Monday, March 31, 2008

Hollywood A-Listers Prove Ignorance in Supporting Hugo Chavez

Hollywood A-Listers Prove Ignorance in Supporting Hugo Chavez
Monday, March 31, 2008
By Thor Halvorssen

HOLLYWOOD — readers may remember the film "Team America: World Police," a puppeteer's parody about the American government, its foreign policy and its home-grown critics in Hollywood. One of the puppets lampoons Oscar-winner Sean Penn, who, in the film, laments the invasion of Iraq by harking back to the time it "was a happy place. They had flowery meadows and rainbow skies, and rivers made of chocolate." Penn was so angry about the film's message that he wrote the film's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, a blistering public letter signing off with a scatological reference. I thought perhaps Penn’s temper had mellowed since then and was eager to speak with him on Oscar night at Elton John’s party.

I assumed Penn was probably ignorant about the human rights record in Venezuela in that he broke off relations with the San Francisco Chronicle in mid-January calling them a "lamebrain paper" over their use of the word "dictator" to describe Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Penn was in Caracas late last year where he went to do research for an essay he says he is writing about Chavez. On David Letterman's show Penn gushed about Chavez as a "fascinating guy" who had done "incredible things" for Venezuela's poor. Letterman remarked that Chavez had shut down a television station, RCTV — something that should trouble a self-styled journalist. Penn looked at the camera and misled the audience, stating that for years RCTV "had been encouraging the assassination of Chavez every day." But there was not a single instance of such behavior by RCTV. It's as if the Sean Penn puppet in "Team America" came to life as a propagandist.

Ironically, it was President Chavez who has repeatedly threatened — even with death — those in the media who disagree with his policies. Reporters covering government functions must wear bullet-proof vests and dozens in the media have been assaulted and beaten for disagreeing with the official party line.

On Oscar night Penn and I had an unpleasant exchange about the political prisoners of the Chavez government which he ended by walking away and repeating, like a mantra, the name of one of the evening’s Academy Award recipients, “Daniel Day-Lewis,” over and over again in what seemed like the equivalent of a child putting his hands over his ears and belting “la-la-la-la-la-la! I can’t hear you!” Undaunted, I scribbled a note inviting him to learn more about the appalling stories of Venezuelan dissidents in prison for doing nothing but criticizing the government. The invitation is still open.

Penn isn't alone in displaying ignorance or deception while defending the Venezuelan president. He joins an all-star cast of Chavez admirers including actors Danny Glover and Kevin Spacey, musician Harry Belafonte, supermodel Naomi Campbell, director Oliver Stone, activist Cindy Sheehan, and Princeton University Professor Cornel West.

A multi-billion dollar public relations campaign, complete with Potemkin villages and a lucrative international initiative that includes heating oil distributed by Joe Kennedy to America's needy, has managed to paint a romantic picture. However, a shift has begun in the widely-held perception about Venezuela as a place transforming into what Chavez describes as a socialist "terrestrial paradise."
Regionally, Chavez has exemplified imperialism by intervening in the internal affairs and elections of Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. He began a continental arms race complete with submarines, 100,000 new AK-47s and fighter jets from Russia. His government has provided a safe haven, cash, and military supplies to the leaders of the FARC terrorist organization of Colombia — whom his government considers as allies and heroes. Just imagine if the Canadian or Mexican governments provided cash, lodging, and supplies to Al Qaeda to get a sense of what Colombia must bear.

Domestically, the unbendable reality about Chavez is that he is on record authorizing the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians who protest. Thanks to massive oil revenues, he has presided over the richest government in Venezuelan history, yet living standards continue to decline and food shortages are a weekly phenomenon. Corruption is worse than ever before and street crime has grown under his government to the point that Venezuela has one of the top five per capita murder rates in the world. And in December the people so overwhelmingly rejected his proposed plan to stay in power indefinitely that despite a manipulated voter roll, voting machines made by a company once secretly-owned by the government, and control of the electoral commission, the vote revealed that Venezuelans aren't sitting out the elimination of their freedoms. Since May of last year, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly students, have been marching in a continuous peaceful protest. The
quick count and polls indicate Chavez lost by a wide margin of more than 8 points. Election night saw a tense negotiation between Chavez and his high command who informed him they would not go along with his plans to announce victory. The electoral body tried to lessen the blow by announcing preliminary numbers indicating Chavez would lose by less than one point. As of this writing, the Venezuelan electoral body has yet to publish the official results of the vote.
So why, despite his atrocious human rights record, does Chavez enjoy the support of high-profile actors and activists?

What tickles Penn and his ilk is that Chavez is the world's most visible opponent of the United States and the U.S. government. Many foreign leaders differ with President Bush, but none of these leaders openly use profane and scatological language. In this, Chavez is identical to his cheerleaders.

Whether by embracing Iran's leader, cozying up to Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko or even supporting Saddam Hussein by becoming the last elected leader to visit him in Iraq — Chavez will do the opposite of President Bush and the American government.

After calling George W. Bush the "greatest tyrant in the world," Harry Belafonte declared to Chavez: "Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people... support your revolution."

Kevin Spacey kept a low profile regarding his three-hour visit but he was happy to enjoy a lengthy photo-op, and then tour a new film facility. Chavez told his supporters that Spacey had approved of the revolutionary process.
Glover received a cash reward for his endorsement: $20 million in financing for two films now in development. It is a tragic irony that the man who portrayed Nelson Mandela in the HBO classic is celebrating and coddling Chavez as he dismantles democracy and persecutes dissenters.

Naomi Campbell's motorcade drove into Caracas as water cannons, tear gas, and bullets were used on students marching for equal rights. After spending some time with Chavez and shaking him down for a charitable contribution, she joyously described the "love and encouragement" she witnessed in the welfare programs of Venezuela. “Viva la Revolucion!”

On December 30 Oliver Stone joined the chorus by announcing he was thinking of making a movie about the Chavez revolution. He said this and much more as he stood next to Chavez to celebrate a "humanitarian mission" to free hostages held by the FARC terrorist organization — a Marxist-Leninist organization that has terrorized Colombia with kidnappings and murder for decades while funding its operations from billions of dollars garnered from cocaine trafficking. The mission was a miserable failure and Stone went home without a minute of footage.

By virtue of the media attention garnered, what Hollywood's cheerleaders do and say matters — profoundly. One instance of impact across the world is Abu Nasser, chief of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades terror group in the West Bank. He told author Aaron Klein how Campbell's visit "presents a slap in the face to Bush and his government and his policy. The fact that she respects Chavez, and his ideals, can bring more people to follow this step." Several terrorists explained to Klein how the solidarity received by Chavez from high profile individuals is a terrific boost to their morale.

Tragically, none of these so-called social justice advocates care to know about political prisoners like Humberto Quintero, an army lieutenant colonel in charge of an anti-terrorism and anti-kidnapping border unit who caught Rodrigo Granda, the "foreign minister" of the FARC terrorist organization and handed him over to the Colombian authorities. Granda had been living in baronial splendor in Caracas with the protection of the Chavez government. For his courage in trapping a man wanted all over the world, Quintero was not celebrated but instead arrested on January 12, 2005. He is in prison for treason, abuse of power, and dishonoring his uniform. I visited him in Ramo Verde prison where he provided me with the grotesque details of the torture he suffered for having served his country. The prison, a rat-infested dungeon miles away from any major road, has no running water, no daily rations for prisoners, and no medical attention of any kind. Quintero is virtually unknown
outside of Venezuela. If Penn, Stone, or Campbell chose to live up to their stated commitments, they would make time to visit Quintero or any of the political prisoners forgotten in Venezuela’s prisons.
Thor Halvorssen is a film producer and President of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Files Released by Colombia Point to Venezuelan Bid to Arm Rebels

New York Times
March 30, 2008
Files Released by Colombia Point to Venezuelan Bid to Arm Rebels

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Files provided by Colombian officials from computers they say were captured in a cross-border raid in Ecuador this month appear to tie Venezuela’s government to efforts to secure arms for Colombia’s largest insurgency.

Officials taking part in Colombia’s investigation of the computers provided The New York Times with copies of more than 20 files, some of which also showed contributions from the rebels to the 2006 campaign of Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa.

If verified, the files would offer rare insight into the cloak-and-dagger nature of Latin America’s longest-running guerrilla conflict, including what appeared to be the killing of a Colombian government spy with microchips implanted in her body, a crime apparently carried out by the rebels in their jungle redoubt.

