Venezuela
has been building with Argentina, the president said.
Chavez ratified the socialist character of the new social project in Venezuela, with elements that
move the country to a national and democratic model.
He also assured the military that the Venezuelan government will work to improve the training
and equipment of the National Armed Forces.
"We don't plan to attack anybody, but no one should make a mistake with us, we will defend our
sovereignty," he stated.
He pointed out that Venezuela is a free country, forever, and that the people of Venezuela are
ready to die before seeing their country dragged at the feet of the oligarchy or the US government.
9. 2 Plead Not Guilty In Miami To Funneling Cash To Argentine Campaign
Source: New York Times 12/29/2007
By Alexei Barrionuevo
RIO de JANEIRO - Two of the four suspects accused of hiding the source of $800,000 in cash for
the campaign of Argentina's president have pleaded not guilty in United States District Court in Miami,
according to court papers.
Rodolfo Wanseele Paciello, a 40-year-old Uruguayan, pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of
conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent of Venezuela. Franklin Durán, a 40-year-old
Venezuelan, entered a not guilty plea on Thursday to the same charges.
Investigators say they believe that Mr. Duran helped orchestrate the Venezuelan government's
efforts to cover up its attempt in August to funnel the money to the campaign of the Argentine president,
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was elected Oct. 28.
Guido Antonini Wilson, the Venezuelan-American businessman who was caught with the
$800,000 in a suitcase on Aug. 4 in Buenos Aires, is wanted in Argentina on money laundering charges.
But he is currently in Florida, where he is cooperating with United States investigators, who have refused
Argentina's extradition request. The Argentine and Venezuelan governments have criticized the American
case as a foreign policy effort to drive a wedge between them.
Moisés Maionica, 36, and Carlos Kauffmann, 35, Venezuelan citizens in American custody, are
also charged in the case. They are to be arraigned Jan. 7. A fifth man, Antonio José Canchica Gómez, 37,
said to be an official in Disip, the Venezuelan intelligence service, is also charged in the complaint. He is
still at large.
If convicted on both charges, each of the five men faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
10. 'Political Motive' By U.S. Is Alleged
Source: El Nuevo Herald 12/29/2007
By Gerardo Reyes
The attorney for one of the men accused of being an unregistered Venezuelan agent in an alleged
cover-up involving a cash-stuffed suitcase that U.S. prosecutors say was bound for Argentine President
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's campaign maintains there's a ''political motive'' to the U.S. charges.
Attorney Edward Shohat, who represents Venezuelan businessman Franklin Durán, said his client,
who pleaded not guilty on Thursday, did nothing wrong. He said the charges against Durán ``strongly
suggests a possible political motive behind this case: to promote an international strategy on behalf of the
United States to embarrass [Hugo] Chávez's government.''
In the federal indictment, prosecutors allege that five illegal agents of the Venezuelan government
plotted in South Florida to pressure Key Biscayne businessman Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson to keep
silent about the source of the campaign donation -- the Chávez government. Antonini was caught with
almost $800,000 in a suitcase upon arrival on a chartered plane Aug. 4 at a Buenos Aires airport.
Shohat cited the recent scandal involving the firing of U.S. prosecutors who were not in line with
White House policies as part of the Bush administration's political motivations in the Antonini case.
''If my client hid the source of the money [confiscated from Antonini], that is not a crime in the
United States,'' Shohat told El Nuevo Herald after the hearing. ``Nor is it obstruction of justice, since there
are no charges on obstruction in the case.''
According to the federal charges, Durán had several meetings with his friend Antonini in South
Florida to urge him to collaborate with the Venezuelan government to hide the source of the $800,000 and
its intended destination.
Others accused of serving as Venezuelan agents are Venezuelan businessman Carlos Kauffmann,
attorney Moisés Maionica, Rodolfo E. Wanseele Paciello, a Uruguayan who lives in Florida, and Antonio
José Cánchica Gómez, a fugitive who is identified as a Venezuelan intelligence agent.
A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney's office in Miami told El Nuevo Herald that attorney Tom
Muvihill would not comment on the pending case.
Magistrate Andrea M. Simonton has scheduled a Jan. 7 hearing on charges facing Kauffmann and
11. Bolivian President Agrees To Talks With Opposition
Source: Reuters 12/31/2007
By Carlos Quiroga
LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales agreed on Saturday to meet with
opposition governors early in the New Year to seek a way out of a political crisis that threatens to split the
Five governors who are deeply opposed to Morales' reform agenda and want their regions to
receive more funds from his energy nationalization will meet with the president in the national palace in
La Paz on January 7.
Morales, two years into his five-year presidency, has pushed for a new constitution to give
indigenous communities more power and to allow the state to take over unproductive land holdings.
In response to the draft constitution approved by Morales allies in a national assembly, four
provinces declared themselves autonomous in mass public rallies in mid-December. Earlier, several
people had died in violent protests against the way the constitutional assembly conducted debate.
Morales, a close ally of the region's most outspoken leftist leader, Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez, said he would meet with all nine of the country's governors, including four who are allies.
"The president confirmed today that he will meet on January 7 with the nine governors, in a
dialogue with an open agenda with no conditions," government spokesman Alex Contreras told Reuters
Morales, an Aymara Indian who is the country's first leader of indigenous descent, is highly
popular in the Andean west of the country. But his initiatives have deepened old rivalries with the
lowland east -- an opposition stronghold that is home to the country's huge natural gas reserves.
The opposition governors will press Morales to direct some of the central government's windfall
from natural gas exports to local government. Government income has greatly increased since the 2006
energy nationalization, which forced foreign companies to pay much more of their profit to the state.
Morales' 2008 budget, which was passed in Congress despite opposition complaints, includes a
$310 per year pension for some 700,000 elderly people in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin
(Reporting by Carlos Quiroga; Translating by Fiona Ortiz; editing by Stuart Grudgings)
12. Brazil's Oil 'Blessing' Is No Energy Panacea
Source: Christian Science Monitor 12/31/2007
By Andrew Downie
São Paulo, Brazil - Brazil struck oil last month, and it was a true throw-your-hat-in-the-air,
whoopee, eureka discovery.
Buried under at least 3.7 miles of Atlantic Ocean, rock, and thick salt deposits, engineers
confirmed a reservoir of black gold containing up to 8 billion barrels, making it the biggest find anywhere
in the world this millennium.
The discovery by state-controlled oil company Petrobras had Brazilians giddy with excitement.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called Petrobras "a blessing from God," and his chief of staff declared
Brazil could now proudly rub shoulders with the world's major oil producers.
It was a landmark moment for a nation already blessed with more than its fair share of animals,
vegetables, and minerals. But it is not the answer to Brazil's energy problems, at least not in the short
term, experts say. Cautioning the politicians and nationalists to curb their enthusiasm, industry specialists
say Brazil must address infrastructure and planning issues before declaring its energy future secure.
"Brazil has oil, gas, biomass, hydropower," said Saturnino Sergio da Silva, vice president of the
São Paulo Federation of Industries (FIESP), the state's most important business organization. "If we
develop them then we won't have any problems. But Brazil has always lacked forward planning."
Brazil sees need to invest in energyBrazil recognizes it needs to invest in energy in order to ensure
supplies are available and economical enough to keep the country competitive and growing at a rate
predicted to be close to 5 percent per year over the next few years.
The government's Growth Acceleration Plan released last January envisages spending around
$154 billion on energy projects before 2010.
But the immediate challenges are what worry industry experts and the most pressing of them
involves not oil but gas.
"In the short term we have a gas shortage," said Marcio Pereira, an industry expert with Rio-based
energy consultancy firm PSR. "We don't have enough gas to supply industry, residences and cars as well
as thermoelectric plants. The situation is not dramatic but there is a yellow light."
Experts forecast energy shortagesA recent report by the Acende Brasil Institute, a private sector
energy think tank, warned that the shortage of gas and water could cause blackouts similar to those in
2001 and stunt growth and force up prices.
"We are going to be strongly dependent on rain in 2008," says Acende Brasil president Claudio
Sales. "There will be an increasing risk of rationing."
One alternative being implemented in São Paulo state is the use of bagasse, the remains of sugar
cane. São Paulo produces the majority of Brazil's sugar and ethanol and industrialists can triple the
amount of energy they get from bagasse by modernizing their sugar cane plants, says FIESP's da Silva.
Another medium-term solution could come from gas. A gas field producing an estimated 20
million cubic meters a day is scheduled to come online from the state of Espirito Santo by the end of next
year, and two years after that, fields in the Santos Basin are scheduled to pump an additional 15 million
cubic meters. Petrobras will also start buying Liquid Natural Gas on the spot market in 2009.
And then, as early as 2012, Brazil hopes to be pumping oil from the Tupi field it announced off
Rio de Janeiro last month.
The discovery is a major boon to a nation that last year declared itself self-sufficient in terms of
oil. The find greatly adds to its proven reserves of 14 billion barrels of oil and gas.
However, getting it to the surface is a long and expensive challenge. Although Petrobras is a world
leader in deep sea exploration, securing oil from such depths has never been done before.
The oil is below 2,000 meters of water and between 3,000 to 5,000 meters or rock. Drilling the
first test well took a whole year and cost $240 million, according to the company.
Today, Petrobras says it can drill an equivalent well in 60 days at a cost of $60 million. To
company directors that is a sign of its commitment.
But it does not convince skeptics.
"Petrobras has very little credibility," says Mr. Sales. "[It] has changed its plans for gas [multiple]
times over the last few years. You absolutely cannot believe what it says."
13. Foster Kid, Hostage Have Similarities
Source: El Nuevo Herald 01/02/2008
By Gonzalo Guillen
The 3-year-old boy who was abandoned at a government welfare agency for children more than
two years ago and whom authorities say may be the young hostage that leftist rebels had been claiming
they would release has a tragic history tied to Colombia's long guerrilla warfare.
Juan David Gómez Tapiero is the name under which the boy was registered when authorities
received him in June 2005 in San José del Guaviare, in southeastern Colombia. The boy, then 11 months
old, was dropped off at the welfare agency, known by the Spanish acronym ICBF, by a man who
identified himself as José Cristancio Gómez. The man told authorities the boy had been born on July 20,
2004, to the man's niece, 22-year old Marta Gómez Tapiero.
According to government documents, the boy arrived ''with signs of mistreatment'' and was
malnourished. The boy also had a broken left arm, diarrhea, paludism and leishmaniasis -- a parasitic
disease -- the records indicate.
The ICBF turned the child over to a human-rights activist, José Alberto Cuta, who was later slain,
his throat reportedly slashed.
The child was then sent to a foster-care program in San Vicente.
While in government care, the boy recovered from most of his ailments, except for the arm.
That injury is what apparently has led authorities to believe the boy is really Emmanuel, who was
reportedly born of a relationship between his kidnapped mother Clara Rojas and one of her captors.
Emmanuel allegedly suffered an arm injury that is similar to Juan David's during his birth in the jungle.
Another thing that led the Colombian government to believe Juan David may be Emmanuel is that
he was born in the same region where authorities think Rojas was being held when she gave birth.
Juan David was sent to live with foster parents in Bogotá in 2005. He has since received
successful reconstructive surgery on his injured arm.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said DNA tests of Rojas' family were needed to prove or
dismiss his government's ''hypothesis.'' On Tuesday, a team of Colombian authorities and medical experts
traveled to Caracas to conduct tests among relatives, who have been gathered there to await the reunion
with the captives.
Results are expected within days.
The only person who is no longer in rebel custody who has reportedly seen Emmanuel is a police
official named Frank Pinchao, who escaped from the same rebel encampment where Emmanuel and his
mother were held. He has described a similar injury on Emmanuel's arm as that allegedly suffered by the
boy in foster care.
Emmanuel's mother, 44-year-old Rojas, and former Congresswoman Consuelo González, 57, were
kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, more than five years ago. The two
women were supposed to be released in the past few days, along with the boy. But negotiations fell apart
Monday and the rebels have not handed over any hostages.
In addition to the arm injury, Pichao also has described disturbing conditions in which captives are
held, some of which could lead to the ailments diagnosed in the boy who was turned over to authorities in
San Vicente two years ago. Some 3,000 citizens are currently held captive in rebel hideouts in various
parts of Colombia's jungle.
Colombian authorities said that the man who initially dropped off Juan David to caretakers in San
José del Guaviare recently returned to reclaim the boy, saying that he was really his father. The man has
since disappeared and authorities believe he ran away to escape death threats by the FARC if he does not
return the boy he handed over to caretakers in 2005.
14. Colombia: Child Born To Hostage Is Not With FARC
Officials Say Boy Was Put in Foster Care
Source: Washington Post 01/02/2008
By Juan Forero
BOGOTA, Colombia, Jan. 1 -- A 3 1/2 -year-old boy whom Marxist rebels pledged to include in a
hostage release that collapsed Monday is not in their hands, and has almost certainly been living in a
foster care program in Bogotá, Colombian officials said in interviews on Tuesday. They believe they have
located the boy and are conducting DNA tests to confirm his identity.
