- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Nicaragua’s leftist president, Daniel Ortega, who led Latin America’s last successful armed Marxist revolution, is billing himself as peacemaker between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Colombia says Mr. Ortega’s help is not needed, nor is it welcome.

“I tell our brothers in FARC that I am willing to offer my support for a serious peace initiative in Colombia,” Mr. Ortega told a political rally last month, in which he proposed himself as a mediator in the 44-year-old conflict.

Mr. Ortega made the offer despite strong objections from Mr. Uribe’s government, which has scored a string of victories against the Marxist-inspired FARC.

Nicaragua’s main newspaper, La Prensa, reported last month that top FARC leaders were invited to attend official celebrations commemorating the 1979 victory of Mr. Ortega’s ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front over U.S.-backed President Anastasio Somoza in a bloody civil war.

La Prensa also reported that the FARC delegation arrived in Nicaragua clandestinely on July 17 aboard a Cessna plane belonging to Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.

Nicaraguan officials denied the report, which has never been confirmed.

Nevertheless, the report was enough to draw vehement protests from the Colombian government, which accused Nicaragua of “transiting of terrorists” and requested an international police investigation.

Nicaraguan opposition lawmaker Wilfredo Navarro said six rebel leaders, including FARC’s chairman, Alfonso Cano, had met with Mr. Ortega in Nicaragua.

“The Colombian government does not authorize or support any move which Mr. Ortega may promote with FARC,” Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez said in response to the charge.

Mediation attempts by Mr. Ortega’s close ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Swiss negotiators, have failed.

None has bridged irreconcilable differences between the Marxist rebels and Colombia’s right-wing president. Mr. Uribe and the U.S. consider FARC to be a terrorist organization and accuse the group of drug trafficking.

FARC has demanded to be recognized as a legitimate army with “belligerent status” and to be given a portion of Colombian territory before peace negotiations can take place.

A political solution can be reached only with another government, FARC leader Ivan Marquez said on Venezuelan state television last week.

Mr. Chavez was embarrassed by e-mails recently discovered in captured FARC computers, which claimed that he had offered the group $300 million as well as arms when he tried to bargain for the release of kidnap victims earlier in the year. The Colombian government estimates that FARC is holding up to 700 hostages.

French-sponsored hostage negotiations were similarly bested by the Colombian army, which rescued long-held FARC captive Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian national, and 14 other hostages, including three Americans, through an intelligence operation July 2.

Mr. Ortega boasts about having a special affinity with FARC. He has called the group’s decades-long struggle legitimate and has compared it to the armed uprising that he led in Nicaragua during the 1970s.

As leader of Latin America’s only successful Marxist guerrilla takeover in Latin America since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution in Cuba, Mr. Ortega provided a base for leftist insurgencies in neighboring countries throughout the 1980s.

The U.S. government retaliated by arming and funding right-wing Contra rebels.

Mr. Ortega voluntarily agreed to hold elections in 1988, which he lost, and remained in the opposition until finally winning a presidential election by popular vote on his fourth attempt in 2006.



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