The files would also potentially link the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador to the leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the United States says is a terrorist group and has fought to overthrow Colombia’s government for four decades.

Though it was impossible to authenticate the files independently, the Colombian officials said their government had invited Interpol to verify the files. The officials did not want to be identified while any Interpol inquiry was under way.

Both the United States and Colombia, Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, have a strong interest in undercutting President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who has sought to counter United States influence by forming his own leftist bloc in the region. But the Colombian officials who provided the computer files adamantly vouched for them.

The files contained touches that suggested authenticity: they were filled with revolutionary jargon, passages in numerical code, missives about American policy in Latin America and even brief personal reflections like one by a senior rebel commander on the joy of becoming a grandfather.

Other senior Colombian officials said the files made public so far only scratched the surface of the captured archives, risking new friction with Venezuela and Ecuador, both of whom have dismissed the files as fakes.

Vice President Francisco Santos said Colombia’s stability was at risk if explicit support from its neighbors for the FARC, the country’s largest armed insurgency, was proved true. “The idea that using weapons to topple a democratic government has not been censured,” Mr. Santos said in an interview, “is not only stupid — it is frankly frightening.”

Colombia’s relations with its two Andean neighbors veered suddenly toward armed conflict after Colombian forces raided a FARC camp inside Ecuador on March 1, killing 26 people, including a top FARC commander, and capturing the computers, according to the Colombians.

Though tensions ebbed after a summit meeting of Latin American nations in the Dominican Republic this month, the matter of the computer files has threatened to reignite the diplomatic crisis caused by the raid.

Shortly after the crisis erupted, Colombian officials began releasing a small portion of the computer files, some of which they said showed efforts by Mr. Chavez’s government to provide financial support for the FARC.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview that officials had obtained more than 16,000 files from three computers belonging to Luis Édgar Devia Silva, a commander known by his nom de guerre, Raúl Reyes, who was killed in the raid. Two other hard drives were also captured, he said.

“Everything has been accessed and everything is being validated by Interpol,” Mr. Santos said, adding that he expected the work on the validation to be completed by the end of April. “It is a great deal of information that is extremely valuable and important.”

Mr. Santos, who said the computers survived the raid because they were in metal casing, strongly defended Colombia’s military foray into Ecuador, which drew condemnation in other parts of Latin America as a violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty.

“Personally I do not regret a thing, absolutely nothing, but I am a minister of a government that has agreed this type of action would not be repeated,” he said. “Of course, this depends on our neighbors collaborating on the fight against terrorism.”

For his part, Mr. Chávez, in a meeting with foreign journalists last week in Caracas, lashed out at Colombia’s government and mocked the files.

“The main weapon they have now is the computer, the supposed computer of Raúl Reyes,” Mr. Chávez said. “This computer is like à la carte service, giving you whatever you want. You want steak? Or fried fish? How would you like it prepared? You’ll get it however the empire decides.”

The correspondence also pointed to warm relations between Venezuela’s government and the FARC.

One letter, dated Jan. 25, 2007, by Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC’s seven-member secretariat, discussed a meeting with a Venezuelan official called Carvajal. “Carvajal,” Mr. Márquez wrote, “left with the pledge of bringing an arms dealer from Panama.”

Officials here said they believed that the official in question was Gen. Hugo Carvajal, the director of military intelligence in Venezuela, a confidant of Mr. Chávez and perhaps Venezuela’s most powerful intelligence official.

In other correspondence from September 2004 after the killing by the FARC of six Venezuelan soldiers and one Venezuelan engineer on Venezuelan soil that month, General Carvajal’s longstanding ties to the guerrillas also come into focus. In those letters, the guerrillas describe talks with General Carvajal, Mr. Chávez’s emissary to deal with the issue.

“Today I met with General Hugo Carvajal,” a FARC commander wrote in on letter dated Sept. 23, 2004. “He said he guarded the secret hope that what happened in Apure,” the rebel wrote in reference to the Venezuelan border state where the killings took place, “was the work of a force different from our own.”

Officials in General Carvajal’s office at the General Directorate of Military Intelligence in Caracas did not respond to requests for comment on the letters. Mr. Chávez responded to a report earlier this year in Colombia claiming that General Carvajal provided logistical assistance to the FARC by calling it an “attack on the revolution” he has led in Venezuela.

Another file recovered from Mr. Devia’s computers, dated a week earlier on Jan. 18, 2007, described efforts by the FARC’s secretariat to secure Mr. Chávez’s assistance for buying arms and obtaining a $250 million loan, “to be paid when we take power.”

The FARC, a Marxist-inspired insurgency that has persisted for four decades, finances itself largely through cocaine trafficking and kidnappings for ransom. But other files from the computers suggested that Colombia’s counterinsurgency effort, financed in large part by $600 million a year in aid from Washington, was making those activities less lucrative for the FARC, forcing it to consider options like selling Venezuelan gasoline at a profit in Colombia.

The release of the files comes at a delicate time when some lawmakers in Washington are pressing for Venezuela to be included on a list of countries that are state sponsors of terrorism. But with Venezuela remaining a leading supplier of oil to the United States, such a move is considered unlikely because of the limits on trade it would entail.

Moreover, interpretations of the files from Mr. Devia’s computers have already led to some mistakes.

For instance, El Tiempo, Colombia’s leading daily newspaper, issued an apology this month to Gustavo Larrea, Ecuador’s security minister, after publishing a photograph obtained from the computers in which the newspaper claimed Mr. Larrea was shown meeting with Mr. Devia at a FARC camp. In fact, the photograph was of Patricio Etchegaray, an official with the Communist Party in Argentina.

Still, the files from Mr. Devia’s computers are expected to haunt relations between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela for some time.

For instance, one piece of correspondence dated Nov. 21, 2006, and circulated among the FARC’s secretariat, describes a $100,000 donation to the campaign of Mr. Correa, Ecuador’s president.

Of that amount, $50,000 came from the FARC’s “Eastern bloc,” a militarily strong faction that operates in eastern Colombia, and $20,000 from the group’s “Southern bloc,” according to the document.

President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia referred this month to files from Mr. Devia’s computers showing financing of Mr. Correa’s campaign by the FARC, but he stopped short of releasing them after tensions eased at the summit meeting in the Dominican Republic.

“Any archive is not valid until it is verified,” said Pedro Artieda, a spokesman at the Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry, when asked for comment. “Therefore, the government cannot comment on something that is not confirmed.” Mr. Correa had previously disputed the campaign-finance claims based on the computers files, saying they lacked “technical and legal” validity.

Other files offer insight into the methods employed both by the FARC and Colombia’s government in their four-decade war. In one letter by Mr. Devia dated Jan. 5, 2007, to Manuel Marulanda, the most senior member of the FARC’s secretariat, he described a woman in their ranks who was discovered to be a government spy.

“The new thing here,” Mr. Devia wrote, “was that she had two microchips, one under her breast and the other beneath her jaw.”

Mr. Devia went on to describe the reaction to this discovery, explaining in the rebels’ slang that she was given “a course.”

“Yesterday they threw her into the hole after proving what she was,” he wrote, “and giving her the counsel of war.”