In an intricate operation overseen by Venezuela, helicopters from that neighboring country were to
have picked up the boy, his hostage mother and another female prisoner in the jungle and flown them to
Venezuela. But anguished families who have waited as long as six years to see their loved ones freed
were instead shattered as the mission unraveled.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, blamed government military operations
in the area for the failure of the long-negotiated release. But Colombian officials questioned how the
release could have gone forward at all, saying they had learned that the boy, born in captivity to hostage
Clara Rojas, had passed out of rebel hands in 2005.
An emissary working for the rebels turned over the boy, named Emmanuel, to child protective
services in the isolated town of San Jose del Guaviare in 2005, two senior officials said Tuesday. From
there, he apparently wound up with a foster family in Bogotá, his real identity unknown to anyone, the
The astonishing twist in a saga that captivated Colombia before the Christmas holidays began to
go public Monday when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe flew to the operation's staging area in the
town of Villavicencio. The rescue attempt, mediated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, drew
prominent observers to Villavicencio, including filmmaker Oliver Stone and former Argentine president
Uribe, known for his intense hostility toward the FARC, publicly accused the rebels of reneging
on their pledge to liberate the three hostages because the group did not have control of the boy.
"When the FARC began to say that they were not turning over the hostages, supposedly because
of military operations, when we had done everything possible within our reach to facilitate the hand over,
we saw that the FARC was trying to fool Chavez, the international community and us," said Defense
Minister Juan Manuel Santos in a telephone interview.
The FARC, responding on its de facto Web site, denied that the boy was not in its care and said
the government had launched a "ball of smoke" to divert attention from the real reason for the operation's
collapse: Uribe's intransigence.
The Uribe administration said it is hoping to scientifically match DNA from the boy, who is being
closely guarded by child protection authorities in Bogotá, with samples from the family of Clara Rojas, a
kidnapped politician who is believed to have given birth in a rebel camp in 2004. A rebel commander is
reportedly the father.
On Tuesday, a special team was dispatched to Caracas to take DNA samples from Clara Gonzalez
de Rojas, mother of Clara Rojas, and the prisoner's brother, Ivan Rojas. They and other relatives of the
hostages have been in the Venezuelan capital since last week, awaiting the release of their loved ones.
DNA samples are also being sought from other relatives of the boy, said Santos, who said that authorities
hoped for a clear match within a few days with samples from the boy found in Bogotá.
"We don't lose anything by doing this," Ivan Rojas told reporters in Caracas on Tuesday. "Why
would we put things in doubt?"
Last year, the boy's existence received broad news coverage in Colombia and beyond after a
policeman, Jhon Frank Pinchao, escaped from a FARC camp and spoke of how he had been with Rojas
and her newborn son in 2004. He said the boy was named Emmanuel. The guerrilla group received
widespread condemnation for holding a child prisoner.
On Dec. 18, it announced it would hand over three hostages to Venezuela's government: Consuelo
Gonzalez, a former congresswoman held since 2001; Rojas, a politician kidnapped in 2002; and the boy.
The FARC pledge prompted hope that the group, which has more than 750 hostages, including
three U.S. Defense Department contractors, was prepared to make other unilateral releases.
The pledge came shortly after the Uribe government had terminated an effort by Venezuela to
mediate the release of prisoners. Colombia approved the renewed role for Chavez, and he began
orchestrating a complex operation in which Venezuelan helicopters would fly deep into rebel territory to
pick up the hostages.
But Santos and another senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said
Tuesday that military intelligence and infiltrators into the rebel group determined that while Chavez was
overseeing the preparations, the FARC was frantically trying to locate Emmanuel. The FARC is widely
dispersed and has a decentralized command.
The guerrilla leaders who offered to give up the boy may not have realized they no longer had
him, the Colombian officials said. Or they may have thought they could quickly recover him.
The guerrillas began accusing the Colombian military of launching operations, which Santos and
the other senior official denied.
After the government received a tip about the boy's real whereabouts, authorities began to go
through the records of about 100 children who had been turned over to child protection services in
southern Colombia in 2005. They quickly narrowed their search to three boys and, by Friday, felt that
they had located Emmanuel, now bearing a different name.
Santos and the other official said the boy they found had suffered an injury at birth, the same kind
of injury that the escaped police officer reported Emmanuel had suffered. The boy had burn marks on one
hand, a wound that Emmanuel also had. He also had suffered from jungle maladies, including malaria and
leishmaniasis, which are unheard of in this chilly capital 8,000 feet above sea level.
"The coincidences are many," Santos said. "When we saw that the information coincided, well that
gives us a certain level of confidence that the hypothesis that they didn't have the boy was true." The
defense minister also said that the man who turned the boy over to authorities in 2005, whom he identified
as Jose Gomez, had gone back to child protection authorities in recent days to try to retrieve the boy.
On Tuesday morning, the officials said, Gomez confessed to prosecutors in San Jose del Guaviare
that the FARC had turned the boy over to him in 2005. Claiming to be the uncle of the boy's mother, he
had then given the boy to authorities.
The Colombian government's account at first irked the Venezuelan government. But after
receiving details Tuesday, Chavez struck a more conciliatory tone, wishing Uribe a happy holiday and
calling for the two to work together for peace in Colombia.
15. Uribe's Claim Scuttles Hostage Release
Source: Miami Herald 01/01/2008
By Gonzalo Guillen and Alejandra Labanca
The plan to secure the release of three hostages held by Marxist rebels crumbled on Monday after
President Alvaro Uribe said that intelligence information suggests that the youngest of the captives -- a 3-
year-old boy -- may have been released more than two years ago and living with a foster family.
The revelation came amid Venezuela's accusations that Uribe's government had been interfering
with the hand-over plan, dubbed "Operation Emmanuel," after the alleged captive toddler.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez -- who is serving as the key mediator between the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Colombian government -- said he received a
letter from the rebels saying that military operations in the jungle region where they are hiding the
hostages made the hand-off impossible.
Uribe dismissed the FARC claim as a lie, saying his government would permit a cease-fire
corridor to let the rebels turn over the long-held captives.
"The FARC terrorist group doesn't have any excuse," Uribe said from the central Colombian city
of Villavicencio, which had served as the base for coordination efforts. `They've fooled Colombia and
now they want to fool the international community."
In a surprising twist to the already complex saga, Uribe also said that Colombian intelligence
reports suggest that Emmanuel, the boy supposedly born from a relationship between his hostage mother
and a guerrilla fighter, had been abandoned at a government children welfare agency in San José del
Guaviare and was currently living in a foster home in Bogotá.
Colombia's top peace negotiator, Luis Carlos Restrepo, also read official documents to the press
Monday, asserting that the boy believed to be Emmanuel was 11 months old and malnourished when he
was brought to children services in June 2005 by a man named Juan Crisanto Gómez. The man told
authorities the boy had been born on July 20, 2004 to the man's niece, 22-year old Marta Gómez Tapiero.
The government did not say why they suspect the boy is the son of Clara Rojas, the kidnapped politician
who is supposed to have given birth to Emmanuel.
The international Red Cross confirmed Uribe's claim that his government informed the
humanitarian organization of the child's existence over the weekend, The Associated Press reported.
Uribe said that DNA samples from Rojas' relatives could confirm the identity of the boy in foster
Chávez replied that he would relay the proposal to Clara de Rojas, Clara Rojas' mother. But he
expressed mistrust, saying Uribe was trying to thwart the release.
"Personally, I have reasons to doubt. Why precisely today, in Villavicencio, does the president
make public a theory that the FARC are not holding Emmanuel?," said Chávez on state television,
according to The AP.
A dozen international observers -- who had been waiting for days to be part of the mission to
retrieve Rojas, 44, her son Emmanuel and Consuelo González, 57 -- left Villavicencio on Monday.
"Shame on Colombia, shame on Uribe," Oliver Stone, the American filmmaker, told The AP
shortly before boarding one of three Venezuelan jets carrying the observers back to Caracas.
Rojas and González, both former politicians, were kidnapped by the FARC more than five years
ago. Kidnappings have been used by the rebels as a form of intimidation and to fund their almost half a
century old insurgency.
In Caracas, the wait for relatives of the captives dragged on. Chávez had them flown in for a
reunion after announcing the planned release last Thursday and expressing optimism that the matter
would be resolved by Monday.
The FARC initially suggested that three hostages would be released on Dec. 18, when the group
issued a communique to the press. The proposed release was widely seen as a good-will gesture toward
Chávez, an ideological ally who last month was told by Uribe to butt out of the hostage negotiations.
The move seemed designed by the rebels to undermine their enemy, Uribe, and boost Chávez,
whose close ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his project for a socialist Venezuela have been praised
by the guerrillas.
While Chávez adorned choppers in Red Cross insignia -- a requirement imposed by Uribe's
government -- and dispatched them under heavy media attention, Uribe seemed all but sidelined. He had
been out of public sight for the past week, spending the holidays at his ranch in northern Colombia.
Edge For Uribe?
That changed Monday, when Uribe flew to Villavicencio donning a cowboy hat and made the
shocking announcement about the boy. If Emmanuel is confirmed to have been released two years ago,
Uribe would have masterfully deactivated a key player in Chávez's media campaign: without the boy, the
operation appears much less dramatic.
The collapse of the hand-over plan would also undermine Uribe's critics, who blame the lack of
progress on the president's hard-line approach to the talks. Uribe has always said that he wants to talk to
the rebels, but that the process has been hampered by the rebels' negotiating tactics.
"This is working in Uribe's direction. Uribe would be buoyed by Chávez's failure if he does not get
the release of the hostages," said Peter Hakim, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think
tank. ``This also tends to confirm what Uribe has been saying, in the sense that it is difficult to deal with
The unfolding drama is being closely watched by the families of three American contractors held
hostage since 2003 by the FARC. Relatives of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt --
kidnapped at the same time as Rojas, her running mate -- also have been following the negotiations.
Betancourt has become the symbol of the plight of about 3,000 citizens held by the guerrillas for
years in the Colombian jungle, where they control a territory about the same size as France.
The world got a glimpse of Betancourt's life as a captive when a video of her looking gaunt and
depressed -- a ghost of the energetic and joyful woman she once was -- surfaced last month.
In an accompanying letter to her mother, Betancourt wrote: ``Here, we are living like the dead."
El Nuevo Herald correspondent Gonzalo Guillen reported from Colombia. Miami Herald staff
writer Alejandra Labanca wrote from Miami with contributions from translator Renato Perez.
16. Charges Fly Over Failure To Release 3 In Colombia
Source: New York Times 01/01/2008
By Alexei Barrionuevo
RIO de JANEIRO - A Venezuelan-led mission to release three hostages held by a Colombian
rebel group seemed to be breaking down late Monday, with the Colombian government and the rebels
accusing each other of sabotaging the operation.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who has been negotiating the hostages' freedom, read a
statement from the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, in
which the guerrillas accused the government of President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia of not meeting the
security conditions agreed upon to free the hostages.
Mr. Chávez, who had gathered an international cast of diplomats and even the film director Oliver
Stone to observe the operation, said Mr. Uribe had sabotaged his rescue plan. On Monday, diplomats
from seven countries who had come for the transfer were starting to leave the staging area, including
Néstor Kirchner, Argentina's former president, and the French ambassador to Venezuela, said Luis Alvis,
the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia.
"Uribe went to dynamite the third phase of this operation," Mr. Chávez said, referring to Mr.
Uribe's arrival on Monday at the staging area for the transfer. He vowed that "the operation will
continue," adding that efforts to secure the hostages' freedom were "ongoing."
Mr. Uribe, meanwhile, went on Colombian state television to offer a hypothesis for the rebels'
failure to provide, as anticipated, the exact location of the hostages, who could be anywhere in the jungle
wilderness that the rebel group controls, an area the size of France.
The Colombian president suggested that the rebels had lied about having one of the three hostages,
a boy named Emmanuel who was born in captivity to a guerrilla fighter and thought to be 3 or 4 years old.
Mr. Uribe said the child might in fact be in the hands of social service workers in Bogotá, Colombia's
Jenny Carolina González contributed reporting from Bogotá.
17. Hostage Rescue In Colombia Collapses
Source: Associated Press 01/01/2008
By Toby Muse
A Venezuelan-led mission to rescue three hostages, including a 3-year old boy, from leftist rebels
in Colombia's jungles fell apart Monday as the guerrillas accused Colombia's military of sabotaging the
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe dismissed the claim as a lie by the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia, or FARC, instead suggesting the guerrillas could be backing out of the deal brokered
by President Hugo Chavez because they don't have the boy hostage.
"The FARC terrorist group doesn't have any excuse. They've fooled Colombia and now they want
to fool the international community," Uribe said from the central Colombian city where Venezuela
helicopters have been waiting since Friday for word from the guerrillas on where the hostages could be
Uribe made the shocking suggestion that the guerrillas "don't dare to keep their promises because
they don't have the boy, Emmanuel" - who the FARC announced two weeks ago they would free along
with his mother, Clara Rojas, and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez.
