Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, NicolÃ¡s Maduro, denied the authenticity of documents that the Colombian government claims were found in a computer that belonged to RaÃºl Reyes, the second in command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who was killed when Colombian forces attacked a FARC encampment inside Ecuadoran territory on March 1st. Colombia’s Foreign Minister Fernando AraÃºjo said he turned in the documents to the Venezuelan embassy in BogotÃ¡ on Saturday.
Maduro confirmed Tuesday on the Venezuelan state television channel VTV that the Venezuelan government had received “a white plastic folder with a bunch of photocopies of papers signed with strange names and codes” from the Colombian Foreign Relations Ministry.
However, Maduro affirmed, “we do not recognize in any manner the supposed existence of these documents they say survived in a computer.”
The Colombian government alleges that the documents incriminate the administration of Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez for sustaining an inappropriate relationship with the FARC.
However, nothing new is revealed by the documents, Maduro claimed, “because we have already read it in the Colombian media, which carries out a daily campaign against the honorability of the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and against our government.”
Maduro appealed to the Colombian media to “cease the campaign against our government and restore balance and respect” toward Venezuela, and decried the conspicuous congruence between Colombian news reports and those of the New York Times.
Meanwhile, AraÃºjo clarified this week that the documents were delivered despite the fact that the International Police organization INTERPOL, which was asked to verify that the documents “have not been manipulated by any Colombian officials,” has not yet issued its certification.
RamÃ³n RodrÃguez ChacÃn, the Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister, urged the public to “imagine how manipulated this evidence will be,” having been in possession of Colombian and US authorities for a month before being revealed. RodrÃguez also speculated that advanced technology provided through Plan Colombia, through which the US has funneled an estimated $5.5 billion in military and technological aid since 2000, was used to tamper with the evidence.
“Any lawyer knows that this is not going to have any value, not even ethical, not even moral,” RodrÃguez ChacÃn announced regarding the documents earlier this week.
Maduro further speculated that “the government of the United States may try to convert this supposed computer into ‘the proof’ needed to start proceedings against our country,” which the minister deemed “a perverse intention.”
Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe already threatened to summon ChÃ¡vez before the International Criminal Court on charges of “patronage and financing of genocide,” supposedly substantiated by the documents found in the computer, during the regional crisis sparked by the Colombian violation of Ecuadoran territorial sovereignty in early March. No proceedings against ChÃ¡vez have taken place, however, since Uribe`s foreign relations committee and former Colombian President Ernesto Samper advised against the move.
Colombia also recently delivered documents to Ecuador that allegedly reveal an illicit relationship between Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and the FARC. In response, Ecuadoran Foreign Minister MarÃa Isabel Salvador announced Wednesday that the documents “supposedly found in the bomb-resistant computer” do not have validity because they are “printed,” which is not the form in which they were solicited.
Hostage Release Efforts Continue
Meanwhile, both President ChÃ¡vez and President Uribe received phone calls Tuesday from French President NicolÃ¡s Sarkozy, who announced that a joint French, Spanish, and Swiss humanitarian mission would be sent to Colombia Wednesday to provide medical attention and perhaps put in motion the liberation of the FARC`s highest profile hostage, the French ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Betancourt, whose liberation was being negotiated with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner before the prime FARC contact RaÃºl Reyes was killed in the March 1st attacks, is reported to be gravely ill with Hepatitis B and the parasite Leishmaniasis after six years in FARC captivity, according to the Colombian Public Defender office, reports from former hostages, and anonymous testimonies from local populations.
President Uribe has agreed to cease “military actions” in the zone where the mission intends to go once the point of contact is determined. Also, the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo declared last Friday that the Colombian government would free imprisoned FARC soldiers in exchange for Betancourt, a reversal of Uribe’s hard-line military policy recently.
It is also speculated that the International Red Cross will accompany the mission, although a Red Cross spokesperson in Colombia Barbara Hintermann said the organization has not been contacted by the FARC, does not have information about Betancourt, and is as of yet not involved in the “independent mission”.
“Do not ignore your date with history,” Sarkozy told FARC leader Manuel Marulanda Tuesday, pleading for the liberation of Betancourt. President ChÃ¡vez issued a similar direct appeal to Marulanda to free Betancourt on International Women`s Day March 8th.
However, IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez, one of seven chiefs of the FARC´s secretariat, wrote “there will not be a meeting with the French delegation” in a missive released Monday, citing the killing of Reyes in March as the “detonator” that exploded the possibility of Betancourt’s release.
“Like the Commander Manuel Marulanda said, they killed RaÃºl [Reyes], and they gravely wounded the exchange of prisoners and peace,” MÃ¡rquez´s letter communicated.
At the behest of family members of three US citizens held hostage by the FARC, New Mexico Governor and former democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson visited Uribe, Samper, opposition Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba, and other Colombian officials Monday to discuss hostage releases. Richardson, a former US Ambassador to the Organization of American States who helped negotiate the release of a US journalist held hostage in Sudan, announced Monday that he will now seek a meeting with President ChÃ¡vez, according to the Colombian daily El Tiempo.
James Suggett writes for Venezuela Analysis.
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This post was written by James Suggett