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Sarkozy says Betancourt's death would be "murder" by rebels

Sarkozy says Betancourt's death would be "murder" by rebels
06.03.08 21:51
dpa )- If former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt were to die in captivity, it would be "murder" by the leftist Colombian rebels who kidnapped her in February 2002, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Colombian television.
In an interview broadcast by RCN on Thursday, Sarkozy addressed Manuel Marulanda Velez, the top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), asking him to free Betancourt and the more than other hostages held by the rebel group.
According to Sarkozy, such a move would change the views of those who condemn FARC's activities and perhaps allow the group to be removed from lists of terrorists.
Bentancourt is the most high profile of the more than 700 hostages held by FARC and holds both French and Colombian citizenship. She has been reported to be ill.
"I am telling FARC boss, Manuel Marulanda, that (FARC) have on their shoulders the weight of responsibility for the life or death of a woman and that he has to evaluate perfectly the decision he is going to make. Because this woman is in life-threatening danger and could die in the coming days," he said.
"If he lets her die, it will mean he is responsible for a murder. If he releases her, it will mean he has made a humanitarian gesture, and that humanitarian gesture will necessarily provoke, trigger something else," Sarkozy said.
He recalled that Betancourt is a French-Colombian citizen and stressed that "the people of France are mobilized around their compatriot."
"She has lived in the jungle for six years. Her family, her children are asking for her return. She is currently in life- threatening danger. It is a national cause for France, which is not to say that it is not also necessary to release all the hostages unfairly kidnapped," Sarkozy noted.
"Perhaps thanks to the action of France six civilian hostages have been released," he said, referring to the release in the past two months of Betancourt's former vice presidential candidate, Clara Rojas, and five other former Colombian legislators who had been held by FARC for at least five years.
Sarkozy admitted that FARC number two Raul Reyes - killed Saturday by the Colombian military in Ecuadorian territory - was actively engaged in talks towards a hostage release.
"Mr Reyes was one of the spokesmen of FARC, but his death does not mean that there will be no discussion. FARC are on a list of terrorist organizations. FARC have to know whether they want to get out of that list or stay on it," he said.
"If they let Ingrid Betancourt die, of course there will be no discussion about that. If they release Ingrid Betancourt, perhaps a part of the world will look at them a bit differently," Sarkozy said.
"If Ingrid Betancourt is not released in a humanitarian framework they will never get off the list because, I insist, this would mean a murder in cold blood," he stressed.

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Human Rights Watch Video - Human Rights Violation in Venezuela

Video from Human Rights Watch, violations of Human Rights in Venezuela

Click here:

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chavez: Little chance FARC will free high-profile hostage

(CNN) --There is little chance Colombia rebels will free one-time Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt after that country's March 1 attack on a rebel camp inside Ecuador, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez discussed FARC hostages in Caracas on Tuesday.

The 44-year-old, who holds dual French citizenship, has been held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for more than six years.

In January, FARC rebels in southern Colombia handed over two hostages to representatives of the Red Cross and Venezuela.

And in February, FARC released four others.

Those released prisoners who had seen Betancourt said she was in poor health.

Last year, Chavez helped mediate a proposed exchange of jailed guerrillas for FARC hostages.

But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended the talks in November after accusing Chavez of exceeding his authority.

"Before the attack on Ecuador, we were giving a high probability of the liberation of Ingrid," Chavez said during a news conference at his palace in Caracas. "After that, the probability fell," Chavez told reporters.

Also on Tuesday, the Ecuadoran government asked the Organization of American States to help smooth over relations with Colombia over the rebel camp attack. The request was made after Colombia's minister of defense, Juan Manuel Santos, declared that his country had committed "a legitimate act of war" inside Ecuador.

The attack killed about two dozen people, including Raul Reyes, the second-in-command of FARC, as well as an Ecuadoran and several Mexicans. Colombia said it found laptop computers belonging to FARC that indicated Venezuela was funding the guerrillas.

Venezuela denied the charge, and Ecuador and Venezuela promptly severed diplomatic relations with Colombia. Ecuador called the move an attack on its territorial sovereignty.

Ecuadoran OAS representative Maria Isabel Salvador called Santos' remarks "almost a declaration of war that, obviously, has to be rejected."

On Wednesday, relatives of the dead Ecuadoran, 38-year-old Franklin Aisalia, will travel to Bogota, Colombia, to repatriate his body.

Colombia has accused him of collaborating with the FARC, a claim that his father on Monday rejected.

Chavez also denounced the accusation, noting that Colombia originally identified the dead man as a Colombian.

"Now [Colombia] says, yes, it's an Ecuadoran, but a terrorist," Chavez said Tuesday. "And if the father comes to reclaim his son, he's a terrorist, too."

In comments directed at Santos, Chavez said, "Tell the truth instead of talking garbage about this supposed computer from Raul Reyes."

An end to the conflict between Ecuador and Colombia would be a good first step in securing Betancourt's freedom, Chavez said.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Revealed: Chávez role in cocaine trail to Europe

