<!--:es-->Chavez-led alliance fails to get hostages<!--:-->

Chavez-led alliance fails to get hostages

BOGOTA, Colombia – It was one of the boldest initiatives yet for Latin America’s emerging leftist alliance and it didn’t even get off the ground.

Answering a call by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, political heavyweights from five governments attempted to break through a deadlock in the region’s most entrenched conflict: Colombia’s half-century guerrilla war.

But for all their devotion to Latin American unity, observers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba and Ecuador couldn’t persuade the secretive Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to abandon its deep mistrust of Colombia’s government and fulfill a weeks-old promise to free three hostages, including a 3-year-old boy.

The FARC, in a letter to Chavez, blamed operations by Colombia’s U.S.-backed military for their decision not to tell where in the eastern Colombian jungles — a region the size of France — two Venezuelan helicopters could pick up the captives.

As the mission fell apart Monday, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe dismissed the rebels’ accusation as more lies from a “terrorist group.”

Chavez, in turn, sympathized with the FARC and accused Uribe of “throwing a bomb” on his efforts to recover the hostages: ex-congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and her 3-year-old son Emmanuel, fathered by a guerrilla captor.

The truth about what led the FARC to get cold feet may never be known, and Chavez has vowed to plow on for the hostages’ release despite the setback. But by failing to deliver the hostages, the FARC left Chavez hanging in a highly visible way that will likely force the firebrand leftist to take a different tack. The mission’s collapse “shows Chavez doesn’t have the ability to get an express response from the FARC. He clearly can’t influence FARC leadership to make quick decisions,” said Adam Isacson, a Colombia analyst for the Washington-based Center for International Policy.

For the past month, Chavez has held out an olive branch to the FARC while publicly vilifying Uribe, his ideological adversary, as Washington’s lapdog and puppet. Fetching the hostages on Colombian soil was widely seen as political payback for Uribe’s abrupt ending of Chavez’s efforts to broker a swap of 47 hostages — including three American defense contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt — for hundreds of jailed rebels. By inviting former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and other like-minded observers, it was also a chance for Chavez to rally an alliance of leftist governments, many of which share the Venezuelan leader’s antagonism for President Bush.