Uribe said his government had given Venezuela and the international Red Cross coordinating the
mission every guarantee that its military would not obstruct the handover, even promising to create a
cease-fire corridor to allow the rebels to escort their hostages through the France-sized jungles to the
Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and observers from France, Switzerland and four
leftist Latin American governments abandoned Villavicencio on Monday, saying only in a terse statement
they would "continue their mission" once all conditions for the hostages' release were met.
"Shame on Colombia, shame on Uribe," Oliver Stone, the American filmmaker, told The
Associated Press shortly before boarding one of three Venezuelan jets carrying the observers back to
Caracas. Stone, who was invited by Chavez to document the handover, added "the FARC have no motive
not to release these hostages."
Uribe said a 3-year old child named Juan David Gomez, matching the description of Emmanuel
provided by escaped hostages and suffering from malnutrition, malaria and jungle-born leishmaniasis,
may have been living for the past two and a half years with at a foster home in Bogotá.
The child was turned over in the eastern city of San Jose del Guaviare, a FARC stronghold, in
2005 by a man who said he was the boy's great uncle and who now claims to be his father. The boy's
mother was reported as disappeared, according to the child welfare agency case file read to journalists by
peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo.
The Colombian leader said only DNA tests were required to prove or disprove "this hypothesis" -
which he said could be done as soon as the boy's grandmother returns from Caracas, where she was
awaiting the handover of her daughter and grandson.
The international Red Cross confirmed Uribe's claim that his government informed the
humanitarian organization of the child's existence two days ago.
"We were asked to keep this confidential and for the protection of the child, we respected the
government's request," said Red Cross spokesman Yves Heller.
Chavez welcomed the hostages' relatives to the presidential palace on New Year's Eve.
"Nothing has finished," he told reporters. "We always said it was a process with many risks. ...
The operation hasn't been stopped."
Chavez said he hasn't eliminated the possibility the guerrillas will still give the coordinates to pick
up the hostages. "We have a channel open with the FARC," he said.
If Uribe happens to be right about the boy, "the FARC will have to explain to the world," Chavez
Chavez said Uribe's offer of a demilitarized "corridor" doesn't make sense because it's unclear
exactly where it was stretch between.
"Uribe is lying," Chavez said, accusing him of "going today to Villavicencio to place a bomb" on
Speaking earlier on state television, Chavez said the rebels wrote in a letter that "the military
operational attempts in the zone impede us for now from turning over" the three hostages.
The FARC letter said "insisting on (a handover) in these conditions would be putting at risk" the
lives of hostages and guerrillas.
The FARC are holding 44 high-profile hostages - including three American defense contractors
and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
The U.S.-allied Uribe has used some $600 million in annual military and intelligence aid from
Washington to push the half-century-old insurgency deeper into the jungle.
Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Bogotá, Colombia and Jorge Rueda and Ian James in
Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.
18. Colombian Hostage Rescue Deal Crumbles
Source: Reuters 01/01/2008
By Nelson Bocanegra
VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (Reuters) - A delicate mission to free three hostages held by
Colombian guerrillas appeared to collapse on Monday as the government and rebel leaders accused each
other of trying to kill the deal.
The Venezuela-led plan to pick up two women hostages and a child born to one of them in
captivity has been repeatedly delayed since last Thursday and rebel leaders said intense army operations
in the jungle region made it impossible for now.
"In these conditions it would put in grave risk the lives of these people to free them," the rebels
said in a letter sent to Venezuela's left-wing President Hugo Chavez, who had negotiated the deal for the
release of the three hostages.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, promised earlier this month to deliver
the three to Chavez, and he sent two helicopters deep into Colombia last Friday to pick them up.
Chavez read out the FARC's letter explaining its failure to hand over the hostages, and he accused
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of sabotaging his rescue plan.
"Uribe went to dynamite the third phase of this operation," Chavez said, adding that independent
reports also pointed to an intensification of Colombian military activity in the area.
Chavez said foreign envoys, including former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who are in
Colombia to help the mission should now return home, although he also vowed to continue working for
the hostages' release.
Uribe, a conservative who has clashed repeatedly with Chavez, denied military operations had
prevented the handover.
"The FARC terrorist group has no excuses. They have always used excuses to deceive Colombia
and now they want to deceive the international community. They are lying," he said in the central city of
Villavicencio, where the Venezuelan helicopters waited to be dispatched for the handover.
He offered, however, to halt army patrols in an area designated by the FARC once they reveal the
location of their captives.
The three hostages are Consuelo Gonzalez, Clara Rojas and her son Emmanuel, who was fathered
by a rebel fighter and is thought to be four years old.
Born In Rebel Camp
Uribe, whose father was killed by rebels, suggested the FARC may no longer even have Rojas's
son, saying a child fitting his description was turned over to child welfare authorities and is living in the
capital city Bogotá. He said the child showed marks of torture.
Rojas was kidnapped during her 2002 vice presidential campaign and Gonzalez, a former
lawmaker, was taken in 2001.
In its letter to Chavez, the FARC said it was still committed to handing over the hostages.
"As soon as we can find a place that offers us security, we will be in touch to reactivate the
mechanisms that will make possible the safe return of Clara, Emmanuel and Consuelo," it said.
Chavez, a fierce critic of the United States, had earlier speculated that radio interference by U.S.
forces deployed in Colombia to back its war against the FARC and drug traffickers could be to blame.
Colombia is suspicious of Chavez and his dream of uniting South America under socialism but it
last week agreed to let him fly helicopters marked with the Red Cross symbol deep into its territory to
collect the hostages.
The FARC's promise to release the three hostages had raised hopes for a broader deal to free other
high-profile captives, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans, in
exchange for jailed rebels.
Villavicencio is a gateway to Colombia's sparsely populated southern jungles, where the FARC
controls areas used to produce the cocaine that funds its insurgency. The group is holding more than 700
hostages for ransom and political leverage.
(Additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein in Bogotá and Frank Jack Daniel in Caracas; Editing by
19. Colombian Hostage Release Stalls Indefinitely
Source: Agence France-Presse 01/01/2008
By Alexander Martinez
VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (AFP) - Colombian rebels Monday said they would not now be
able to release three hostages as planned, accusing the Colombian government of failing to guarantee the
The release of two women held for more than five years in the Amazon jungle, and a three-year-
old boy born in captivity, hit a new snag Monday after days of frantic preparations.
"Intense military operations in the zone make it impossible now" to release the three, the Marxist
FARC rebels said in a statement read by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been spearheading
the delicate mission.
"To continue under these conditions would endanger the lives of the people to be released, the
other prisoners of war and the guerrillas carrying out this mission," the rebel statement added.
Helicopters have been on stand-by here since Friday awaiting word to fly into the jungle to pick
up Clara Rojas, her son Emmanuel born in captivity, and former lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez.
Chavez said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, one of the world's oldest insurgencies,
had called for a "real ceasefire" before letting the hostages go.
But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe denied reports of fighting and said Bogotá had agreed to
open a safe corridor for the mission, which is operating under the auspices of the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"We were asked to establish a kind of strategic corridor. We accept this," Uribe said, adding "there
has not been any fighting in this area."
Uribe, who arrived in this Colombian city earlier Monday to meet international observers taking
part in "Operation Emmanuel," stressed his government had provided all the security guarantees that were
"What has the attitude of the FARC been? One of lies, and cheating," Uribe said in a speech
shown on television, accusing the rebels of deliberately delaying the hostages' release.
Gonzalez and Rojas were snatched in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Rojas was a top aide to Franco-
Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was seized at the same time and was not due to
be released with the others.
But Uribe raised the possibility the rebels could not complete the handover of the hostages as they
were no longer holding the little boy.
"The FARC can't keep the promise to free the hostages because they no longer have the child,
Emmanuel, in their power," Uribe said, suggesting instead that a boy found in July 2006 in southeast
Colombia was Emmanuel -- he was being cared for in a children's home in Bogotá.
Uribe proposed that DNA tests be carried out on the child and Emmanuel's grandmother to see if
they were related.
The FARC has been fighting to overthrow the government for decades and holds hundreds of
hostages including Betancourt and three US contractors whose plane was shot down in 2003.
The hostage handover had been due to take place in the 310,000-square-kilometer (120,000-
square-mile) wilderness of central and southeastern Colombia, where there are few roads but numerous
landing strips used by drug traffickers.
20. Rocket Attack In Colombia Increases Tensions
Source: Miami Herald 12/31/2007
By Toby Muse
A Venezuelan-led mission to retrieve three rebel-held hostages was stalled amid conflict and
tension on Sunday after a rocket narrowly missed an air force cargo plane as it landed in southern
Air Force chief Gen. Jorge Ballesteros said about 50 soldiers were aboard the Hercules transport
plane when unknown assailants fired on it from a nearby soccer stadium in the city of Neiva, in a region
long besieged by leftist rebels who dominate its coca-growing countryside.
The rocket landed about 150 feet away from the plane and did not cause any injuries or damage,
Ballesteros said. Authorities were investigating the incident.
The latest attack added to the nervous climate surrounding the hostage release, which appeared
unlikely to be completed Sunday as originally promised by the Venezuelans.
About 130 miles northeast of Neiva, helicopters sent by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez sat
idle for a third consecutive day on the edge of Colombia's vast jungles, waiting for guerrillas to name the
spot where they will hand over the three hostages: former congresswoman Consuelo González, Clara
Rojas and her 3-year old son Emmanuel, who was fathered by one of her guerrilla captors.
American filmmaker Oliver Stone and observers from France, Switzerland and six Latin American
countries anxiously awaited the arrival as early as Sunday of Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, a former Chávez
interior minister and coordinator of the mission.
''I guarantee this is going to take place successfully in the coming days, which day, I don't know,''
Chacín said in Caracas before meeting with hostages' relatives.
``All I'm waiting for are the coordinates to be able to relocate to Colombia.''
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, vowed weeks ago to free the women,
who've been held captive for six years, to Chávez in appreciation for his efforts to broker a wider swap of
44 high-profile hostages, including three American defense contractors, for hundreds of jailed rebels.
Conservative Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended those efforts last month, but hostages'
family members have urged Chávez on, saying he is the only intermediary capable of breaking a
The two sides have not held face-to-face talks since Uribe took power in 2002.
Uribe has instead used about $600 million in annual military and intelligence aid from
Washington to push the half-century-old insurgency deeper into the jungle.
His offensive hasn't entirely clipped the guerrillas' ability to deliver a surprise, lethal attack --
especially in its France-size jungle stronghold that spreads east from Neiva.
Last week another rocket was fired on a caravan carrying the city's pro-government mayor, Cielo
González -- the fourth attempt on his life blamed on leftist rebels.
In February 2003, an explosion next to the Neiva airport killed 18 on the eve of a visit by Uribe.
21. Colombia Rebels Keep Hostages And Chavez Waiting
Source: Reuters 12/31/2007
By Hugh Bronstein
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Marxist rebels kept hold of three hostages in Colombia on Monday despite a
deal to free them after years in secret camps, worrying Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez who
negotiated the handover with the guerrillas.
First scheduled for Thursday of last week, the mission to free two Colombian politicians and a
child born to one of them in captivity has been postponed from day to day as the rebels have failed to
divulge their whereabouts.
Early this month, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said it would hand the
long term hostages over to Chavez or one of his envoys.
Venezuela sent helicopters to neighboring Colombia to pick up the captives but nothing has been
heard from the four-decade-old rebel army since then about where it is keeping Consuelo Gonzalez, Clara
Rojas and her son Emmanuel, who was fathered by a guerrilla fighter and is thought to be four years old.
Chavez warned over the weekend that the mission may be scuttled if it cannot be carried out in the
days to come.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is helping coordinate the mission, late on
Sunday called on the FARC to cooperate.
"This is an exclusively humanitarian call ... for the FARC to divulge the coordinates as soon as
possible," Barbara Hintermann, head of the Red Cross in Colombia, told reporters.
Rough terrain and bad weather in the jungle stronghold where the hostages are thought to be held
might be to blame for the delay, said Chavez, a fierce critic of the United States who also speculated that
U.S. radio interference could to be blame.
'Nerves Of Steel'
Last week Piedad Cordoba, a Colombian senator involved in the hostage talks, said Colombian
army movements could threaten the relief mission.
Rojas was nabbed by the guerrillas during her 2002 vice presidential campaign and Gonzalez, a
former lawmaker, was taken in 2001.
Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the handover might not happen for days. He
called for patience and "nerves of steel."
Family members of the captives are waiting in Venezuela to be reunited with them. In television
interviews the families said they remained hopeful the hand-over would happen soon.
Colombia's conservative government is wary of Chavez and his goal of uniting South America
under socialism. But it has let him fly Venezuelan helicopters marked with the Red Cross symbol deep
into its territory to collect the hostages.
Foreign envoys arrived in the central Colombian town of Villavicencio on Saturday to observe the
mission. Among them were former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, officials from France and
Switzerland and U.S. film director Oliver Stone, who is making a documentary about Latin America.