Terrible to Venezuela. It is sad that our Venezuelan Justice System can put him in jail........ This is too much.
vdebate reporter
Revealed: Chávez role in cocaine trail to Europe
The guerrilla group Farc has long been suspected of running the Colombian cocaine industry. But how does it move the drug so readily out of the country? In a special investigation, John Carlin in Venezuela reports on the remarkable collusion between Colombia's rebels and its neighbour's armed forces
John Carlin in Venezuela
The Observer,
Sunday February 3 2008
Article history
About this article
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday February 03 2008 on p38 of the World news section.
Some fighters desert from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) because they feel betrayed by the leadership, demoralised by a sense that the socialist ideals that first informed the guerrilla group have been replaced by the savage capitalism of drug trafficking. Others leave to be with their families. Still others leave because they begin to think that, if they do not, they will die. Such is the case of Rafael, who deserted last September after 18 months operating in a Farc base inside Venezuela, with which Colombia shares a long border.
The logic of Rafael's decision seems, at first, perverse. He is back in Colombia today where, as a guerrilla deserter, he will live for the rest of his days under permanent threat of assassination by his former comrades. Venezuela, on the other hand, ought to have been a safe place to be a Farc guerrilla. President Hugo Chávez has publicly given Farc his political support and the Colombian army seems unlikely to succumb to the temptation to cross the border in violation of international law.
'All this is true,' says Rafael. 'The Colombian army doesn't cross the border and the guerrillas have a non-aggression pact with the Venezuelan military. The Venezuelan government lets Farc operate freely because they share the same left-wing, Bolivarian ideals, and because Farc bribes their people.'
Then what did he run away from? 'From a greater risk than the one I run now: from the daily battles with other guerrilla groups to see who controls the cocaine-trafficking routes. There is a lot of money at stake in control of the border where the drugs come in from Colombia. The safest route to transport cocaine to Europe is via Venezuela.'
Rafael is one of 2,400 guerrillas who deserted Farc last year. He is one of four I spoke to, all of whom had grown despondent about a purportedly left-wing revolutionary movement whose power and influence rests less on its political legitimacy and more on the benefits of having become the world's biggest kidnapping organisation and the world's leading traffickers in cocaine.
Farc has come a long way from its leftist revolutionary roots and is now commonly referred to in Colombia and elsewhere as 'narco-guerrillas'. Pushed out to the border areas, it has been rendered increasingly irrelevant politically and militarily due to the combined efforts of Colombia's centre-right President, Alvaro Uribe, and his principal backers, the United States, whose Plan Colombia, devised under the presidency of Bill Clinton, has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the Colombian military and police. A large part of Plan Colombia is designed to eradicate the vast coca plantations cultivated and maintained by Farc and other Colombian groups.
However, the impact on Farc has been ambiguous: its chances of launching a left-wing insurrection in the manner of Nicaragua's Sandinistas in 1979 are nil, but then they probably always were; yet it looks capable of surviving indefinitely as an armed force as a result of the income from its kidnapping, extortion and cocaine interests.
Helping it to survive, and prosper, is its friend and neighbour Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan President sought to extract some international credit from the role he played as mediator in the release last month in Venezuelan territory of two kidnapped women, friends of Ingrid Betancourt, a French citizen and former Colombian presidential candidate held by Farc for six years. But Chávez has not denounced Farc for holding Betancourt and 43 other 'political' hostages.
I spoke at length to Rafael (not his real name) and three other Farc deserters about the links between the guerrilla group and Chávez's Venezuela, in particular their co-operation in the drug business. All four have handed themselves in to the Colombian government in recent months under an official programme to help former guerrillas adapt back to civilian life.
I also spoke to high-level security, intelligence and diplomatic sources from five countries, some of them face to face in Colombia and London, some of them by phone. All of them insisted on speaking off the record, either for political or safety reasons, both of which converge in Farc, the oldest functioning guerrilla organisation in the world and one that is richer, more numerous and better armed than any other single Colombian drug cartel and is classified as 'terrorist' by the European Union and the US.
All the sources I reached agreed that powerful elements within the Venezuelan state apparatus have forged a strong working relationship with Farc. They told me that Farc and Venezuelan state officials operated actively together on the ground, where military and drug-trafficking activities coincide. But the relationship becomes more passive, they said, less actively involved, the higher up the Venezuelan government you go. No source I spoke to accused Chávez himself of having a direct role in Colombia's giant drug-trafficking business. Yet the same people I interviewed struggled to believe that Chávez was not aware of the collusion between his armed forces and the leadership of Farc, as they also found it difficult to imagine that he has no knowledge of the degree to which Farc is involved in the cocaine trade.
I made various attempts to extract an official response to these allegations from the Venezuelan government. In the end Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro made a public pronouncement in Uruguay in which he said, without addressing the substance of the allegations, that they were part of a 'racist' and 'colonialist' campaign against Venezuela by the centre-left Spanish newspaper El País, where I originally wrote about Farc and the Venezuelan connection.
What no one disputes, however, is that Chávez is a political ally of Farc (last month he called on the EU and US to stop labelling its members 'terrorists') or that for many years Farc has used Venezuelan territory as a refuge. A less uncontroversial claim, made by all the sources to whom I spoke (the four disaffected guerrillas included), is that if it were not for cocaine, the fuel that feeds the Colombian war, Farc would long ago have disbanded.
The varied testimonies I have heard reveal that the co-operation between Venezuela and the guerrillas in transporting cocaine by land, air and sea is both extensive and systematic. Venezuela is also supplying arms to the guerrillas, offering them the protection of their armed forces in the field, and providing them with legal immunity de facto as they go about their giant illegal business.
Thirty per cent of the 600 tons of cocaine smuggled from Colombia each year goes through Venezuela. Most of that 30 per cent ends up in Europe, with Spain and Portugal being the principal ports of entry. The drug's value on European streets is some £7.5bn a year.
The infrastructure that Venezuela provides for the cocaine business has expanded dramatically over the past five years of Chávez's presidency, according to intelligence sources. Chávez's decision to expel the US Drug Enforcement Administration from his country in 2005 was celebrated both by Farc and drug lords in the conventional cartels with whom they sometimes work. According to Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante, a Colombian kingpin caught by the police last February, 'Venezuela is the temple of drug trafficking.'
A European diplomat with many years of experience in Latin America echoed this view. 'The so-called anti-imperialist, socialist and Bolivarian nation that Chávez says he wants to create is en route to becoming a narco-state in the same way that Farc members have turned themselves into narco-guerrillas. Perhaps Chávez does not realise it but, unchecked, this phenomenon will corrode Venezuela like a cancer.'
The deserters I interviewed said that not only did the Venezuelan authorities provide armed protection to at least four permanent guerrilla camps inside their country, they turned a blind eye to bomb-making factories and bomber training programmes going on inside Farc camps. Rafael - tall and lithe, with the sculptured facial features of the classic Latin American 'guerrillero' - said he was trained in Venezuela to participate in a series of bomb attacks in Bogotá, Colombia's capital.
Co-operation between the Colombian guerrillas and the Venezuelan government extended, Rafael said, to the sale of arms by Chávez's military to Farc; to the supply of Venezuelan ID cards to regular guerrilla fighters and of Venezuelan passports to the guerrilla leaders so they were able to travel to Cuba and Europe; and also to a reciprocal understanding whereby Farc gave military training to the Bolivarian Forces of Liberation, a peculiar paramilitary group created by the Chávez government purportedly for the purpose of defending the motherland in case of American invasion.
Chávez's contacts with Farc are conducted via one of the members of the organisation's leadership, Iván Márquez, who also has a farm in Venezuela and who communicates with the President via senior officials of the Venezuelan intelligence service. As a Farc deserter who had filled a senior position in the propaganda department said: 'Farc shares three basic Bolivarian principles with Chávez: Latin American unity; the anti-imperialist struggle; and national sovereignty. These ideological positions lead them to converge on the tactical terrain.'
The tactical benefits of this Bolivarian (after the 19th-century Latin American liberator, Simón Bolívar) solidarity reach their maximum expression in the multinational cocaine industry. Different methods exist to transport the drug from Colombia to Europe, but what they all have in common is the participation, by omission or commission, of the Venezuelan authorities.
The most direct route is the aerial one. Small planes take off from remote jungle strips in Colombia and land in Venezuelan airfields. Then there are two options, according to intelligence sources. Either the same light planes continue on to Haiti or the Dominican Republic (the US government says that since 2006 its radar network has detected an increase from three to 15 in the number of 'suspicious flights' a week out of Venezuela); or the cocaine is loaded on to large planes that fly directly to countries in West Africa such as Guinea-Bissau or Ghana, from where it continues by sea to Portugal or the north-western Spanish province of Galicia, the entry points to the EU Schengen zone.
A less cumbersome traditional method for getting the drugs to Europe in small quantities is via passengers on international commercial flights - 'mules', as they call them in Colombia. One of the guerrilla deserters I spoke to, Marcelo, said he had taken part in 'eight or nine' missions of this type over 12 months. 'Operating inside Venezuela is the easiest thing in the world,' he said. 'Farc guerrillas are in there completely and the National Guard, the army and other Venezuelans in official positions offer them their services, in exchange for money. There are never shoot-outs between Farc and the guardia or army.'
Rafael said he took part in operations on a bigger scale, their final objective being to transport the cocaine by sea from Venezuelan ports on the Caribbean Sea. His rank in Farc was higher than Marcelo's and he had access to more confidential information. 'You receive the merchandise on the border, brought in by lorry,' he said. 'When the vehicle arrives the National Guard is waiting, already alerted to the fact that it was on its way. They have already been paid a bribe up front, so that the lorry can cross into Venezuela without problems.
'Sometimes they provide us with an escort for the next phase, which involves me and other comrades getting on to the lorry, or into a car that will drive along with it. We then make the 16-hour trip to Puerto Cabello, which is on the coast, west of Caracas. There the lorry is driven into a big warehouse controlled jointly by Venezuelan locals and by Farc, which is in charge of security. Members of the Venezuelan navy take care of customs matters and the safe departure of the vessels. They are alive to all that is going on and they facilitate everything Farc does.'
Rafael described a similar routine with drug operations involving the port of Maracaibo which, according to police sources, is 'a kind of paradise' for drug traffickers. Among whom - until last week when he was gunned down by a rival cartel in a Venezuelan town near the Colombian border - was one of the 'capos' most wanted internationally, a Colombian called Wilber Varela, but better known as 'Jabón', which means 'soap'. 'Varela and others like him set themselves up in stunning homes and buy bankrupt businesses and large tracts of land, converting themselves almost overnight into personages of great value to the local economy,' a police source said. 'Venezuela offers a perfect life insurance scheme for these criminals.'
This 'tactical' convergence between the Venezuelan armed forces and Farc extends to the military terrain. To the point that, according to one especially high-placed intelligence source I spoke to, the National Guard has control posts placed around the guerrilla camps. What for? 'To give them protection, which tells us that knowledge of the tight links between the soldiers on the ground and Farc reaches up to the highest decision-making levels of the Venezuelan military.'
Rafael told how he had travelled once by car with Captain Pedro Mendoza of the National Guard to a military base outside Caracas called Fuerte Tiuna. He entered with the captain, who handed him eight rifles. They then returned to the border with the rifles in the boot of the car.
Rafael said that members of the National Guard also supplied Farc with hand grenades, grenade-launchers and explosive material for bombs made out of a petrol-based substance called C-4.
An intelligence source confirmed that these small movements of arms occurred on a large scale. 'What we see is the drugs going from Colombia to Venezuela and the arms from Venezuela to Colombia. The arms move in a small but constant flow: 5,000 bullets, six rifles. It's very hard to detect because there are lots of small networks, very well co-ordinated, all of them by specialists in Farc.'
Rafael worked directly with these specialists, both in the arms and the drugs business, until he decided the time had come to change his life. 'In June and July I had received courses in making bombs alongside elements of Chávez's militias, the FBL. We learnt, there in a camp in Venezuela, how to put together different types of landmines and how to make bombs. They also taught us how to detonate bombs in a controlled fashion using mobile phones.'
They were training him, he said, for a mission in Bogotá. 'They gave us photos of our targets. We were going to work alongside two Farc groups based in the capital. The plan was to set off bombs, but as the date dawned I began to reflect that I could not continue this way. First, because of the danger from the military engagements we had with the ELN [another formerly left-wing guerrilla group] on the border over control of the drug routes and, second, because it now seemed to me there was a very real risk of getting caught and I believed I had already spent enough years in jail for the Farc cause. It was also highly possible that the security forces in Bogotá would kill me. That was why at the end of August I ran away and in September I handed myself in.'
A European diplomat who is well informed on the drug-trafficking business generally, and who is familiar with Rafael's allegations, made a comparison between the activities of Farc in Venezuela and hypothetically similar activities involving Eta in Spain.
'Imagine if Eta had a bomb-making school in Portugal inside camps protected by the Portuguese police, and that they planned to set off these bombs in Madrid; imagine that the Portuguese authorities furnished Eta with weapons in exchange for money obtained from the sales of drugs, in which the Portuguese authorities were also involved up to their necks: it would be a scandal of enormous proportions. Well, that, on a very big scale, is what the Venezuelan government is allowing to happen right now.'
'The truth,' one senior police source said, 'is that if Venezuela were to make a minimal effort to collaborate with the international community the difference it would make would be huge. We could easily capture two tons of cocaine a month more if they were just to turn up their police work one notch. They don't do it because the place is so corrupt but also, and this is the core reason, because of this "anti-imperialist" stand they take. "If this screws the imperialists," they think, "then how can we possibly help them?" The key to it all is a question of political will. And they don't have any.'
A similar logic applies, according to the highest-placed intelligence source I interviewed, regarding Farc's other speciality, kidnappings. 'If Hugo Chávez wanted it, he could force Farc to free Ingrid Betancourt tomorrow morning. He tells Farc: "You hand her over or it's game over in Venezuela for you." The dependence of Farc on the Venezuelans is so enormous that they could not afford to say no.'
A nation at war
· Colombia, the centre of the world's cocaine trade, has endured civil war for decades between left-wing rebels with roots in the peasant majority and right-wing paramilitaries with links to Spanish colonial landowners.
· Manuel 'Sureshot' Marulanda named his guerrilla band the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 1966.
· Farc is thought to have about 800 hostages. The most high-profile is Ingrid Betancourt, 45, held since 2002.
· Every Farc member takes a vow to fight for 'social justice' in Colombia.
· About a third of Farc guerrillas are thought to be women.
· Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez is pushing for 'Bolivarian socialism', while Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is a free-market conservative.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why did Venezuela and Ecuador blink at the Group of Rio summit?

