But Uribe’s center-right successor, Juan Manuel Santos, repaired tattered relations with Venezuela and then opted to take advantage of the admiration the FARC has for Chavez. Santos named Venezuela as one of four countries to participate in negotiations that begin Monday with the rebel group in Norway before moving to Cuba, where the bulk of the talks will take place.
And it has become clear in recent weeks that Chavez and his aides — particularly Nicolas Maduro, who was foreign minister until being named vice president this past week — have helped ensure that FARC commanders feel secure about meeting with Santos’s negotiators.
“Chavez has been extremely active on the peace process, not only logistically,” said Aldo Civico, a Rutgers University conflict resolution expert who has spoken to Colombian negotiators about the talks. “My understanding is that he has been able to talk to the members of the FARC negotiation team and encourage them to stay within the dynamic of the peace talks, to engage constructively.”
Norway, a country with a long history of brokering deals in conflicted countries, and Cuba, the host of the talks in the months ahead, will serve in the role of guarantors, with representatives from those countries sitting in on negotiations.
Venezuela and Chile, whose government is considered a close ally of Colombia’s government, are known as “acompañantes” — literally, company. They are to help with logistics, provide diplomatic support and “do whatever the parties ask them to do,” said a Colombian official familiar with the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Those who closely track the policies in the region said that Venezuela’s role is especially important because of the relationship Chavez and his closest associates have forged with FARC commanders during the Venezuelan leader’s 14 years in power.
“Without Venezuela, it would be very difficult to have a successful negotiation,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue policy group in Washington. “They give some guarantees of legitimacy and credibility to the process and ensure that the talks stay on track.”
Santos, as defense minister for Uribe, oversaw some of the army’s biggest blows against the FARC, including strikes that killed some top commanders.