The Venezuelan government announced on Tuesday that it captured two intelligence agents from Colombia’s Security Administrative Department (DAS) who were spying within Venezuelan territory.
Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Relations Francisco Arias Cardenas said in a press conference that the two DAS agents attempted to bribe Venezuelan officials and were planning acts of “destabilization” in Venezuela, but he did not give further details.
“The DAS functionaries were captured while carrying out spy activities which violate the conventions of the Charter of the United Nations,” said Arias Cardenas.
A statement from the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry to the Colombian government accused Colombia of involvement in “a great conspiracy and destabilization plan against Venezuela.”
President Hugo Chavez, who advocates “21st Century Socialism” and is a vocal opponent of Colombia’s militarism as well as its alliance with the United States, said the DAS agents were seeking information about Venezuela’s military equipment and its newly formed, community-based volunteer militias.
Chavez said the DAS agents would be processed according to Venezuelan law, and demanded that Colombia “respect the sovereignty of Venezuela, like we respect the sovereignty of Colombia.”
“When a hostile government goes to a deeper level with its investigations and dares to violate international accords… this indicates that there are plans against Venezuela, and behind these Colombians is the hand of the CIA,” said President Chavez.
In response, Colombia’s ambassador in Venezuela, Maria Luisa Chiape, accused the Venezuelan government of “provocations.”
In an official statement, the DAS denied the accusations of conspiracy and said it carries out intelligence operations “exclusively in Colombian territory” on matters of “national security.”
“No instruction has been given for DAS functionaries to cross into Venezuelan territory. As an internal policy establishes, the functionaries are expressly prohibited from crossing into the territory of that country,” the DAS stated.
The arrests occurred as the Colombian government finalizes plans to allow the US to increase its military presence on seven Colombian bases. Venezuela deems the deal a threat to its national security, and the large majority of the countries in the region criticised it last month during an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a regional integration organization.
The ongoing tension between Venezuela and Colombia flared again last weekend when Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva said he was “worried” about Venezuela not controlling illicit drug trafficking flights through its territory. Venezuela has repeatedly denied such accusations and pointed out that Colombia and the US are two of the world’s largest producers and consumers of drugs, respectively.
Amidst the diplomatic spat, Venezuela’s investigative police, the CICPC, announced it had found the bodies of 8 Colombians, a Peruvian, and a Venezuelan who are believed to have been kidnapped and executed by illegal armed groups in the Venezuelan state of Tachira, which lies on the conflict-ridden border of the two countries.
CICPC Director Wilmer Flores did not speculate on who specifically was responsible for the crime. “At this time, we are identifying the criminal organization,” he said.
Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizalez asserted that the government is “taking actions against any irregular group that attempts to operate in the border region, transferring over to us the Colombian conflict, which is not ours.”
Both the government and opposition leaders denounce the filtration into Venezuela of illegal armed organizations involved in Colombia’s decades-old civil war.
Tachira Governor Cesar Perez and neighboring Zulia Governor Pablo Perez attributed the massacre to leftist guerrilla insurgents from Colombia, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), and accused the Chavez government of losing control of the border region.
However, National Assembly Legislator Mario Isea, who is from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), attributed the crime to paramilitary organizations linked to top Colombian government officials, many of whom are now in jail for paramilitary activities.
Paramilitary organizations have distributed flyers threatening “social cleansing” in several cities in Venezuela’s border region with Colombia, and a paramilitary encampment was discovered outside of Caracas in 2004. The paramilitaries active in Venezuela are suspected of being former members of the United Self-Defense of Colombia, a force which was formed to protect landed and state interests by engaging in extralegal battle with the leftist insurgents.
In a nationally televised meeting with his Council of Ministers on Tuesday, President Chavez commented on the massacre. “Without a doubt, it was guerrillas, paramilitaries, organized crime, or drug traffickers, it is a phenomenon that comes from Colombia,” he said.
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This post was written by James Suggett