The winner in this meeting: Alvaro Uribe, the colombian president.
vdebate reporter
Anyone watching the proceedings this afternoon at the Group of Rio summit at the Dominican Republic had to wonder what changed the tone at a certain critical point during the afternoon.
It all started quite tense, Uribe began speaking and started making charges against Ecuador attempting to explain why it was that he did not warn that country's Government of the raid on the FARC camp a mile within the Ecuadorian Government.
He read from the same emails we have seen, but he also read from letters or emails we have yet to see. At one point, Uribe said that to those that say it was not possible for a computer to survive such an attack, that the Colombian Armed Forces had actually recovered not one, but four computers from the camp.
Uribe made many charges, avoiding mentioning Venezuela most of the time and concentrating on the problems with Ecuador, past and present.
Uribe said he was handing over a folder with all of the material to te President of Ecuador and showed a thick folder, which he said would be brought also to the Penal Court in The Hague.
The President of Ecuador Rafael Correa replied to Uribe and was quite forceful even asking Uribe to shut up at one point and calling him a liar. Correa said his hands were clean and that Uribe did not even have to call him, that a military contact should have been sufficient.
Then each of the various Presidents from the region spoke, except the Foreign Minister of Brazil, since Lula was not present.
When Hugo Chavez spoke I was expecting something fiery and forceful, instead we got a bunch of meandering anecdotes which had nothing to do with the conflict, spiked with historical tales like if he does regularly on his Sunday program Alo Presidente (He also sang a merengue).
I could not believe it, here was the man that raised the bar and the tension in the conflict and he was not even addressing the issues.
(In the middle of all these guys speaking the, news carried two items almost in sequence:
1) That the Colombian Government had killed the number 5 man at the FARC,
2) That the same Minister that Uribe had criticized earlier as lying to Uribe and having contacts with the FARC, was announcing in Ecuador that Ingrid Betancourt was going to be released with 11 other hostages.)
As Chavez was talking he asked Correa if the rumor was true, Correa said this was not the case. Then Uribe made a point by point rebuttal of everything that had been said and supported statements made by the Presidents of Argentina and Chile. But his tone was much softer than before, he was using examples and history more than rebuttals.
He was quite forceful in saying that he could care less about Ecuador's definition of terrorism or its policies, but he would not accept that Correa refer to the FARC's leader Marulanda as a hero or a friend. (I am doing this from memory, so the words may have been different)
Then, Uribe who had earlier said that he would apologize whenever he thought it was appropriate, got up and shook hands with Correa, Correa accepted the apology, Nicaragua reestablished relations with Colombia, Chavez said he never broke them formally and he only "moved a few soldiers to reinforce the usual ones at the border".
Immediately afterwards, Uribe said he would not take Chavez to the World Court and everybody was happy.
Well, sorry, I just don't buy it. There had to be something more. The sharp tone disappeared suddenly as if by magic, everyone backed down. (while in Caracas the Minister of Finance was making the stupid claim that in one month Venezuela would replace all imports from Colombia, a laughable statement.
Meanwhile, the new People's Ombudsman was saying that Colombia should give the FARC political recognition, which Uribe was ratifying he would not do)
My theory? Easy, Uribe a master politician, had only leaked earlier some of the information gathered at the guerrilla camp and there was much more than they had released to the press two days ago.
Either the additional material was being passed on to the various Governments as Uribe spoke, or it was handed over at that point to Correa and Chavez. Chavez was simply too timid, talking about peace, religion, God, even calling for a mass (how cynical can he be?). My further guess is that the Colombian Government uncovered financial information compromising both Ecuador and Venezuela.
In fact, Uribe read at one point a letter from a FARC leader mentioning a specific amount of aid to the FARC from the Ecuadorian Government. Recall also that reportedly information gathered from the guerrilla camp was used by Interpol to capture a Russian arms leader that was on the run in Thailand, far from all this.
Thus, Ecuador and Venezuela blinked and it is all fine and dandy all of a sudden. I am sure we will hear more details slowly as in Latin America secrets are not meant to be kept. Meanwhile, Uribe in my mind scored a huge victory, deflating the crisis. It is my belief that Chavez wanted to inflate it for his own political purposes, but his attitude today showed to me that he was rebuked and he will have to wait for another chance to generate another artificial crisis.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Colombia crisis ends with accord

Colombia crisis ends with accord

SANTA DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNN) -- The presidents of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador Friday signed a declaration to end a crisis sparked when Colombian troops killed a rebel leader and 21 others inside Ecuadoran territory.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, left, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Friday.

1 of 2 "With the promise not to ever again assault a brother country and the request for forgiveness [by Colombia], we can consider this very serious incident resolved," said Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa.

Correa, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe shook hands at the end of what had been a contentious meeting of the Rio Group of Latin American leaders.

In the accord, the leaders condemned Colombia's action and affirmed that no country has the right to violate the territory of another. Correa and Chavez also accepted Colombia's apology for the incident and accept that Uribe will not repeat it.

In a nod to Colombia's concerns, the declaration also committed all the countries to fight threats to national stability from "irregular or criminal groups," The Associated Press reported.

Steps were taken immediately to defuse tensions, AP reported. Colombia pledged not to seek genocide charges against Chavez at an international court, while Nicaragua said it would restore the diplomatic relations it severed with Colombia a day earlier, according to AP.

Chavez said trade with Colombia should "keep increasing," two days after saying he didn't want even "a grain of rice" from his neighbor, AP reported.

The goodwill gestures capped a summit in which Correa and left-leaning ally Chavez verbally pummeled Uribe, with Correa chiding him for "insolence" and urging him to "stop trying to justify the unjustifiable."

Uribe in turn called Correa a communist.

The diplomatic spat began Saturday when Colombian troops and police crossed into Ecuador and killed 22 people. The dead included Luis Edgar Devia Silva, known as "Raul Reyes," the second-in-command of the leadership council of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC in its Spanish acronym.

Reyes was the first member of the seven-member leadership council, known as general secretariat, to be killed by Colombia in the 44 years the rebel group has been fighting to overthrow the government.

Another member of FARC's leadership council -- Ivan Rios, the nom de guerre of Manuel de Jesus Munoz -- was killed by his chief of security in a separate incident, said a Colombian official, according to AP.

FARC is estimated to be holding at least 700 hostages in the jungles of Colombia and has been accused by the United States of being a terrorist organization.

Colombia had justified the attack by saying it was necessary to counter a threat to its national security.

The government said it seized laptops from the attacked rebel camp showing that Venezuela gave $300 million to the rebels and that senior Ecuadoran officials met with FARC rebels.