Villavicencio is a gateway to Colombia's sparsely populated southern jungles, where the FARC
controls areas used to produce the cocaine that funds its insurgency. The group is holding more than 700
hostages for ransom and political leverage.
The mission is being closely watched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who believes it could
lead to freeing other high-profile captives, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, in
exchange for jailed guerrillas.
The rebels also hold three American anti-drug contractors captured in 2003.
(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Vicki Allen)
22. Colombia Hostage Release Fraught With Delays
Source: Agence France-Presse 12/31/2007
By Alexander Martinez
VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (AFP) - Efforts to pick up three hostages deep in the Colombian
jungle suffered another delay Sunday as their Marxist rebel captors had not named a spot for the
handover, an envoy said.
"We still don't know where in Colombia the liberation of the three hostages will take place," said
Venezuelan ex-interior minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, chief go-between in talks to free the captives,
after a confusing series of false starts for the mission.
The operation to retrieve the hostages has advanced in fits and starts as a Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC) patrol makes its way cautiously through the jungle with the hostages --
among them a three-year-old boy -- and international envoys wait for them to give coordinates for the
Rodriguez urged patience, saying he was confident the handover would take place "very soon."
"Everything is ready," he told reporters in Caracas. "But it must be understood that the (FARC) patrol
accompanying the hostages has to take precautions."
Once the handover is complete, he said, "it's likely military actions will resume. The guerrillas
should also expect that and prepare their retreat strategy and take all the security measures they need.
"That takes some time."
The rebels have been fighting against the government for decades and hold hundreds of hostages.
Rodriguez was expected later Sunday at an airport in the town from which the final rescue mission
will take off -- Villavicencio, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Bogota.
Two helicopters sent by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has spearheaded the operation
under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have been on standby in this
central Colombian town since Friday.
The operation would free former lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, 57; Clara Rojas, 44
and her three-year-old son Emmanuel, born to a rebel in captivity.
Gonzalez and Rojas were snatched in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Rojas was a top aide to Franco-
Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was seized at the same time and remains in
The handover was to take place in the 310,000-square-kilometer (120,000-square-mile) wilderness
of central and southeastern Colombia, where there are few roads but numerous landing strips used by drug
Colombian officials told Venezuela that they had until 6:59 pm (2359 GMT) Sunday to pick up
the hostages. However Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, later suggested
that the deadline was flexible.
Around 15 members of the hostages' families have travelled to Caracas, where Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez is expected to deliver the three after they are released.
A team of international observers from Caracas, meanwhile, arrived Saturday at Villavicencio to oversee
The delegation includes former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, representatives from Bolivia,
Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador France and Switzerland as well as US filmmaker Oliver Stone.
The foreign guests spent the night at a compound specially set up by the Colombian government.
"Operation Emmanuel" -- named after the boy born in captivity -- has taken months of delicate
negotiations between Chavez, the Colombian government and the FARC rebels.
The Marxist group announced on December 18 it would release the two women and the child to
Chavez or his representative, in its first hostage release in more than five years.
It comes after months of failed negotiations between FARC and the Uribe government to swap 45
high-profile hostages for some 500 imprisoned guerrillas.
Those hostages include three US contractors whose plane was shot down in 2003 as it conducted
drug surveillance operations, as well as Colombian mayors, governors, legislators, and military officers.
23. Explosions On Colombian Army Base Kill 2
Source: Associated Press 12/30/2007
A series of explosions ripped through an army base in the Colombian city of Medellin on
Saturday, killing at least two people and forcing nearby residents to flee.
The first of at least six large blasts was apparently triggered by a grenade that detonated inside a
weapons arsenal, according to witness accounts cited by local media. Smaller explosions continued in the
A spokesman for Colombia's army ruled out the possibility of an attack.
"It was an accident, but we're still investigating what exactly happened," Maj. Fernando Avila told
The Associated Press moments before boarding a Medellin-bound plane in Bogotá.
Panicked residents could be seen running for safety after the first blast, which sent a large fireball
and plumes of black smoke skyward above the Bombona battalion in Colombia's second largest city.
Alfredo Munoz, head of Civil Defense in Medellin, told Caracol Radio that at least two people
were killed and rescuers evacuated another seven wounded.
He said the death toll could rise and authorities were evacuating residents in a two-block radius as
a preventative measure.
A welcome ceremony for 50 conscript soldiers was taking place at the time of the explosion,
24. Chavez's Bid To Free Colombia FARC-Held Hostages Faces Deadline
Source: Bloomberg News 12/30/2007
By Helen Murphy and Steven Bodzin
Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's much-awaited effort to free three
hostages held by Colombia's biggest rebel group entered its third and final day before the Colombian
government's deadline expires at 7 p.m. New York time.
Chavez, who announced Dec. 26 that the rebels had agreed to a plan to ensure the hostages' release
within hours, has yet to be given the jungle coordinates for the handover.
``I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't show up for several days, or if in the end, they didn't show
up at all,'' said Myles Frechette, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia from 1994-1997, in a phone interview.
The rebels ``will say army patrols were intensified all over the place and `we didn't want to get the
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe agreed to Chavez's plan Dec. 26, a month after ending support
for the Venezuelan leader's role as a mediator in talks to swap 45 hostages for 500 jailed rebels. Chavez
said he's ``hopeful'' a second set of captives may soon be freed, as well as former Colombian presidential
candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. Defense Department contractors.
The agreement between Chavez and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels, knows
as the FARC, called for the pilots of two helicopters, bearing Red Cross banners, to be given directions to
their meeting point secretly minutes before the rescue mission's commencement. The coordinates didn't
arrive in time for a handover Dec. 27 or yesterday.
The two helicopters left Venezuela mid-afternoon on Dec. 27 and have been waiting in
Villavicencio, central Colombia, for the go-ahead to carry a delegation of journalists and observers from
Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Switzerland to witness the captives' handover.
A rebel patrol leading the hostages to safety is making its way from its jungle hideout to a safe
pick-up zone but may be slowed by bad weather and military operations, Chavez said.
``We are working hard to finish in the coming hours,'' Chavez said in an interview on Venezuela
state-run television yesterday. ``It's very improbable but not impossible that someone would attack the
caravan'' of hostages as they go to the meeting.
Family members have been kept waiting for their liberation since Dec. 18 when the FARC said
they would free them as a good- will gesture. Chavez has said he is willing to help with ground operations
if the air mission is canceled for military or weather-related reasons.
That would likely require an extension of Colombia's deadline for Chavez's involvement and
permission from Colombia's Uribe, Chavez said.
``It would be irresponsible for me to say when the captives will arrive home,'' Ramon Rodriguez, a
former Venezuelan interior minister who is helping Chavez coordinate the mission, told reporters
yesterday before the delegates' flights took off.
A team of more than 100 indigenous Colombians are standing by to assist in ground operations if
for any reason the aircraft are unable to reach the hostages, Jorge Enrique Diaz, head of civil defense for
Colombia's Meta department, said in an interview yesterday.
``It's too early to say it didn't work. It takes more time if you're walking people out,'' said
Negotiations have focused on 45 high-profile captives, used by the guerrillas as a way to pressure
the government. The FARC has kidnapped thousands of hostages for ransom to fund its 40- year battle
against the government.
The three hostages selected for release are Clara Rojas, a former Colombian vice presidential
candidate, her 3-year-old son Emmanuel, and former lawmaker Consuelo Gonzales.
Rojas, 44, was kidnapped in February 2002 along with French-Colombian presidential candidate
Betancourt while campaigning against Uribe.
They were captured on entering a demilitarized zone set up in 1998 by then-President Andres
Pastrana to promote peace talks though used by the FARC to build up arms, run drug- trafficking
operations and plan kidnappings.
Betancourt remains in captivity.
Gonzales, 57, who was a legislator in Colombia's lower house, has been a hostage since
September 2001. Rojas's child was conceived in captivity with a guerrilla fighter.
25. Hostage Operation Stalled
Source: Miami Herald 12/30/2007
By Alejandra Labanca and Brian Andrews
Two Venezuelan helicopters sent to Colombia to retrieve three rebel-held hostages sat idle on a
runway on Saturday, waiting for the coordinates on the pickup location.
The information never came.
Marxist rebels announced last week a deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to release
former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, 44, her jungle-born toddler and former congresswoman
Consuelo González, 57. The women have been held for more than five years in a portion of the jungle
controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
With Colombia's go-ahead and much fanfare, Chávez organized a mission of high-profile
international observers, adorned two Colombia-bound choppers with required Red Cross insignia and had
the hostages' relatives flown to Caracas for the planned reunion. But as of late Saturday, family members
and observers were still waiting for the one detail on which the entire mission depends: instructions from
the rebels on the hostages' pick-up spot somewhere in FARC-controlled land, which is about the size of
''We still do not have the coordinates from the FARC,'' said Yves Heller, a spokesman in Bogotá
for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is organizing the mission, the Associated Press
Permission for Venezuelan aircraft to fly into the jungle to pick up the two politicians and the 3-
year-old boy will expire at 7 p.m. on Sunday, César Velásquez, a spokesman for Colombian President
Alvaro Uribe, said at a press conference in Villavicencio airport, which is serving as the base of
coordination efforts for the handover.
But Chávez said Saturday evening that the deadline could be extended. ``It can change. That's the
official information we have from Colombia.''
Other officials said that even if the pilots receive the coordinates, deteriorating weather conditions
could still hamper the efforts. A strong storm moved through the region shortly after three small planes
carrying international observers landed in Villavicencio on Saturday afternoon.
Chávez said he hopes that ''Operation Emmanuel'' -- named after the captive boy -- can be
completed Sunday or Monday and that the hostages would be ``reunited with their families by midnight
on the 31st.''
He warned that the rebels could be silent for fear that they could be traced by the Colombian
military, or even the U.S government.
''The U.S. government and its imperialistic machine have spy planes and the highest technology to
detect movement, camps and radio signals . . . not only in Colombia but in the rest of South America,'' he
Uribe, a rebel enemy who has been sidelined from negotiations, had abruptly ended Chávez's
mediation effort last month, saying the Venezuelan president had overstepped his mandate. But the
guerrillas' unilateral offer to release the three hostages has elevated Chávez once again as the key figure in
Observers from France and six Latin American countries, and representatives of the International
Committee of the Red Cross have given the mission an international seal of approval.
Famed movie director Oliver Stone, also part of the mission and an admirer of Chávez, added a
touch of Hollywood glamour.
''Chávez is very unselfish and he is really trying to make this work,'' Stone said Saturday at the
Villavicencio airport, shortly after stepping off the plane that brought him from Caracas. `We hope this is
just the beginning . . . It has to start somewhere.''
The FARC still holds about 3,000 hostages, including the most high-profile Colombian captive,
former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen who has become an
international cause celebre.
Chávez has said he hopes his mediation will eventually lead to her freedom.
''These are not military hostages, they are civilians,'' Stone said in a public appeal intended for the
rebels. ``Give them a break. It's time to change. Let them out.''
Special correspondents Brian Andrews, Gonzalo Guillén and Jenny Carolina González contributed
from Colombia. Miami Herald writer Alejandra Labanca wrote from Miami.
26. US Seizes Suspect In Colombia Kidnapping
Source: Associated Press 12/29/2007
A suspected Colombian cocaine trafficker has been arrested in the kidnapping of an undercover
U.S. agent, a Justice Department spokeswoman said Friday.
Bayron Jimenez Castaneda, 44, was in Florida on a tourist visa when he was arrested Thursday
night in Orlando, spokeswoman Lymarie Llovet Ayala said.
Three other suspects in the kidnapping of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent on
Dec. 14, 2005 remain at large.
The agent had infiltrated their organization, which was smuggling Colombian cocaine through
Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland, authorities said.
The traffickers blamed the undercover agent for the loss of a shipment seized in Puerto Rico and
threatened to kill him, sticking a gun in his mouth at a ranch in Medellin, Colombia, authorities said.
They initially demanded a $2 million ransom, but released him after half a day when they realized
he was a U.S. government agent. His identity has not been released.
U.S. authorities arrested 27 people linked to the drug ring in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Colombia, St.
Maarten and the Dominican Republic in October 2006 as part of investigations they called "Operation
Green Traketon" and "Operation Watusi."
"We not only cut into their profits with countless seizures of drugs and money, we demonstrated
that there is a high price to pay, especially if that crime involves hurting one of our own," said Manuel
Oyola Torres, director of ICE in Puerto Rico.
Jimenez will be taken to Puerto Rico where he faces a 15-count federal indictment including
charges of conspiracy to import drugs into the United States.
27. Operation Set To Get 3 FARC Hostages
Source: Miami Herald 12/29/2007
By Alejandra Labanca and Brian Andrews
VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia -- Helicopters that will ferry long-held captives to freedom
descended here Friday, awaiting instructions on where to pick up two politicians and a child born in a
guerrilla hide-out somewhere in the jungle.
