Is Cuba aiding Colombia hostage release?

The surprise appearance of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a Colombian senator and the mother of high-profile hostage Ingrid Betancourt in Havana last weekend suggests that Cuba may emerge as a player in the efforts to free Colombia's captives.

Cuba has long been a go-between between Colombian rebels and the government they seek to overthrow. But Havana was uncharacteristically silent during last week's diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Ecuador, suggesting to experts that Raúl Castro could be trying to win Betancourt's freedom.

''It was very interesting to see how little Cuba had to say,'' said Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. That, coupled with the sudden visit to Havana by Chávez, Colombia's opposition Sen. Piedad Córdoba and Yolanda Pulecio, the mother of Betancourt, hinted that Cuba is more engaged in Colombian issues than previously known.

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