Ecuador and Venezuela denied the allegations, promptly condemned the raid and moved troops to their borders with Colombia.

"I have never done it and will never do it," Chavez said of the allegations he gave $300 million to the rebels, AP reported. "I could have sent a lot of rifles to the FARC. I will never do it because I want peace."

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Second Colombian rebel leader killed

Second Colombian rebel leader killed

CUCUTA, Colombia (CNN) -- As South American officials tried to ease tensions sparked by Colombia's killing of a rebel leader inside Ecuador, the Colombian army announced the death of another top militant Friday.

A cooler allegedly containing the hand of Ivan Rios is examined at a military base in Manizales.

1 of 3 Ivan Rios, whose real name was Manuel de Jesus Munoz, was one of six remaining members of the leadership council of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

"The FARC has suffered a new, major blow," Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said, according to The Associated Press.

Rios was killed by his own chief of security, who offered items including the rebel leader's severed right hand as proof of his death, the AP quoted Santos as saying.

On Saturday, Luis Edgar Devia Silva, known as Raul Reyes, was killed in a raid into Ecuador.

He was FARC's second-in-command -- and the first member of the leftist rebel group's general secretariat killed by Colombia in the 40 years that it has been fighting to overthrow the Colombian government.

Twenty-one other people were also killed in the attack.

The raid sparked protests from the left-leaning leaders of Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua, all of whom cut diplomatic ties with Colombia, and Ecuador and Venezuela moved troops to their borders with Colombia.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Crisis in the Andes -

Colombia is doing the right thing.......... Thanks president Uribe.
vdebate reporter
Crisis in the Andes
March 4, 2008
The death of a Colombian terrorist like Raul Reyes should be a moment ofrelief for the Western Hemisphere. The State Department had placed a $5million bounty on the head of this second-ranking member of theRevolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Western Hemisphere'sworst narco-terrorist organization.
Instead, Reyes' killing has tipped off an international crisis. Venezuela's sabre-rattling President Hugo Chavez has sent tanks and an estimated 6,000 troops to the Colombianborder, threatening war on the pretext that Colombia's March 1 raid tokill Reyes violated the sovereignty of neighboring Chavez ally Ecuador.
That is rich.Violate Ecuadorean sovereignty Colombia surely did: Bogota's airplanes soared into Ecuadorean airspace as helicopters parachuted troops acrossthe porous border to kill Reyes and 16 other FARC terrorists enjoyingsafe harbor in Ecuador.
But this follows years of Mr. Chavez and his Ecuadorean allies helping the FARC as it terrorizes Colombia withcross-border raids and kidnappings. We won't likely hear much aboutVenezuela's and Ecuador's long record of what amounts to proxy warfareagainst Colombia. Mr. Chavez is busily attempting to portray the strikeas unprovoked, when, in reality, both Ecuador and Venezuela have longrecords of covert and in some cases not-so-covert hostility via theirfriends the FARC. They, not Bogota, made this weekend's airstrikeinevitable.
The FARC, an internationally designated terrorist organization andnarco-trafficking syndicate, has terrorized Colombia for more than fourdecades. Its cafe bombings, abductions, airplane hijackings and pitchedassaults on Colombian cities have been responsible for tens of thousandsof deaths. Over the decades, the FARC has transformed itself from aclassic Latin American Communist insurgency into a major conduit ofinternational terrorism and contraband with ties to the Irish RepublicanArmy, Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
Lately, underthe skillful hand of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, much progress has been made against the FARC. Government assaults have shrunk the group'ssouthern jungle statelet with the help of more than $5 billion in U.S.military aid since 2000. Mr. Chavez detests this progress. If anything, Bogota had shown too much forebearance of its neighbors'FARC support.
That both Ecuador and Venezuela harbor the FARC as itassaults Colombian targets is not seriously disputed. Even so, last yearColombia allowed Mr. Chavez to attempt to mediate between the governmentand the terrorists (he failed).
Lately, Mr. Chavez has taken to theairwaves in a fruitless bid to legitimize the FARC with the argumentthat it is an "insurgent" group, not a terrorist organization. Tell thatto the families of the 119 civilians killed in the FARC's 2002 mortaringof a church, the three American missionaries murdered by FARC thugs in1999, or the victims of the FARC's indiscriminate gas-cylinder warfare.
Beleaguered Bogota's "crime" is simply to stop tolerating safe harborand terror-abettment. Mr. Chavez and his ally President Rafael Correa of Ecuador just watched the elimination of one of their primary means of harming Colombia.
No wonder the strongman of Caracas is upset.

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Allies of Terrorism

Allies of Terrorism
Editorial Washington Post
The presidents of Venezuela and Ecuador are revealed as backers of the criminals who fight Colombia's democracy.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

LAST SATURDAY, Colombia's armed forces struck a bold blow against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a group specializing in drug trafficking, abductions and massacres of civilians that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. Raúl Reyes, a top commander, and some 20 followers were killed in a bombing of their jungle camp in Ecuador, a mile or two from the Colombian border. The attack was comparable to those the United States has recently carried out against al-Qaeda in lawless areas of Pakistan, and it showed how Colombia's democratic government may be finally gaining the upper hand over the murderous gangs that have tormented the country for decades.

Now this remarkable success has been overshadowed by the extraordinary reaction of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who has been revealed as an explicit supporter and possible financier of the FARC. Mr. Chávez openly mourned the death of Mr. Reyes and made a show of ordering Venezuelan troops to the border with Colombia while loudly warning that war was possible. He goaded his client, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa -- whose initial response to the raid was subdued -- into mimicking his reaction. He then partially closed the border with Colombia, a step that will merely worsen the food shortages that have emptied Venezuelan supermarket shelves.

It turns out that both Mr. Chávez and Mr. Correa may have had something to hide. Senior Colombian officials say a laptop recovered at the FARC camp contained evidence that Mr. Chávez had recently given the group $300 million and had financial links with the terrorists dating to his own failed coup against a previous Venezuelan government in 1992. Colombia said Mr. Correa's government had been negotiating with Mr. Reyes about replacing Ecuadorean military officers who might object to his use of the country as a base. In other words, both Mr. Correa and Mr. Chávez were backing an armed movement with an established record of terrorism and drug trafficking against the democratically elected government of their neighbor. No wonder Colombian President álvaro Uribe felt compelled to order the cross-border raid; he knows that his neighbors are providing a haven for the terrorists.

There's little chance that this will lead to conventional war, despite the bluster of Mr. Chávez. The more interesting question is how average citizens in Venezuela and Ecuador will react. The FARC is despised across the region for its criminality and brutality; many Venezuelans have been shocked to learn of Mr. Chávez's alliance with the group. According to Mr. Chávez's former defense minister, Raúl Baduel, the Venezuelan military is troubled by the saber-rattling at Colombia. In his zeal to divert attention from a rapidly worsening domestic economic situation and his defeat in a recent referendum, Mr. Chávez is growing increasingly reckless. The principal danger, however, may be to his own country and government.

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The corruption of democracy in Venezuela‏

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Colombia Says Rebels Sought to Make Dirty Bomb

Colombia Says Rebels Sought to Make Dirty Bomb
The New York Times

CARACAS, Venezuela — Colombia added a new accusation against the FARC rebel group on Tuesday, saying Colombian forces had found evidence that the rebels had been seeking the ingredients to make a radioactive dirty bomb.

The accusation, made by Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos, at a United Nations disarmament meeting in Geneva, represents a sharp verbal escalation surrounding the three-country dispute involving Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. The quarrel began over the weekend when Colombian forces hunted down and killed a Colombian guerrilla leader on Ecuadorean soil.

Material found on a laptop computer recovered in that raid provided the basis for Mr. Santos’s accusations about a dirty bomb, a weapon that combines highly radioactive material with conventional explosives to disperse deadly dust that people would inhale.

“This shows that these terrorist groups, supported by the economic power provided by drug trafficking, constitute a grave threat not just to our country but to the entire Andean region and Latin America," Mr. Santos said in a statement that was posted in Spanish on the disarmament conference’s web site. The rebels were “negotiating to get radioactive material, the primary base for making dirty weapons of destruction and terrorism,” he said.

It was unclear from Mr. Santos’s statement whom the rebels were negotiating with.
Mr. Santos based his claim on information provided Monday in Bogotá by Colombia’s national police chief about a deal involving the FARC’s negotiations for 110 pounds of uranium.