The landing followed an order of "Start up the ships" by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as he
kicked off "Operation Emmanuel" -- his plan to secure the release of the three high-profile hostages held
for years by Marxist rebels.
"The operation has begun. With these two helicopters goes great hope," Chávez said in the
Venezuelan city of Santo Domingo, as two Russian-made MI-172 helicopters bearing Red Cross insignia
and Venezuelan flags departed for the Colombian city of Villavicencio, where they landed shortly
Chávez named the operation -- being watched closely by Hollywood director Oliver Stone and a
flurry of international observers -- after the captive child who is believed to have been born from a
relationship between a rebel and hostage Clara Rojas, a former vice presidential candidate.
Colombia's U.S.-allied government authorized Venezuela to send its helicopters into Colombian
territory after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said they would release former
Congresswoman Consuelo González, 57, Rojas, 44, and the boy -- thought to be 3 years old -- to Chávez.
The helicopters will head to undisclosed locations to pick up the hostages no earlier than Saturday
morning, a spokesman from the Colombian government said.
Unconfirmed reports in Colombia said the hand-over would happen on Saturday, while The
Associated Press reported that it would take place ``over the weekend."
Chávez said he could not confirm a date, according to Colombia's Radio Caracol.
"There is no deadline. I hope and I have the faith, the intuition and the information to think that it's
going to be fast. But it's not going to be as fast as some expect . . . In these cases, one has to be patient,"
France, Switzerland and six Latin American countries have sent observers, including former
Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, Colombia's top peace negotiator and representatives of the
International Committee of the Red Cross, to follow the helicopters to Villavicencio, a city south of
Bogotá that has served as the base of coordination efforts. Oscar-winner Stone, who directed such films as
JFK and Nixon, will also be part of the mission.
"I'm hoping it works," said Stone, a fan of Chávez who said he was there to film ``a documentary
about Latin America and also about North America."
The Colombian government, all but sidelined by the guerrillas' decision to deal directly with
Chávez, said Friday that the Ministry of Defense was coordinating security operations in and around
Villavicencio to ensure that ongoing military operations in the region did not interfere with the hand-over.
For security reasons, Chávez said, the rebels have demanded that Venezuelan pilots not know
ahead of time where they will be flying. Also, he said, the guerrillas may provide multiple rendezvous
Rojas, a running mate to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was
kidnapped along with the French-Colombian politician nearly six years ago. The pending release has
raised hopes for relatives of Betancourt and dozens of other hostages, including three American defense
FARC's decision to release the hostages to Chávez has placed the socialist leader at the center of
the negotiations. It also has served as a snub to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who previously told
Chávez to butt out, accusing him of overstepping his mandate in dealing with the rebels.
Chávez said he now hopes to broaden this role and take ``a first step to open a door toward the
path for Colombia to have peace soon."
Uribe watched the humanitarian operation unfold from his ranch El Ubérrimo in northern
"I am thinking about the release of Emmanuel, the little boy who was conceived by a kidnapped
mother, who was born of a kidnapped mother, who has grown as a kidnapped boy," Uribe told the
Relatives are said to have packed toys in the helicopter for the boy and hair dye for González to
erase gray hairs that likely resurfaced during her six years in captivity.
Special correspondents Brian Andrews and Jenny Carolina González and El Nuevo correspondent
Gonzalo Guillén contributed from Colombia. Miami Herald staff writer Alejandra Labanca wrote from
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28. Chavez Launches Hostage Mission
Source: Associated Press 12/29/2007
By Toby Muse
Two helicopters sent by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez landed in Colombia Friday on a
delicate mission to pluck three hostages from the rebel-held jungle.
"The operation has begun. With these two helicopters goes great hope," Chavez said as the two
Russian-made MI-172 helicopters took off bearing Red Cross insignia and Venezuelan flags. "We're
going to get those three people in the coming days."
Wearing the red beret and fatigues of his paratrooper days, Chavez was accompanied by American
filmmaker Oliver Stone and a group of international observers to see the helicopters off.
Colombia's U.S.-allied government agreed to allow the helicopters into its territory to pick up
former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, hostage Clara Rojas and her young son with a guerrilla
fighter, Emmanuel. The women have been held captive for about six years.
"I'm hoping it works," said Stone, a fan of the socialist leader who said he was there to film "a
documentary about Latin America and also about North America."
"There are some good Americans. That's why I'm here," Stone added after Chavez joked that he
was an "emissary" from President Bush.
Chavez said former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and the other observers would follow the
helicopters to Villavicencio, about 50 miles south of Bogota, as soon as the Venezuelans receive word
from the guerrillas about where to pick up the hostages.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is helping coordinate the handover, and Colombia's
top peace negotiator, Luis Carlos Restrepo, said his government fully supports the mission and would
keep its military operations from interfering.
For security reasons, Chavez said, the rebels have demanded that the Venezuelan pilots not be told
where they will fly until they are airborne. The pickup could happen anytime this weekend, according to
the latest information from those involved.
The secrecy reflects the mistrust of both sides in Colombia's civil conflict. The Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has been fighting for more than four decades, and its guerrillas are
dispersed in remote camps in the jungles and countryside.
Thanks to aggressive American intelligence sharing backed by $600 million in annual military aid,
Colombia's security forces have pushed the FARC into a strategic retreat. They can no longer concentrate
in large numbers without being detected, and tend to use human couriers rather than cell phones or other
technology that can be spied upon.
While turning over the hostages, the FARC will try to give away as little information as possible
about their whereabouts, said Alfredo Rangel, director of the Security and Democracy Foundation, a
Bogota think tank.
Rojas, an aide to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was kidnapped along
with the French-Colombian politician and her pending release has raised hopes for relatives of Betancourt
and dozens of other high-profile hostages, including three Americans.
The FARC's decision to release the hostages to Chavez has enabled the socialist leader to
reassume a mediating role Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended last month after accusing him of
overstepping his mandate. Chavez hopes to broaden this role and take "a first step to open a door toward
the path for Colombia to have peace soon."
But the rebels' gesture has so failed to soften Uribe's hardline position.
"This is not a game of tennis," Restrepo said, reiterating his government's refusal of the FARC's
demand for a New York City-sized temporary safe haven in southern Colombia as a venue for talks on
swapping the remaining 44 hostages for hundreds of jailed rebels.
The government countered by proposing a meeting with unarmed representatives of both sides at a
smaller "meeting point" in an uninhabited area of the rebels' choice, which the rebels rejected.
Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.
29. Castro Salutes Cuban People In New Year's Message
Source: Associated Press 01/01/2008
Ailing leader Fidel Castro saluted the Cuban people for their "50 years of resistance" against the
United States in a written message read on state television shortly before the first minutes of the new year.
"During the course of the morning, the 49th year of the Revolution will have been left behind and
we will have fully entered the 50th year, which will symbolize a half century of heroic resistance," said
the message read by a television presenter shortly before midnight. The broadcast showed old
photographs of the Cuban leader.
"We proclaim to the world with pride this record which makes us believe in the most just of our
demands: that there be respect for the life and the wholesome joy of our nation."
Cuba will mark the 50th anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the revolution that brought
Castro to power a year from now, but is already characterizing all of 2008 leading up to that date as the
"50th year of the revolution."
The 81-year-old Castro has not been seen in public in the 17 months since he announced he had
undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding his powers to a caretaker
government led by his younger brother Raul, the 76-year-old defense minister.
Fidel's exact ailment and condition are carefully guarded state secrets, but Raul Castro recently
told voters in the eastern city of Santiago that his brother is doing well enough that Communist Party
leaders support his candidacy to be re-elected as a deputy to Cuba's National Assembly, or parliament, on
When the new parliament meets on a still unspecified day in early March for the first time after the
national elections, deputies will elect a new ruling Council of State - Cuba's governing body.
At that time, they will also have to decide whether to retain the elder Castro as the council's
longtime president. Fidel has not said directly whether he would seek to retain the post, but recently
indicated he could be thinking about retirement.
30. Divorce Doesn't Mean Division In Cuba Today
Source: Associated Press 01/01/2008
By Will Weissert
HAVANA (AP) After 21 years of marriage, Pedro Llera and his wife, Maura, decided to call it
quits. Their divorce took 20 minutes, but Mr. Llera compares what came next to "more than a year of
open war in the house."
Sleeping in the same bed and sharing a single room with their 14-year-old daughter, they battled in
Cuba's courts over who should stay in their second-floor, two-bedroom apartment in Havana's spiffy
Estranged Cuban couples sometimes remain under the same roof for years or even lifetimes,
learning that although divorce on the island is easy to come by, housing is not. The phenomenon is a
testament not only to the communist-run island's severe housing shortage, but also to Cubans' ability to
stay friendly - or at least civil - under the most awkward of circumstances.
"In a developed country, you get divorced and someone goes to a hotel and then to a new house,"
said Mr. Llera, a 60-year-old mechanic. "Here we had to keep living like a couple."
By law, Cubans cannot sell their homes, and because the state controls almost all property, moves
must be approved. Housing is so scarce, however, that often there is nowhere to go.
The government has long estimated an islandwide shortage of half a million homes. In 2006,
officials reported construction of 110,000 houses, one of the largest single-year totals since Fidel Castro's
1959 revolution. But similar home-building initiatives last year were slowed by the rising costs of
materials and Tropical Storm Noel's severe flooding of eastern Cuba.
Another Havana resident, 45-year-old Mirta, decided to divorce her husband of 18 years in 1997.
The couple hired a lawyer and signed papers amicably.
But neither one could move out. A decade later, they still share the same two-bedroom apartment
off the famed Malecon seaside promenade with their sons, now 18 and 20.
"We use the same kitchen, same bathroom. We have separate bedrooms, but the electricity, the
telephone, the refrigerator - there's only one," Mirta said. "If you're going to get dressed, you have to hide
in the bathroom or in the bedroom. There's no privacy."
She said she and her ex-husband clash over utility bills and race home from work for first use of
the stove at dinnertime.
"He's had other women, but he always comes home to the same house," said Mirta, who asked that
her full name and profession not be published because she did not want to be identified publicly as
complaining about Cuba's housing crunch. "You want to be independent and open the door to your room,
but with other women there, it is very uncomfortable."
The shortage is exacerbated by failed marriages. In 2006, the latest figures available, Cuba
reported 56,377 marriages and 35,837 divorces. That's a yearly divorce rate of nearly 64 percent, although
it does not account for those married and divorced multiple times.
Breakups are so common that Cubans joke that anyone whose parents stay together needs a
lifetime of therapy.
"On some days, there aren't weddings without at least one person who has been divorced," said
civil registrar Patria Olano, who officiates up to 15 weddings a day at a "Marriage Palace," or
government-run wedding hall, in Old Havana. "It's happy anyway because it's always a new beginning."
Couples pay $1.05 for the five-minute legal transaction, sealed with a kiss. Ms. Olano reads a
dense paragraph of regulations, then asks: "Are you sure you still want to get married?" Couples
sometimes simply nod. A sign nearby reads "To get married, dress correctly. No shorts, tank tops or flip-
On a recent Friday, Pedro Angel Leon wore a sport coat to tie the knot with his girlfriend of nearly
two years, Barbara Mendez. It was his third marriage, her second.
"The first marriage is for photos and parties," said Mr. Leon, a 52-year-old volleyball referee.
"This time, everything is more calm."
Mr. Leon moved in with his new bride and her parents before the wedding. "Finding a house is the
hardest thing," he said.
Divorces are handled by notaries public and cost about the same as getting married. By law, there
is no alimony unless either spouse is unemployed, and the communist system usually lends itself to
austere lifestyles devoid of expensive possessions to fight over.
Cuba was for decades officially atheist, and divorce does not carry the stigma that it does in other
countries. Many divorcees head back to their parents' homes, but problems arise if their former rooms
have since been occupied by siblings' spouses and offspring.
Some divorced couples keep living together but throw up extra walls of plywood: One side is his,
the other hers and only the children move back and forth freely.
Given ownership restrictions, a thriving black market exists for home-swapping. Every day, men
and women gather along a Havana boulevard, offering trades. Some bring cardboard signs reading "1 x
2," meaning they want to swap one large apartment for two smaller ones - often because of divorce.
"Marriages end like everything else," said a man named Luis, who was hoping to trade his small
apartment for a larger one. "But the house where you live, that stays with you."
Mr. Llera, the mechanic, said his home belonged to his 83-year-old father, who occupied the
second bedroom. But his former wife said she had lived there long enough to stay put.
A court ruled in Mr. Llera's favor, but the decision was overturned on appeal. As the legal battle
dragged on, Mr. Llera demanded that his ex-wife sleep on the living room couch and even called the
police to make her comply.
A higher court eventually sided with him, and his ex-wife moved in with relatives, leaving most of
her clothes behind in protest. The failed marriage was Mr. Llera's second, and although he now lives with
another woman, he doesn't plan to propose matrimony.
"It was such an ugly split," he said. "I don't want it to happen again."
