Thursday, February 24, 2005

Fait divers, France embassy in Caracas as a rendez-vous spot

In French "Fait Divers" is an expression not too easy to translate if one wants to keep its Gallic flavor. It is used when, for example, newspapers report strange events that have no relevance to the greater design such as a love triangle murder or a specific museum robbery. Not quite "miscellaneous" but somewhere along the line.

This is the best way to qualify the recent faux pas of French diplomacy, "diplomacy" used in a charitable way when France's foreign policy is concerned.

The item is that the French ambassador in Caracas, Pierre-Jean Vandoorne, did meet with Rodrigo Granda sometime in April 2004. This Granda is of course the "foreign minister" of the FARC who was arrested last December in Caracas, whisked to Cucuta, and became the cause of the latest diplomatic rift between Bogotá and Caracas. It is also the same Granda that walked around Venezuela as if nothing, who became a Venezuelan citizen "very easily" and just on time to vote on August 15 (for Chavez it is presumed). It is also the Granda that has just being implicated in the kidnapping and murder of the daughter of a Paraguayan ex-president. A very nice fellow this Granda, to the point that Colombia is already willing to send him to Paraguay to stand trial.

So why would Monsieur Vandoorne meet with Granda? In Venezuelan territory nevertheless!

Well, it is a long story of Gallic hubris. It turns out that a political rising star of Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, former presidential candidate, with a nice sounding French name, happened to have resided in France in exile, married a French man, wrote in French, and was thus the toast of Paris salons who suffer from quite an inferiority complex in front of the advances of English in the Wide Wild World. I cannot say much about Mrs. Betancourt but I suspect that she was smart enough to use the French. Unfortunately for her she got kidnapped during her electoral campaign, a terrible and unfair situation that she is still enduring after three years.

But the French will have none of it and they have started a "free Ingrid" campaign. President Chirac has become personally involved, asking Chavez and Castro to help. But I suspect that this has been rather counterproductive since it gave only more bargaining power to whoever is holding Ingrid Betancourt. So, it seems that Mr. Vandoorne received the instructions to try to negotiate something in Caracas, with no one less than Granda...

I feel for the French ambassador. 2004 did not end very well for him as Mr. Muselier, the French foreign secretary made some rather unsuitable declarations backing the authoritarian state that is slowly but surely being installed in Venezuela. But we all know that French diplomacy will balk at nothing to peddle French goods. And boy, are they trying to sell stuff to Chavez!!! After all, Chavez is kicking out the US and surely France should step in less than China, or anyone else, takes too much of a bite.

And now this! How could Monsieur Vandoorne negotiate with Granda in Caracas? At the French embassy no less!!!!!!!!! Aren't there discrete restaurants where they could have met? And without even the agreement of the Colombian government!?!?! Though Betancourt's husband states that Uribe blocked the negotiations.

So? Is this the Granda 2 affair? Will Chavez blame Uribe for knowing that Granda was in Caracas having tea at the embassy?

I think that Chavez, and now the French, have a lot more to explain on Granda. More than a fait divers?

And the French should also explain how come their foreign policy is so sloppy, so mercenary, plagued with so many free agents (the husband of Ingrid is not the first Frenchman doing "independent" negotiations that could dangerously implicate the French government in business where it would be well advised to keep its distances, as it happened recently in an Iraq hostage negotiation).

PS: added two days later. It seems that the Colombian government did know something of the negotiations. Of course, like in all such cases who knew and what will reamin murky for ever and ever. But conveniently for France, and Parisian newspapers, a new scandal that forced the resignation of the finance minister comes right on time. After all, this is a Parisian affair, and Ingrid's fate will again depend on the salons activities of Paris.

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