The tension further escalated when President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia said Tuesday that he would file a complaint with the International Criminal Court against President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, accusing him of providing financial assistance to the FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Colombia’s largest rebel group.

In another reaction to Colombia’s cross-border raid, Elías Jaua, Venezuela’s agriculture minister, said that Venezuela was planning to close its border with Colombia to halt commercial trade.

On Monday, Ecuador broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia, and Venezuela expelled Colombia’s ambassador and other diplomats.

The three countries have been swapping accusations of treachery and deceit in the dispute over the killing of the guerrilla leader, Raúl Reyes, by Colombian forces.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, in ordering the expulsion of the Colombian Embassy’s diplomatic personnel, said it was acting “in defense of the sovereignty of the fatherland and the dignity of the Venezuelan people.”

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who expelled Colombia’s ambassador over the weekend, went a step further on Monday by breaking off diplomatic relations. The move was not unexpected after his claim that Mr. Uribe of Colombia was lying about the nature of the raid.

Venezuela and Ecuador sent troops to the Colombian border on Sunday in response to Colombia’s military raid on the rebel encampment in the jungle about a mile inside Ecuador. Colombian forces killed 21 guerrillas in the FARC.

In addition to killing Mr. Reyes, Colombia said it had recovered his laptop computer. Its contents have since been at the center of several allegations.
At a news conference in Bogotá, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, Colombia’s police chief, accused Venezuela of channeling $300 million to the FARC, based on what he said was information obtained from Mr. Reyes’s computer.

General Naranjo also said computer documents showed financial support from the FARC for Mr. Chávez of Venezuela, going back to the time Mr. Chávez spent in prison after an unsuccessful coup attempt in Caracas in 1992.

“This implies more than cozying up, but an armed alliance between the FARC and the Venezuelan government,” General Naranjo said. Venezuela’s government, which sent tank units to its border with Colombia in a response to the Colombian raid, denied aiding the rebels. “We are used to the Colombian government’s lies,” Vice President Ramón Carrizales said.

General Naranjo displayed photographs and documents he said had been taken from Mr. Reyes’s computer, but the context of the information was unclear. Ecuador also rejected claims by Colombia of ties with the FARC, and sent 3,200 troops to Sucumbios, an Amazonian province near its border with Colombia where the attack on the FARC’s camp took place.

Mr. Correa, the Ecuadorean president, said the Colombian rebels had been killed in their sleep “in their pajamas,” and not in the heat of pursuit as Colombia’s security forces had said. Ecuadorean emergency officials recovered several wounded members of the FARC, transporting them to hospitals in Quito.

Faced with one of Latin America’s worst diplomatic crises in recent years, the Organization of American States said it would convene a meeting in Washington on Tuesday to try to prevent an escalation of the dispute between Colombia, a staunch Bush administration ally, and the leftist governments of Ecuador and Venezuela.
Even as Colombia’s government offered details on the FARC’s relations with Venezuela and Ecuador, Colombian officials said Monday that they would not send more troops to the borders with the two countries in response to the mobilizations ordered by Mr. Chávez and Mr. Correa.

Because of the FARC’s resilient history at the heart of Colombia’s war, it has had contact with insurgencies and governments throughout Latin America and beyond, including the United States, which classifies the FARC and other armed groups in Colombia as terrorists.

For instance, in 1998 a Clinton administration official, Philip T. Chicola, then the State Department’s director of Andean affairs, had a clandestine meeting with Mr. Reyes in Costa Rica in an effort to establish a way of communicating with the FARC during times of crisis.

The meeting was described in a diplomatic cable written by Mr. Chicola in January 1999 and declassified in 2004. Also present at the meeting was Mr. Reyes’s wife, Olga Marín, who is believed to be the daughter of the FARC’s top commander, Manuel Marulanda, and also reported to be present, and possibly wounded, in the raid on the jungle camp on Saturday.

The Bush administration on Monday reiterated its support for Colombia’s struggle against the FARC and cocaine trafficking, but called for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

“This, for us, is an issue between the governments of Colombia and Ecuador,” said Tom H. Casey, deputy spokesman at the State Department, in a briefing to reporters on Monday in Washington. “We believe it’s appropriate for them to work that out through diplomatic discussion.”

Still, what began over the weekend as an operation by Colombian forces in Ecuadorean territory has evolved into a wider regional matter. “Our view of this issue right now is that there is no doubt that there is a territorial violation and we condemn it,” said Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, speaking to reporters in Brasília. “It raises insecurity problems in all countries of the region, mostly in the smaller ones.”

And amid the Colombian accusations, Mr. Chávez remains at the center of the increasing tension, with his political opponents here criticizing his decision to mobilize troops and fighter jets in a show of Venezuelan force.

“If anyone has to protest, it is Ecuador’s government, as the military incident took place in Ecuadorean territory, not ours,” Teodoro Petkoff, the publisher of the newspaper Tal Cual, said in an editorial. “Venezuela has nothing to complain about.”

Jenny Carolina González contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia, and Uta Harnischfeger from Zurich.

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Saber-Rattling in South America

Saber-Rattling in South America
By Jens Glüsing in Rio de Janeiro

The governments of Ecuador and Venezuela have sent troops to their borders with Colombia. It's an angry response to a Colombian attack on FARC rebels in Ecuador on Saturday. Is war about to break out in South America?

Ecuadorean soldiers heading for the border with Colombia on Monday.
Raúl Reyes, the bearded No. 2 of the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was always a welcome guest in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. He visited the city repeatedly to meet relatives and to recover from combat missions in his home country, Colombia.

He had especially close contact with the interior minister of Ecuador, Gustavo Larrea. "Larrea is interested in establishing official relations with FARC on behalf of President Rafael Correa," Reyes wrote in a letter to the "Secretariat," the top decision-making body of the guerrilla group.

That letter was reportedly stored on Reyes' laptop, which Colombian soldiers seized over the weekend after an air strike and ground assault on a FARC base camp in Ecuador. The operation killed 17 FARC fighters, including Reyes. The Colombian government celebrated the attack, which had doubtless been prepared with the help of American surveillance technology, as the "most severe blow against FARC since its inception."

It's true that Reyes' death is a major blow against FARC. The stocky rebel boss -- who wore a Rolex watch -- was the group's second most important leader, after their legendary commander Manuel Marulanda. He was also one of the most radical. He defended the kidnapping of politicians and other civilians as part of the group's combat strategy. He was also the main contact for journalists and the French government, which is desperately trying to secure the release of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt (more...).

Reyes forged an international alliance which participated in FARC's high-publicity release of eight hostages in recent months. The group's most important partner was Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who ordered a minute of silence on television to honor Reyes. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former leftist guerrilla himself, also outed himself as a "comrade" of the Colombian rebel leader on Sunday.

And now Rafael Correa, the populist left-wing president of Ecuador, can apparently also be counted among FARC's friends, if the data on Reyes' laptop are to be believed -- something Interior Minister Larrea denies.

Chávez Threatening War

Correa was quick to reject Colombia's apology for the military strike on its territory, and sent troops to the border with Colombia. He had evidently coordinated his response with his alter ego Chávez, who threatened to declare war on Colombia if it conducted a similar strike on Venezuelan soil. On his TV program "Aló Presidente," Chavez said he was dispatching tank units to the border and putting the air force on alert.

Colombia's strike was indeed a clear breach of Ecuador's sovereignty. The FARC camp was located in the Ecuadorian jungle, 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) from the border with Colombia. But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has been warning Quito for years that FARC operates on Ecuadorian territory. The rebels have well-established camps in Ecuador, they smuggle large quantities of cocaine out of Colombia via Ecuador, and they probably held several of their hostages in Ecuador, at least for a time. That is according to former senator Luis Eladio Pérez, who was released by FARC last week. Simon Trinidad, one of FARC's most important commanders, was arrested in 2004 in Quito on the Boulevard Amazonas, the Ecuadorian capital's main shopping street.

If the information on Reyes' laptop is true, the guerrillas have such good contacts with Ecuador's government that they even had the audacity to ask Correa for a favor: they wanted him to withdraw soldiers and police who didn't like FARC from the border region and replace them with troops who were more favorably disposed to the guerrillas.