31. Castro Once Longed To Cling To Power
Source: Associated Press 12/29/2007
By Will Weissert
Fidel Castro said Friday that as a young man he hoped to cling to power but has long since
outgrown the urge, the latest ambiguous statement about his future at the helm of the country he has ruled
for nearly five decades.
In a letter read at Cuba's year-end session of parliament, the ailing 81-year-old clarified an
assertion he made Dec. 17, that he "was not a person clinging to power."
"Let me add that I was for a time, because of excessive youth and lack of conscience," Castro
wrote. "What made me change? Life itself."
By the time he led Cuba's 1959 revolution, he had already realized it was his "duty to fight for
(socialist) goals or die in combat," not to stubbornly hold on to power, the letter said.
Castro's words drew a standing ovation from 509 lawmakers at the legislature on Friday, where his
chair sat empty next to his 76-year-old brother, Raul Castro.
Castro has not said when - or if - he will step aside for good after emergency intestinal surgery
forced him to cede "provisional" authority to his brother 17 months ago. He has not been seen in public
since, but remains the head of Cuba's Council of State, its highest governing body.
Castro has vowed not to stand in the way of younger leaders, but remains on the ballot in
parliamentary elections Jan. 20 - a candidacy the Communist Party supports, Raul Castro said, suggesting
his brother has no plans to retire.
Re-election to parliament is essential for the older Castro to retain his post atop the Council of
Also at the session, Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez announced Cuba's economy had
grown 7.5 percent in 2007, well short of official forecasts for 10 percent growth. He predicted 8 percent
growth in 2008.
Cuba includes state spending on free health care, education and food rations when calculating
gross domestic product - an uncommon methodology that critics say inflated its growth figures for 2005
and 2006, which were 11.8 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively.
Officials have spent months debating how to shape Cuba's economic future, alleviate crippling
housing and transportation shortages, and boost agricultural output, Raul Castro told the assembly.
"We'd all like to move faster, but it's not always possible," he said.
"Those who occupy positions of leadership should know how to listen and create an environment
that is favorable for everyone to express themselves with absolute freedom," he said. "Criticism, when
used appropriately, is essential to advancing."
Agricultural production rose nearly 25 percent in 2007, while the industrial and transportation
sectors grew about 8 percent each, Rodriguez said. Exports of goods and services rose by a quarter,
largely because the island sends so many doctors to provide free medical care in Venezuela in exchange
for discounted oil.
But Osvaldo Martinez, head of the legislature's economic affairs commission, said the island's
sugar harvest - and a government push to build new homes - had failed to meet expectations.
He blamed slowing growth on an "intense rise" in the cost of food and fuel imports - the island
spends $1.6 billion to import food each year - and on falling tourism.
32. Venezuelan Invasion
Government in 'good faith' acceptance of response - Good Officer process to restart
Source: Stabroek News 12/30/2007
The government has accepted the Venezuelan government's response on the incursions into
Guyana's territory by a military contingent on November 15, 2007, "in a show of good faith" even though
not all the questions were answered.
The response conveyed Venezuela's acceptance of a number of proposals Guyana had made to
Venezuela to use the UN Secretary General Good Officer Procedure as an instrument in the common
search for a peaceful solution to the Guyana/Venezuela territorial controversy.
In its response, the Vene-zuelan government expressed regret at the incident and accepted some of
Guyana's proposals for enhancing bilateral relations while at the same time dealing diplomatically with
the Guyana/ Venezuela territorial controversy. Minister of Foreign Affairs Rudy Insanally said Guyana no
longer saw taking the Cuyuni incident to the Organisation of American States (OAS) or the United
Nations (UN) as necessary.
Contacted on Friday for a follow-up on whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had completed
analysing the response to determine whe-ther it adequately addressed and satisfied Guyana's concerns,
Insanally said that even though all the questions Guyana had put forward to Venezuela had not been
answered, the government had accepted the response as satisfactory.
He did not say what the unanswered questions were. However, Stabroek News understands that
the issue of compensation for the two dredges destroyed by the Venezuelan military and which were
owned by Guyanese miners, had not been addressed.
The issue, which apparently embarrassed the Venezue-lan government and to which it responded
almost one month after the event, gave Venezuela the opportunity to respond to Guyana's urging for the
reactivation of the UN Good Officer Process and to accept some suggestions which Guyana had
previously put forward.
Insanally said the next step would be to establish a joint working group early in January 2008 to
recommend measures and mechanisms to obviate the recurrence of such incidents as the November 15
incursion. Both sides agreed to the working group when Rudolfo Sanz, Vice Minister with responsibility
for Latin America and the Caribbean, delivered the response on December 11, 2007.
Insanally said the need for the establishment of the mechanism had been put forward by Guyana
previously and the Venezuelans picked up on it in their response.
While it is expected that the joint working group from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
Venezuela's Ministry of External Affairs would begin meeting next month, Insanally said the reactivation
of the UN Good Officer Procedure might take a while longer, since names would have to be proposed and
both sides would have to reach consensus on the nominee.
Meanwhile in preparation for January's joint working group meeting, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs is examining Guyana's relations with Venezuela to see how neighbourly relations could be
Both countries have agreed at the Guyana/Venezuela High Level Commission, to review a
concrete programme in areas of cooperation in March next year. The commission had been in abeyance
for a while.
Insanally said Guyana was looking at all the opportunities available to engage Venezuela
bilaterally with the objective of also resolving the territorial controversy. (Miranda La Rose)
33. Paraguay Called Financial Hub For Terror And Crime
Source: Newsday 12/31/2007
By Anthony M. Destefano
Ralph Nieves, a wiry ex-NYPD narcotics detective, lived through the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001,
in Manhattan. That is why what he discovered about a particular part of Paraguay during a recent
assignment there has so disturbed him.
Working under a U.S. government contract to carry out polygraph examinations of public officials
in the country, Nieves said he discovered evidence of pervasive corruption among some police and
It is a situation other law enforcement officials believe has contributed to parts of Paraguay being
a terrorist haven where al-Qaida, Hezbollah and allied groups have been for years.
As a result, Paraguay's borders with Brazil and Argentina -- an area called the "tri-border" -- are
being increasingly viewed by investigators, as well as American diplomats, as the vulnerable underbelly
of the U.S. Ciudad del Este, Paraguay's second largest city, which is suspected of being a financial hub for
terror and organized crime groups.
Some American investigators also believe the area's porous borders make it an ideal springboard
for terrorists to make their way to the U.S. circuitously through Mexico and the Caribbean by using a
variety of smuggling venues.
"Every major criminal organization in the world has a criminal representation in Ciudad del Este,"
Nieves, 63, said in a recent interview.
The lawlessness of the region makes it a threat for future terrorist financing and action in New
York, Nieves said. He isn't alone in his concerns.
"It is being watched," Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House's Homeland Security
Committee, told Newsday recently when asked about the tri-border zone.
Hezbollah, an umbrella organization for Shia Muslims, which started in Lebanon, is believed to
have laundered $10 million annually through the area, King said.
Martin Ficke, former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York and now
director of operations for the Jericho-based investigative firm SES Resources Ltd., said the tri-border is a
continuing concern for money laundering. Ficke, who worked with the El Dorado money laundering task
force, said agents were looking to see how readily terrorists could rely on narcotics networks in Paraguay
to move cash to support terror operations. He wouldn't comment further.
Officially, the U.S. Department of State says southern Paraguay has yet to sustain an "operational"
presence for al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas. King also doesn't believe al-Qaida is present in the area. But
there are documented cases where members and sympathizers of Hamas, a militant Palestinian
organization, and Hezbollah have engaged in money laundering, extortion, bombings and other crimes
inside Ciudad del Este and surrounding areas. Back in the 1990s, suspects in the bombings of South
America's Jewish communities were traced to the area.
Some U.S. officials also believe an al-Qaida ally, a shadowy terrorist group known as Lashkar-e-
Taiba, which became active in Kashmir in the 1990s, is now operating in the region. Earlier this year, a
Manhattan federal judge sentenced a Baltimore man to 15 years in prison for traveling to Pakistan for
terrorism training at one of the group's camps.
A report prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay in April said the country doesn't have
effective ways to deal with money laundering and terrorist financing but does try to cooperate in
counterterrorism efforts. Judicial and police corruption were concerns, said the report.
In May, MSNBC ran a brief interview by correspondent Pablo Gato with a young Arab Muslim
sympathizer of Hezbollah in Ciudad del Este who threatened to attack the U.S. if Iran was targeted.
"In two minutes, Bush is dead," the man told MSNBC of the threatened consequences of a U.S
While those remarks seem like braggadocio, some U.S. officials have been wary of Hezbollah
members infiltrating the United States through Mexico to carry out acts of terror. Washington has been
pouring millions into Paraguay to try to strengthen its legal institutions, which is why Nieves, who is a
private investigator in the Bronx, was working there.
Nieves took polygraph exams of nearly 80 cops, customs officials and military officers. They were
applicants for positions in a special customs task force aimed at improving border controls in Paraguay
that was to be funded by American aid dollars.
According to Nieves, one of a few U.S.-based Spanish-language polygraphers active in the
business, the officials easily opened up to him. After Nieves assured them that admissions of participating
in routine graft -- known locally as "la coima" -- wouldn't get them in trouble, the applicants said they
believed criminals were tipped off to investigations by law enforcement officials. In some cases, local
prosecutors warned smugglers of raids so they could dispose of contraband, Nieves said.
One customs officer said that some higher-ranked customs officials knew all of the organized
crime leaders and provided them with information. Some national police also took part in executions on
the border with Brazil near the town of Pedro Juan Caballero, said the official, adding that the killings
involved disputes over smuggled goods.
The applicants painted a picture of a wild-west atmosphere where legitimate law enforcement was
intimidated by criminals and corrupt higher officials.
"They mentioned terrorists, every organized crime group, al-Qaida, the Chinese," recalled Nieves
of his debriefings.
One American law enforcement consultant who didn't want to be identified because he does a lot
of business in Paraguay said the country's customs service is prone to corruption because of the low
wages officials are paid. But even higher pay won't bring speedy reform, he said.
"They don't look at it as corruption. It is part of the culture," he said. "Everybody takes a piece of
the government income."
"Most of those people who were coming forward were decent people. Unfortunately, the
circumstances are overwhelming for them," Nieves said about the corruption.
Nieves thinks the United States could benefit by developing its own network of paid informants
within Paraguay's customs and border police as an early warning system against terrorism.
"Everyone I met were people we could flip," he said.
34. In Peru, A Pint-Size Ticket To Learning
Source: Washington Post 12/30/2007
By Frank Bajak
ARAHUAY, Peru (AP) -- Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can benefit from
quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50
primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.
These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the
$188 laptops -- people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books -- can't get enough of their
At breakfast, they're already powering up the combination library/videocamera/audio
recorder/musicmaker/drawing kits. At night, they're dozing off in front of them -- if they've managed to
keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.
"It's really the kind of conditions that we designed for," Walter Bender, president of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff, said of this agrarian backwater up a precarious dirt road.
Founded in 2005 by former MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, the One Laptop
program has retreated from early boasts that developing-world governments would snap up millions of
the pint-size machines at $100 each.
In a backhanded tribute, One Laptop now faces homegrown competitors everywhere from Brazil
to India -- and a full-court press from Intel's more power-hungry Classmate.
But no competitor approaches the XO in innovation. It is hard drive-free, runs on the Linux
operating system and stretches wireless networks with "mesh" technology that lets each computer in a
village relay data to the others.
Mass production began last month and Negroponte, brother of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
John D. Negroponte, said he expects at least 1.5 million machines to be sold by next November. Even that
would be far less than Negroponte originally envisioned. The price, higher than initially advertised, and
the non-Windows operating system that is still being tested for the XO have dissuaded many potential
Peru placed the single biggest order to date -- more than 272,000 machines -- in its quest to turn
around a primary education system that the World Economic Forum recently ranked last among 131
countries surveyed. Uruguay was the No. 2 buyers of the laptops, inking a contract for 100,000.
Negroponte said 150,000 more laptops will be shipped to such countries as Rwanda, Mongolia,
Haiti and Afghanistan in early 2008 through "Give One, Get One," a U.S.-based promotion ending Dec.
31 in which participants buy a pair of laptops for $399 and donate one or both.
The children of Arahuay prove One Laptop's transformative conceit: that you can revolutionize
education and democratize the Internet by giving a simple, durable, power-stingy but feature-packed
laptop to the world's poorest kids.
"Some tell me that they don't want to be like their parents, working in the fields," first-grade
teacher Erica Velasco said of her pupils. She had just sent them to the Internet to seek out photos of
invertebrates -- animals without backbones.
Antony, 12, wants to become an accountant.
Alex, 7, aspires to be a lawyer.
Kevin, 11, wants to play trumpet.
Saida, 10, is already a promising videographer, judging from her artful recording of the town's
recent Fiesta de la Virgen.
"What they work with most is the [built-in] camera. They love to record," said Maria Antonieta
Mendoza, an Education Ministry psychologist studying the Arahuay pilot project to devise strategies for
the big rollout when the new school year begins in March.
