FARC strategy change a result of Chavez's illness?

With Chavez's health on the line, groups who have benefited from the Venezuelan president's tenure – like the FARC – are hedging their bets, writes guest blogger James Bosworth.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

Numerous media outlets in the region have speculated as to what Chavez's illness could mean for his allies and others in the region who have received aid funded by Venezuelan oil wealth. The AP quoted Yoani Sanchez as saying there is speculation in Cuba that there may be another "special period" following the death of Chavez due to the economic blow it would deal the island.

Other countries in the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) are more insulated from the blow, diversified in their economies or have other options. It will be an economic hit, but everyone else should be able to manage it without too much suffering.

However, the only Chavez 'ally' to make a significant policy shift in the past week is one that few articles cite. Yesterday, the FARC announced they will give up all kidnapping and release police and military hostages they hold.
 There are numerous reasons for the FARC to do this, including challenges within the leadership of the organization and protests against them by the Colombian population. However, I think this announcement and the timing of it is directly related to Chavez's renewed illness.

  1. The FARC do not know anything more than has been reported in the international media. Nobody should take this as a sign that the FARC has inside information about the Venezuelan leader's health.
  2. It appears the Colombian group is taking the situation seriously and preparing for a "post-Chavez" world in which they will have far less freedom of movement and action on the Venezuelan side of the border as well as less support on trafficking arms and drugs from the Venezuelan side.
  3. They likely believe that their allies within the Venezuelan government, including the minister of defense, may be unable to hold on to power beyond this year.
  4. The FARC hope that they can obtain some sort of negotiations with the good will generated by this announcement. Those negotiations can help protect leaders who are losing safe havens in Venezuela.

The FARC have a strange perspective on the world (after all, they still define themselves as rural communist guerrillas in the year 2012). Just because they believe Chavez is ill and will likely not recover does not mean they are correct. Then again, the group has stuck around for over four decades, so they know a bit about surviving through change. They know the rumors as well as anyone and are not going to just wait around to be surprised by whatever political or economic shock comes their way.

James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Managua, Nicaragua, who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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