The Venezuelan Minister of the Interior and Justice, RamÃ³n RodrÃguez ChacÃn (pictured), told the press on Tuesday that President Hugo ChÃ¡vez does not have any “direct relationship” with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Meanwhile, the government of the United States demanded clarification of Venezuela’s relationship with the insurgent group, which Colombia claims ChÃ¡vez has financed.
The “only contacts” that ChÃ¡vez had were at the request of the Colombian government for the sake of the peace process, the minister asserted, referring to the President ChÃ¡vez’s mediation of FARC hostage releases last year and early this year.
A former FARC commander who turned herself in to Colombian authorities last Sunday supported Rodriguez ChacÃn’s comments by saying that ChÃ¡vez did not make any accords with the insurgent group.
“We admire President ChÃ¡vez, but I never knew of any accords, negotiations, or anything like that with him,” said Nely Avila, known by the alias Karina. The well-known guerrilla leader said he turned herself in after 24 years with the FARC because of mounting pressure by the Colombian military.
“For me, the FARC are not a terrorist organization, we are in a confrontation and the excesses are produced by both sides,” Avila told the press.
President Uribe and his allies in the Colombian government have been accused of having contracted paramilitary groups to carry out political assassinations and to battle the FARC using terrorist tactics beyond legal oversight.
Tuesday, Colombia’s Attorney General ordered the arrest of the former president of Colombia’s House of Representatives, Emilio MartÃnez, an Uribe ally, on charges that he paid 200 million Colombian pesos ($100,000 at the time) to three paramilitary commanders of the now dissolved United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC) in 2001 for political assassinations in four municipalities in his district. The charges are based on the testimony of 6 former paramilitaries currently in jail.
Despite having dissolved in 2005 in exchange for legal protections from the government, former AUC paramilitaries continue to carry out political assassinations and violent social control, according to the Colombia-based Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE).
Earlier this month, Uribe signed the extradition to the United States of 14 paramilitary commanders on narco-trafficking charges. MOVICE rejected the move, saying the charges do not reflect the “crimes against humanity” committed by those extradited.
Despite political strife between Colombia and Venezuela, commerce between the two countries, which surpassed $6 billion in 2007, has remained healthy. The president of the National Association of Industries in Colombia, Luis Carlos Villegas, stated Tuesday that economic relations are “growing” and “normality has been maintained and we have not had any interruptions.”
Bush administration wants clarification
In the wake of the Interpol report, the US State Department official in charge of Latin America, Thomas Shannon, demanded on Tuesday that the Venezuelan government clarify its relationship with the FARC, which the US government considers a terrorist group.
“I think the stories that have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, in the Washington Post and El Pais and elsewhere, indicate that there is indeed a relationship between the FARC and Venezuela,” Shannon told the press. “We will certainly urge the government of Venezuela to make clear what the purpose of that relationship is,” he added.
The official also expressed that he was “surprised” by the Venezuelan government’s reaction to the “objective” Interpol report.
Shannon had previously stated publicly that Venezuela “will either have to commit itself to using its relationship with the FARC to promote peace or it will have to explain why members of its government are conspiring against a democratic neighbor.”
The US Director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the “Drug Czar” John Walters, took a harder line last Sunday, insisting that “this is very serious, and it requires something more than a simple denial.”
“President Hugo ChÃ¡vez has a lot to explain,” Walters challenged. “I do not know of any person other than ChÃ¡vez who believes [the accusations] are not true.”
Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe had invited ChÃ¡vez in August 2007 to negotiate hostage releases, then abruptly cancelled the invitation shortly before the Venezuelan constitutional reform referendum was to be voted on last December, claiming ChÃ¡vez had broken the rules by directly contacting a Colombian army general.
However, hostage negotiations continued into the first months of this year. The Minister said he met personally with many members of the FARC, including its central command, to bring about these “humanitarian liberations.”
Two days after the FARC released four hostages to Venezuelan authorities February 27th, Colombia launched an illegal attack on a FARC encampment inside Ecuadorian territory which set off a week-long regional crisis. Colombian authorities claimed to have found in the wreckage three laptops and other computer hardware that belonged to the FARC`s second-in-command, RaÃºl Reyes, who was killed in the attack.
Last week, a forensic analysis by Interpol revealed “no evidence” that the computers had been tampered with during the month they were in Colombian custody. Interpol made clear that its study did not evaluate whether the contents of the laptop actually substantiate the Colombian government’s claim that Venezuela helped the FARC acquire arms.
President ChÃ¡vez has called the presentation of the Interpol report “a media show,” and the Venezuelan Communication and Information Minister AndrÃ©s Izarra said the accusations of government support for the FARC are “empty and lacking legality.” Several international computer experts have questioned whether the report could hold up in a court of law.
Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega DÃaz said on Tuesday that the INTERPOL report is null and void because the evidence was not collected legally.
Colombian officials “pretend now to cover with a veil of legality a thing that has been illicit from the beginning…. these computers were obtained in virtue of an invasion, of an interference [Colombia] made in the Ecuadorian state. It is contaminated evidence,” Ortega DÃaz told the press outside of the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice.
James Suggett writes for Venezuela Analysis.
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This post was written by James Suggett