Before the laptops, the only cameras the kids at Santiago Apostol school saw in this hamlet of 800
people arrived with tourists who visit for festivals or to see local Inca ruins.
Arahuay's lone industry is agriculture. Surrounding fields yield avocados, mangoes, potatoes,
corn, alfalfa and cherimoya.
Many adults share only weekends with their children, spending the workweek in fields many
hours' walk from town and relying on charities to help keep their families nourished.
When they finish school, young people tend to abandon the village.
Peru's head of educational technology, Oscar Becerra, is betting the One Laptop program can
reverse this rural exodus to the squalor of Lima's shantytowns four hours away.
It's the best answer yet to "a global crisis of education" in which curriculums have no relevance, he
said. "If we make education pertinent, something the student enjoys, then it won't matter if the classroom's
walls are straw or the students are sitting on fruit boxes."
Indeed, Arahuay's elementary school population rose by 10 when families learned the laptop pilot
was coming, said Guillermo Lazo, the school's director.
The XOs that Peru is buying will be distributed to pupils in 9,000 elementary schools from the
Pacific to the Amazon basin where a single teacher serves all grades, Becerra said.
Although Peru boasts thousands of rural satellite downlinks that provide Internet access, only
about 4,000 of the schools getting XOs will be connected, Becerra said.
Negroponte says One Laptop is committed to helping Peru overcome that hurdle. Without Internet
access, he said, the program is incomplete.
Teachers will get 2 1/2 days of training on the laptops, Becerra said. Each machine will initially be
loaded with about 100 copyright-free books. Where applicable, texts in native languages will be included,
he added. The machines will also have a chat function that will let youngsters make faraway friends over
Critics of the rollout have two key concerns.
The first is the ability of teachers -- poorly trained and equipped to begin with -- to cope with
profoundly disruptive technology.
Eduardo Villanueva, a communications professor at Lima's Catholic University, fears "a general
disruption of the educational system that will manifest itself in the students overwhelming the teachers."
To counter that fear, Becerra said, the government is offering $150 grants to qualifying teachers
toward the purchase of conventional laptops, for which it is also arranging low-interest loans.
The second big concern is maintenance.
For every 100 units it will distribute to students, Peru is buying one extra for parts. But there is no
technical support program. Students and teachers will have to do it.
"What you want is for the kids to do the repairs," said Negroponte, who believes such tinkering is
itself a valuable lesson. "I think the kids can repair 95 percent of the laptops."
Tech support is nevertheless a serious issue in many countries, Negroponte acknowledged in a
One Laptop is bidding on a contract with Brazil's government that Negroponte says demanded
unrealistically onerous support requirements.
The XO machines are water-resistant, rugged and designed to last five years. They have no fan, so
they won't suck up dust; are built to withstand drops from five feet; and can absorb power spikes typical
of places with irregular electricity.
Mendoza, the psychologist, is overjoyed that the program stipulates that youngsters get ownership
of the laptops.
Take Kevin, the aspiring trumpet player.
Sitting in his dirt-floor kitchen as his mother cooks lunch, he draws a soccer field on his XO, then
erases it. Kevin plays a song by Caliente, his favorite band, that he recorded off Arahuay's single
television channel. He shows off photos he took of himself with his 3-year-old brother.
A bare light bulb hangs by a wire from the ceiling. A hen bobs around the floor. There are no
books in this two-room house. Kevin's parents didn't get past sixth grade.
Indeed, the laptop project also has adults in its sights.
Parents in Arahuay are asking Mendoza, the visiting psychologist, what the Internet can do for
Among them is Charito Arrendondo, 39, who sheds brief tears of joy when a reporter asks what
the laptop belonging to ruddy-cheeked Miluska -- the youngest of her six children -- has meant to her.
Miluska's father, it turns out, abandoned the family when she was 1.
"We never imagined having a computer," said Arrendondo, a cook.
Is she afraid to use the laptop, as is typical of many Arahuay parents, about half of whom are
"No, I like it. Sometimes when I'm alone and the kids are not around, I turn it on and poke
Arrendondo likes to play checkers on the laptop.
"It's also got chess, which I sort of know," she said, pausing briefly.
"I'm going to learn."
35. Chávez's Promised Hostage Release Fizzles, His Second Major Setback In Weeks
Source: New York Times 01/02/2008
By Alexei Barrionuevo
RIO de JANEIRO - Last week, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, seemed on the verge of one
of his biggest triumphs to date. Now, amid renewed acrimony with the Colombian leader, Álvaro Uribe,
he is staring at his second major political defeat in just over a month.
Using his credibility as a former rebel leader, Mr. Chávez orchestrated a plan to release three
hostages being held for years in the jungle by a Colombian guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.
Bristling with confidence, he assembled his allies in Latin America, including the former
Argentine president, Néstor Kirchner, to witness a breakthrough in the decades-old conflict between the
Colombian government and the FARC. The movie director Oliver Stone was part of a multinational group
of observers that included diplomats from seven countries, including France and Switzerland.
Then on Monday, Mr. Chávez's showman moment seemed to turn from history-making success
into his latest failure.
For reasons that remain unclear, the FARC refused for four days to give the exact location of the
hostages to Venezuelan helicopter pilots. Mr. Chávez read a letter from the rebel group late Monday that
said the promised security conditions had not been met.
"This is an important defeat for Hugo Chávez's regional agenda to promote his Bolivarian
revolution and utilize his contacts with armed groups to win political influence," said Román Ortiz, the
director of security and post-conflict for the Ideas for Peace Foundation, a Bogotá research institute
focused on Colombia's armed conflict.
A successful mission would have been likely to have embarrassed Mr. Uribe, a conservative who
has made little progress in negotiating the release of any of the several hundred hostages held in jungle
camps, some for nearly a decade. Mr. Uribe has been skeptical of Mr. Chávez's attempts to spread his
Socialist ideology across the continent.
At the same time, the operation would have helped Mr. Chávez bounce back from a narrow defeat
in a referendum early last month on a proposal that would have tightened his grip on power. For several
days, at least, Mr. Chávez and Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, also managed to
divert attention from the brewing scandal involving a suitcase filled with $800,000 in cash believed to be
a secret Venezuelan donation to her campaign.
Mrs. Kirchner dispatched her husband to Colombia, and several other countries joined in a
scramble to claim credit for helping to break the impasse in the only armed conflict in the Western
But the FARC, which appeared to want to help Mr. Chávez while showing up Mr. Uribe, did not
"Clearly, Chávez did provide the best chance for making some progress, but it wasn't enough,"
said Michael Shifter, a vice president at the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. "In
the end, the distrust that the FARC felt for the Colombian government trumped any good feelings they
felt for Chávez."
Mr. Uribe accused the FARC of lying about its reasons for scuttling the promised transfers, even
suggesting that the rebels did not have one of the three hostages, a 3-year-old boy named Emmanuel who
was born in captivity to a rebel soldier and Clara Rojas, another of the hostages. Ms. Rojas and Consuelo
González were to have been delivered with the boy to the Venezuelans.
Hopes ran high that the transfer of the three hostages would lead to wider prisoner exchanges for
more of the 700 hostages reportedly still in guerrilla hands. They are believed to include a former
Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen kidnapped in 2002.
France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been lobbying for Ms. Betancourt's release since videos
and photos were seized late last month that apparently showed her alive. The materials also appeared to
show that three American contractors, Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell, who were
captured in 2003 when their plane went down in the Colombian jungle, were alive as well.
Now the failed mission has exposed Mr. Chávez to criticism of misplaced priorities. As he worked
to mediate the release of hostages in Colombia, in Venezuela kidnappings are spiraling. Some estimates
show that Venezuela has more abductions per capita than Colombia now, but the Venezuelan government
has done little to tackle the problem.
The breakdown in the deal with the FARC led to a new round of harsh accusations between Mr.
Chávez and Mr. Uribe. Mr. Chávez said he had "plenty of reasons to doubt Uribe's team and their analysis
and hypotheses." He accused Mr. Uribe of trying to "dynamite" the operation, a claim Mr. Uribe denied.
36. Venezuela Launches New Currency To Stem Inflation
Source: Financial Time 01/02/2008
By Benedict Mander
In an effort to stem record-high inflation, Venezuela launches a new currency on Wednesday – the
"strong bolivar" – by slicing three zeroes off the bolivar.
While President Hugo Chávez's government is hailing the measure as an anti-inflationary measure
that will help stabilise the economy, non-government economists fear the strong bolivar will be anything
"We're ending a historical cycle of . . . instability in prices," Rodrigo Cabezas, finance minister,
said on Monday, adding that the change aimed to "recover a bolivar that has significant buying capacity".
"It was necessary to leave behind the consequences of a history of high inflation," Gaston Parra,
central bank president, said in a televised year-end speech. He added that officials aimed "to reinforce
confidence in the monetary symbol".
However, in view of racing inflation, an increasingly unsustainable exchange rate and shortages of
basic goods, José Guerra, a former chief economist at Venezuela's central bank, said: "The monetary
'reconversion' is not going to stabilise prices. It's not going to help reduce inflation, or anything of the
kind," arguing that the new currency could even trigger higher inflation. "It's a dangerous move," he said.
In 2007 inflation in Venezuela is expected to exceed 20 per cent, the highest in the region – far
beyond the government's target of 12 per cent.
"There will be confusion," said Domingo Maza Zavala, whose term as a director of the central
bank ended early in 2007. He argues that government campaigns proclaiming the advent of "a strong
bolivar, a strong economy, a strong country" – have created the false impression the new currency will
have a greater purchasing power than the old one.
"The strong bolivar is being born into an environment not only of monetary instability, but also
ex-change rate, financial, economic and social instability. That is not the best climate for its success," he
Although the strong bolivar will bring some benefits such as simplifying transactions and
accounts, the cost of introducing it – updating computer systems, for example – has been greater than
expected, and may lead companies to round up prices to cover costs.
Economists argue that currency reforms have only been successful when inflation is already under
Mr. Maza Zavala said the currency reconversion should be accompanied by additional anti-
inflationary policy, in particular ensuring the availability of popular goods, especially basic foods, as well
as moderating government spending.
Imbalances in the exchange rate regime also threaten the new currency.
José Manuel Puente, an economist at the IESA business school in Caracas, says the exchange rate
is at least 20-30 per cent overvalued. But the key problem, he argues, is the gap between the official and
the "parallel" exchange rate for the dollar, which recently exceeded triple the official rate of 2,150
37. Chavez Coins New Currency For Venezuela
Source: Washington Times 01/01/2008
By Jorge Rueda
CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela is introducing a new currency with the new year, hoping to
fight inflation by lopping off three zeros from denominations.
President Hugo Chavez's government says the new currency - dubbed the "strong bolivar" - will
make daily transactions easier, contain rising prices and strengthen the economy.
"We're ending a historical cycle of ... instability in prices," Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas said
yesterday, adding that the change aims to "recover a bolivar that has significant buying capacity."
Prices have risen as Mr. Chavez has pumped more of the country's oil income into social
programs, reinforcing his support among the poor and helping to drive 8.4 percent economic growth in
The Central Bank is promoting the new monetary unit with an ad campaign and the slogan: "A
strong economy, a strong bolivar, a strong country."
Officials, however, have yet to articulate their anti-inflationary measures.
Some Venezuelan critics, meanwhile, have dubbed the new currency the "weak bolivar," noting
that its predecessor, the bolivar, has seen its purchasing power suffer in an economy where inflation ran
about 20 percent in 2007 - the highest in Latin America.
Venezuelan economist and pollster Luis Vicente Leon said that although the new currency may
provide "the perception of stability" for some, it is largely a "cosmetic change."
Government officials say the change is overdue to bring Venezuelan denominations into line with
those of other countries in the region. Instead of denominations in the thousands, the largest new
Venezuelan note will be 100 strong bolivars.
"It was necessary to leave behind the consequences of a history of high inflation," Central Bank
president Gaston Parra said in a televised year-end speech. He said officials aim "to reinforce confidence
in the monetary symbol."
The new money was distributed to banks and automated teller machines nationwide ahead of
today's introduction and will be phased in during the next six months. Venezuelans will be able to use
both old and new bolivars during the transition.
Venezuela has had a fixed exchange rate since February 2003, when Mr. Chavez imposed
currency and price controls. The government said it is not considering a devaluation any time soon.
But while the strong bolivar's official exchange rate will be fixed as 2.15 to $1, the black-market
rate has hovered at about 5.60 to $1 recently.
Venezuela's currency has long been named after independence hero Simon Bolivar, who is
pictured on the new 100 strong bolivar bill.
The new money is the latest in a series of changes to national symbols during Mr. Chavez's
presidency. He also redesigned the national seal and flag and renamed the country the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela.
With the new currency, the government also is resurrecting a 12.5-cent coin, called the "locha,"
which has not been used since the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Mr. Chavez granted amnesty yesterday to many opponents accused of supporting a
failed 2002 coup that briefly drove him from power.
