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When you hire a Truthteller...

Filed under: Latin America

...You shouldn't be surprised if he tells the truth.

Over in Colombia, that doesn't seem to be entirely clear to President Alvaro Uribe.

Now, as you know, I'm his biggest fan. But he did something today that struck me as incoherent. He chewed out his new foreign minister, Fernando Araujo, for telling the truth about Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Not as in namecalling, like I might do. But as in a story about an experience in his life.

Do you know who Araujo is?

If you don't, let's just put it this way: while you and I were celebrating our Christmases three months ago, Araujo was tied up, stuck in a jungle cage, starved, deprived of human company (his captors definitely aren't human) and smothered in the dark - for his sixth straight year. He had been an economic development minister in Colombia back in 2000 and was jogging on the beach in Cartagena one day. Suddenly, hooded thugs with guns sprang out and kidnapped him taking him away to deep deep into their jungle hideout and away from civilization. His life was never going to be the same. For six long years, he was a prisoner of the FARC, the odious Marxist narcoterrorist guerrillas who have made Colombia a living hell since 1964.

While there, he focused on survival, focused on getting his kidnappers not to kill him. He wanted to live. He had no knowledge of 9/11, didn't know about the Iraq war, had no idea who the U.S. president was, never heard of iPods, and the last he heard of the U.S. was news about how Al Gore was disputing the 2000 U.S. election with George Bush. After that, his life was all about trying to stay alilve.

Some of it was tragic: his wife had left him for another man two years into his captivity, assuming he would never return - and many people he knew had died during his six long years in a FARC dungeon - he only got to learn who they were when he eventually escaped, later saying it was like all of the people he'd known dying in one day.

His escape was a breathtaking one. Alvaro Uribe had gotten intelligence on a FARC hideout deep in the jungle. He sent his helicopters in, shooting, and as the FARC narcoterrorists shot back, Araujo realized he had one flash moment in his six years captivity to escape. He took it ... running through a miles of minefields the guerrillas had encircled themselves with to protect their hideout. He ran though tall grass and machinegun fire. He dodged bullets. He made it to the forest and from there, walked around for five days, free at last, but marooned in the terrifying jungle full of savage wild animals and things with sharp teeth. Five days later, he spotted a villager outside the wilderness and ran into his arms and told him who he was. After that, he made it back civilization for the first time in six years, awed and full of wonder. Colombia celebrated his extraordinary escape with huge parades and rejoicing. Newspapers put it on the front page. A dead man had come back to life.

The story got even more dramatic in February. Not two months away from the clutches of the FARC, Uribe asked him if he would be his foreign minister. It was awfully soon, but Araujo's indomitable spirit of survival had impressed him. In fact, it impressed everyone. Putting his country about himself, Araujo said yes.

It was like Magic Realism.

Araujo was chosen because Uribe was having political troubles. The U.S. Democrats in Congress were threatening to cut off aid to Colombia and Colombia needed to win its war on terror. They didn't want to be left high and dry. The FARC remains a formidable enemy and flip flopping on war funding was only going to embolden them. But the Dems were obsessed with supposed human rights violations as if winning the war was not urgent. Uribe needed someone who could bring Colombia's true story of courage and suffering forward to the Americans. Who better than someone who suffered six years as a hostage of the FARC - even though it was only a few weeks ago. The aim was to get someone who could tell the truth compelling, and who wouldn't turn heads in Washington like a man who'd suffered from narcoterror as a hostage for six years up until just a few weeks ago? It was risky to pick him but it was also a brilliant idea. Colombia needed a truth teller to the world, to tell the truth about the FARC and its evil.

Araujo was in Washington this week and he did tell the truth, from the pit of his soul, from his own experience. He said what he say in the FARC camp - he said that the FARCsters were big worshippers of Hugo Chavez who was their hero. With his own hostage eyes, he watched as they mooned over the Venezuelan dictator's speeches, studied them in the camp, and gushed whenever he came on TV. Chavez really excited them. Araujo said that Chavez was their ideological leader. There was no question that they were crazy about Hugo Chavez. The FARC and Hugo were like lips and teeth.

Simple truth of course, something everyone expected.

But it wasn't so simple as that. Hugo Chavez screamed about the truth telling, saying Araujo had disrespected Venezuela in so doing. Chavez always like to silence the truth tellers. The FARC's drooling over him didn't bother him - Araujo's truthtelling did. See here

President Uribe scolded Araujo today, saying he needed to be more 'wise' in his choice of words around Chavez. Uribe is looking at the pragmatic picture - Hugo Chavez could badly damage the Colombian economy by threatening to shut the border. Chavez would do just that because being a dictator, he no longer has to answer to voters on the Venezuelan side or look out for their trade. But Uribe could face political consequences from voters if the border were to shut. That's why he acts with caution. He also needs the minimal support he can get from Venezuela in its war on narcoterror. I would call it less appeasement than pragmatism and usually it works pretty well.

But not this time. Araujo was hired to tell the truth about Colombia's plight to the world. He experienced it himself, with his own body, mind and soul, for six long years. Yes, he knew the truth about the FARC and its love of Chavez. He said it. It needs to be said as often as possible. An eyewitness is a powerful person to say it. So he did.

But now he's being accused on all sides of being undiplomatic.

I look in askance at Uribe's go-softly approach. Pragmatism can become appeasement pretty darn quickly if enough pragmatic moves are made. Now the word is out about what the Colombia government really thinks about Chavez. They're not alone. I've had lunch with Mexican cabinet officials in the past who've totally lashed out at Chavez in private. But no one wants to go on the record with the truth about the antidemocratic, criminal, gangsterly nature of chavismo. Everyone just wants to preserve the polite fictions, the most fictitious of these being the idea that Chavez was elected democratically. He wasn't.

Sooner or later, the truth will out. It already has come out with the ex-hostage Araujo. When will it come out for everyone else?

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