He said he signed an amnesty decree that also would pardon others accused of attempting to
overthrow his government in recent years.
"It's a matter of turning the page," he said in a telephone call to state television on New Year's
Eve. "We would like a country that moves toward peace."
Mr. Chavez was ousted by dissident military officers, but was returned to the presidency by
loyalist generals within two days amid street protests by his supporters.
38. Chavez Pardons Accused Coup Backers
Source: Associated Press 01/01/2008
By Ian James
President Hugo Chavez granted amnesty Monday to many opponents accused of supporting a
failed 2002 coup that briefly drove him from power. Chavez said he signed an amnesty decree that would
also pardon others accused of attempting to overthrow his government in recent years.
"It's a matter of turning the page," Chavez said in a telephone call to state television on New
Year's Eve. "We would like a country that moves toward peace."
Chavez read aloud the new law, which grants amnesty to those who drafted or signed a decree
recognizing an interim government that briefly replaced him during the 2002 coup. Chavez was ousted by
dissident military officers, but was returned to the presidency by loyalist generals within two days amid
street protests by his supporters.
More than 60 people will be covered by the amnesty, some of whom are imprisoned, Chavez said.
They include opponents accused of taking over Venezuela's state television channel during the coup, and
others who sought to sabotage the oil industry during an opposition-led strike that followed, he said. It
was not immediately clear when they could go free.
Opponents accuse the socialist president - a close friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro - of seeking
to quash dissent and concentrate power in his own hands.
Chavez called his decree proof that "we want there to be a strong ideological and political debate -
but in peace." Such an amnesty has been demanded by some government opponents.
Chavez reiterated that no one in Venezuela is jailed "for his political ideas."
The amnesty will not apply to fugitives who have fled charges in Venezuela, and will not cover
"crimes of the homicide sort, or proven assassination attempts," he said.
Prosecutors in 2002 and 2003 initiated legal proceedings against a long list of people who
allegedly supported the failed coup. Three police chiefs were jailed, along with a handful of officers and
others. An unknown number of suspects fled the country or went into hiding.
The amnesty is expected to nullify charges recently brought against opposition politician Enrique
Mendoza for taking over the state TV channel's studios during the coup. It also covers all those accused of
civil rebellion in other cases through December 2007, Chavez said.
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.
39. A Revolution? Awaiting Chavez' Changes
Source: Associated Press 12/30/2007
By Ian James
LAS CUMARAGUAS, Venezuela - In this dusty town of potholed roads on the Caribbean coast,
people are fascinated with the revolutionary changes that President Hugo Chavez talks about constantly
But nine years after he was elected, many here say their lives are virtually the same. There are still
few jobs. Running water comes only two days a week at best. Paint peels from the walls of the public
school, where teachers say they badly need more books.
The state is building three dozen concrete homes here, but construction has dragged on while some
residents are living in quarters so cramped they must string up hammocks in their living rooms.
Where, they ask, is Chavez' revolution?
"It hasn't arrived yet. Not here in Las Cumaraguas," says Oriel Urbina, a 48-year-old who works
gathering rock salt in the cactus-fringed flats that run along the beach.
Although many Venezuelans in this town believe in Chavez and have consistently voted for him,
their complaints reflect key weaknesses in his political movement that likely contributed to his first
electoral defeat on Dec. 2.
Chavez blamed low turnout among supporters for the rejection of constitutional changes that
would have reshaped the economy and ended presidential term limits. He said the lesson will ultimately
strengthen his socialist movement; setbacks, he said, are "necessary now and then."
His popularity remains high, and he presides over an expanding economy propelled by surging oil
But even some loyal backers complain of basic deficiencies in his rule: government corruption,
bureaucracy, rampant crime, double-digit inflation and recent shortages of items like milk.
"They feel disenchanted, and that explains why they didn't show up" to vote, said Steve Ellner, a
political science professor at Venezuela's University of the East. "There's a feeling that for all the high-
sounding rhetoric and lofty ideals, that there hasn't been sufficient attention addressed to concrete issues."
The political test that lies ahead for Latin America's most outspoken leftist hinges on whether he
will be able to solve such problems and deliver on promises to those who see him as a savior.
In long, fiery speeches, Chavez talks of the socialist ideals of Karl Marx, the example set by his
Cuban friend Fidel Castro, and his own plans for "the first great revolution of the 21st century." The
constitutional proposals rejected by voters would have created new forms of communal property as a step
in that direction.
Yet Chavez's utopian and egalitarian words often go far beyond the changes realized so far.
While the government has created free health clinics and universities, other aspects of society are
Consumerism is alive and well, with the moneyed classes enjoying new cars, fine Scotch whisky
and private social clubs. Central Bank statistics show the private sector accounted for more of the
economy last year — 62.9 percent of gross domestic product — than when Chavez was elected in 1998,
when it stood at 59.3 percent.
Slum dwellers, meanwhile, wait on long lists for public housing. And the homeless pick through
trash heaps in spite of state programs intended to help them.
Still, government statistics point to progress, including a decline in the share of households
considered poor from 43 percent in 1999 to 28 percent today. Unemployment is down, and gross domestic
product has risen by 16 percent on a per-capita basis. Government surveys show the poorest fifth of
Venezuelans have seen their share of the national income grow by 8 percent.
The overall economic performance is a strong positive for Chavez — especially the rapid growth
since he regained control of the oil industry after a 2003 strike by his opponents, said economist Mark
Weisbrot of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.
"For these reasons, Chavez and the government's public approval is likely to remain high, and the
opposition weak, regardless of the results of the referendum," Weisbrot said.
Others argue the gap between rich and poor has narrowed only modestly, and that voters rejected
Chavez's proposals in part due to fears about his plans for a socialist economy.
Many Venezuelans still don't know what Chavez means by "21st Century socialism" and are not
sold on the concept, said Yoel Acosta Chirinos, a former Chavez ally who once helped him lead a failed
"This defeat is the beginning of the end for Chavismo," Acosta said. "Why? Because it hasn't
responded to so many expectations created by (Chavez's) political project."
Chavez, a former paratroop commander, recognizes government programs are sometimes
inefficient and says much remains to be done. He urges Venezuelans to give him more time and get
involved in building a new socialist society.
For now, many in Las Cumaraguas are willing to wait for Chavez to deliver meaningful aid to
their desolate home on the windblown Paraguana Peninsula.
Urbina and others say they wish Chavez would visit and see how much help they need. They
suspect corruption and bureaucracy are hindering his goals.
"The resources don't reach us," Urbina says. "The president isn't to blame. ... It's the people around
In the salt flats beside the town, men in tattered clothes sling pickaxes and shovel rock salt into
wheelbarrows. For each ton of salt piled up, they earn $5.60 by selling it to a plant run by a state
company, Corpofalcon. Children sell chunks of salt to passing cars along a road roamed by grazing goats
Seven years ago, the state ended its contract with the private company that refined the salt, and
assumed control. Since then, the number of jobs at the plant has shrunk, the workers say, from about 90 to
Corpofalcon's president, Omar Perez, said residents are benefiting from $1.2 million that the state
is investing here.
But Sirilo Garces, who collects salt, said what the town needs most are jobs. "That's what doesn't
A billboard at the salt plant announces a partially completed project to build a new warehouse and
install machinery. Chavez is pictured in a red beret, raising a fist in the air beside the governor of Falcon
The sign reads: "Falcon Has Changed Forever."
40. Chavez Vows To Put "Revolution" Back On Track
Source: Reuters 12/30/2007
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez promised on Saturday to tackle poor
garbage collection and high crime in a bid to win back support for his socialist "revolution," which was
hurt in a poll defeat a few weeks ago.
Seemingly taking on board common criticism of his performance, Chavez said it was unacceptable
that garbage was piling up uncollected in some parts of capital city Caracas, and acknowledged people
were worried about crime.
"Yesterday I had to call the vice president and order an emergency meeting about the garbage
situation," he said. "How is it possible that a government can't collect the trash?"
Caracas' garbage problem overflowed in December, with drifts of rotting rubbish blocking
Chavez also made reference to protests this week against violent crime, a issue his government has
often claimed is exaggerated by the opposition.
Widespread gun ownership and inept policing contribute to Venezuela's murder rate, which is one
of the world's highest.
Chavez spent much of 2007 working on political "reforms" that would have allowed him to run for
reelection indefinitely and given him sweeping powers to build a socialist state.
His plan was defeated in a referendum earlier this month in part because of growing dissatisfaction
among his supporters with corruption, insecurity and even shortages of products like milk in the oil-rich
In an unannounced telephone call to a chat show on state television, Chavez promised things
would be different in 2008.
"We are going to make this year one of truly deep revision, of rectification and of revitalizing the
revolutionary process," he said.
Corruption Is "A Cancer"
Chavez is still hugely popular among Venezuela's poor, about half the population, who are
grateful for new health clinics, pension schemes and subsidized food.
He has enjoyed a boost in the last few days with international attention to his efforts to secure the
release of hostages held by Colombian Marxist rebels. Three hostages may be set free in the next few
Chavez, an outspoken critic of the United States, has long faced fierce opposition from middle
class and wealthy sectors of society, including a coup that briefly expelled him from power in 2002.
But anger has also been rising among traditional supporters, including some who are
uncomfortable with apparent corruption and the ostentatious wealth of some of Chavez's colleagues and
"It's a cancer," he said in reference to corruption. "We inherited it but we cannot stay with this
cancer our whole lives. Either we defeat it, or it defeats us."
The United States arrested three Venezuelans two weeks ago in a case involving $800,000 cash a
American-Venezuelan businessman tried to smuggle into Argentina.
The United States alleges the money was sent by the Chavez government as a secret contribution
to the election campaign of recently sworn in President Cristina Fernandez.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Todd Eastham)
41. The Washington Post :A Bagman's Tale
Did Hugo Chávez purchase the allegiance of Argentina's new president?
Source: Washington Post 12/30/2007
IT'S LONG been well known that the close relations between Venezuela and Argentina are not the
result of mere ideological affinity: Under President Hugo Chávez, Venezuela has purchased some $4
billion in Argentine bonds, bailing out a government whose paper is widely shunned in international
Now it's emerging that Mr. Chávez's personal ties to Argentine President Cristina Fernández de
Kirchner also may have been fueled with petrodollars. According to a U.S. prosecutor in Florida,
Venezuela's self-styled socialist revolutionary dispatched a bagman to Buenos Aires last August with
$800,000 for Ms. Kirchner's election campaign. When police seized the cash-filled suitcase, assistant U.S.
attorney Thomas Mulvihill said last week, Venezuelan and Argentine authorities conspired to cover up
the matter by offering the intermediary $2 million in hush money.
This seamy story is coming to light because the alleged bagman, Guido Alejandro Antonini
Wilson, happens to be a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen with a home in Florida. After his bag was
discovered at a Buenos Aires military airport on Aug. 4, Mr. Antonini began cooperating with U.S. law
enforcement. Mr. Mulvihill said at a court hearing that numerous recorded conversations document the
attempt by Venezuela and Argentina to silence Mr. Antonini, working through businessmen close to the
Venezuelan government and a Venezuelan intelligence agent. Three Venezuelans and a Uruguayan were
arrested in Florida on Dec. 12 and charged with being unregistered agents of the Venezuelan government;
a fifth suspect is at large.
Ms. Fernández de Kirchner, who took office days before the arrests were made, replaced her
husband, Néstor Kirchner, a populist who allowed Mr. Chávez to use Argentina as a staging point for
anti-American demonstrations. Argentines and Americans who hoped the change of presidents would lead
to an improvement in U.S.-Argentine relations are disappointed; some, demonstrating their ignorance of
the U.S. legal system, blame the Bush administration for the results of a criminal investigation. The
Kirchners' reaction shows that hopes for a change in Argentina's foreign policy were probably misplaced.
Rather than distancing themselves from the scandal, both have joined Mr. Chávez in making wild charges
about White House "dirty tricks" and a supposed Bush administration plot to subjugate Argentina.
"Relations with the United States are not good, and Argentina isn't a colony" of the United States,
Mr. Kirchner declared last Tuesday, shortly after his wife conferred privately with Mr. Chávez. That, of
course, doesn't answer the question many Argentines are asking -- which is whether Argentina is
becoming a colony of Venezuela.
42. Chávez Warns The Military Not To Lose The Course
Source: El Universal 12/29/2007
During his traditional Year's End ceremony of greeting to the National Armed Force, President
Hugo Chávez Friday warned the military that "anyone losing the course is doomed to fall off the road to
the abyss of ignominy and to lose the essence of Bolivarian soldiers."
"The essence of any soldier is being a Bolivarian soldier," he stressed. Further, he foresaw "the
horizon is complex and complicated."
"The horizon many times may be plagued with hurricanes and storms and confusions that may
drive any soldier away from the course, especially if they lack a sharp consciousness."
Chávez insisted that the United States is striving to isolate Venezuela, stop the chariot of
revolution and plot against his government.