Is South America on the brink of war? Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez has announced that he will back his friend Correa "unconditionally." A little war might help Chávez distract his people from domestic problems. His opinion poll ratings have fallen to an all-time low. The poor used to back him unquestioningly, but many of them now blame him for supply shortages in this oil-rich economy. The people of Venezuela have to stand in line for milk, meat, eggs and other staple foods -- a result of Chávez' economic policy errors.

Analysts say many military commanders may refuse to obey Chávez if he actually declares war. The armed forces are unhappy with the gradual increase in political influence in their ranks. Venezuela is traditionally peaceful and has never waged a war against a neighbor. The country wouldn't stand much of a chance against battle-hardened Colombian troops, despite Venezuela's new Russian-made weapons and aircraft.

War Would Hurt Venezuela's Economy

Besides, Venezuela and Colombia depend on each other economically. Venezuela gets most of its food from Colombia, and without Colombian immigrant laborers the oil-dependent economy would face collapse. Whenever anything works in this laid-back Caribbean nation, it's usually thanks to a hard-working Colombian.

Nevertheless, one can't rule out the chance Chávez might hurl himself into a military adventure. He's a soldier, has a military mindset, and would probably love to enter the history books as a martyr.

It wouldn't be the first war in Latin American history. In 1995 a border dispute between Peru and Ecuador led to skirmishes between those two countries, and memories of the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina remain fresh.

It's now up to the big regional powers Mexico, Argentina and Brazil to defuse the situation. Brazil's President Luis Ignácio "Lula" da Silva in particular must prove that he's a suitable peacemaker in times of crisis. On Sunday there was intense telephone contact between the governments of Argentina and Brazil as Lula and Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner discussed how to respond. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has also offered to mediate.

Reyes' death may end up speeding up the resolution of the hostage crisis, contrary to initial fears. Reyes was regarded as a hardliner in the FARC Secretariat. Colombian experts have blamed his intransigence for FARC's refusal to agree to a prisoner exchange. Reyes may now be succeeded by Commander Ivan Márquez, who is seen as more ready to make concessions.

FARC released a communiqué on Sunday aimed at allaying the fears of hostages' relatives. Reyes' death won't affect the hostage negotiations, the statement said.

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Uribe seeks Chavez Charges at International Court

This is very serious, but Alvaro Uribe is right!!!!
vdebate reporter
Uribe Seeks Chavez Charges at International Court
By Joshua Goodman
March 4 (Bloomberg) -- Colombia's President
Alvaro Uribe said he'll seek charges at an international tribunal against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez for sponsoring terrorism.
``I'll present to the International Criminal Court charges against
Hugo Chavez for financing and sponsoring genocide,'' said Uribe, on Caracol Radio, after a meeting with a former rebel-held hostage in Bogota.
Uribe also called on Colombia's neighbors to show solidarity with the country in its long-running conflict with the drug-funded guerrillas. The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, was created in 2002 and both Colombia and Venezuela are signatories to it.
Colombia yesterday said it uncovered evidence on the laptop of slain rebel leader
Raul Reyes showing Venezuela had funneled at least $300 million to the FARC, as the rebel group is known.
The laptop was seized Saturday when Colombia's military crossed into Ecuador to kill Reyes, its biggest military triumph in four decades of guerrilla warfare.
General Oscar Naranjo, Colombia's police chief, said the computer files also indicated Ecuadorean Security Minister
Gustavo Larrea had been in contact with Reyes in a bid to get President Rafael Correa involved in the release of hostages held by the rebels to boost his political standing.
Chavez and Correa denied the allegations and in turn accused Uribe's government of acting on the orders of the U.S.
The Organization of American States will hold an emergency session today in Washington to discuss Colombia's violation of Ecuador's sovereignty.
Last Updated: March 4, 2008 10:09 EST

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Dead rebel's laptop shows Chavez is funding rebels, Colombian police say

Dead rebel's laptop shows Chavez is funding rebels, Colombian police say
The Associated Press
Monday, March 3, 2008
Colombia's police chief said Monday that documents recovered from a slain rebel leader's computer reveal financial ties between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombia's largest guerrilla group, including a recent message that mentions US$300 million in Venezuelan support for the rebels.
The official, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, didn't say if there was any indication in the Feb. 14 message that Venezuela actually delivered this money to the rebels.
Another document found in the laptop belonging to slain rebel leader Raul Reyes suggests financial ties between Chavez and the rebels dating back to 1992, Naranjo said. At the time, Chavez was jailed in Venezuela for leading a coup attempt, and was plotting the comeback that eventually led to his election as president in 1998."
A note recovered from Raul Reyes speaks of how grateful Chavez was for the 100 million pesos (about US$150,000 at the time) that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, delivered to Chavez when he was in prison," said Naranjo told a news conference.
Reyes, the FARC's main spokesman, was among the rebels killed Saturday in a Colombian commando raid on their camp just across the border in Ecuador, infuriating Chavez and his ally, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.Chavez has called Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe a "mob boss" and a "liar." In return the Colombian government has expressed its concern at links between Venezuela and the FARC.

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US slams Venezuela on money laundering

US slams Venezuela on money laundering
1 March 2008

The US Department of State, in its just-released 2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report has, in uncharacteristically direct language, pointed out both Venezuela's central drug trafficking role, and its utter failure to rein in rampant and systemic money laundering and corruption. The recent wave of abrupt closures of bank accounts of Venezuelans by prudent bankers in North America and in Western Europe will most certainly increase when they read the salient portions of this report, which clearly places the country, and its nationals, in the category of constituting an unacceptable risk for any financial institution wishing to keep its banking license. We excerpt some of the more important sections of the document for the benefit of our readers.
Please note that these are all direct quotes; they have not been edited in any way:
Venezuela is one of the principal drug-transit countries in the Western Hemisphere, with an estimated 250 metric tons of cocaine passing through the nation annually.
Venezuela's proximity to drug producing countries, weaknesses in its anti-money laundering regime, refusal to cooperate with the United States on counter-narcotics activities, and rampant corruption throughout the law enforcement, judicial, banking and banking regulatory sectors continue to make Venezuela vulnerable to money laundering.
The main sources of money laundering are from proceeds, generated by cocaine and heroin trafficking organizations and the embezzlement of dollars from the petroleum industry.
In spite of the advances made with the passage of the Organic Law against Organised Crime in 2005, major gaps remain. Two years after promulgation, not a single case has been tried under the new law.
Widespread corruption within the judicial and law enforcement sectors also undermines the effectiveness of the law as a tool to combat the growing problem of money laundering.
Terrorist financing is not a crime in Venezuela.
There have been only three money laundering convictions in Venezuela since 1993, and all of them were narcotics-related.
There were no prosecutions or convictions for money laundering in 2007, and this is unlikely to change in 2008.
If the Government of Venezuela does not criminalise the financing of terrorism, the Unidad Nacional de Inteligencia Financiera [Venezuela's Financial Intelligence Unit] faces suspension from the Egmont Group in June 2008.I suggest that this list should be posted on the wall outside every bank in Venezuela, so that the customers will read it, promptly close all their accounts, and refuse to do business with a banking sector that allows such a situatuion to exist.

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Yet another high-risk indicator for Venezuela Surfaces

Yet another high-risk indicator for Venezuela surfaces
2 March 2008

If you remember the chaos that surrounded the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), you know that financial institutions simply cannot operate under conditions of street violence. The tenuous situation in Venezuela could soon reach that state, in light of disturbing new developments that have come to light. Read the details below, and decide for yourself whether a civil war is on the horizon in Caracas.
Here is what we know so far:
Four secret flights are scheduled into Venezuela, on TAM Brazilian Airlines, transporting 31.5 tonnes of firearms made in Brazil. The first flight has already arrived, carrying 1.5 tonnes of weapons; each additional flight is scheduled to bring in ten tonnes each.
Whilst the exact types of weapons are unknown, one can safely estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 weapons will be contained in these shipments, which are not consigned for the Ministry of Defence, but are to be quietly delivered directly to the Miraflores Presidential Palace, on the orders of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez Frias. Why all the secrecy?
In a country where the armed forces and the police are already well-equipped, these weapons can only have one intended use; to arm civilian supporters of the current regime, who will use it upon the opposition in an expected violent confrontation that could degenerate into a civil war. A civil disturbance would result in the complete shutdown of the financial system in the capital. Watch for any preliminary signs of organised violence, closure of shoppes and businesses, and attacks upon civilians.

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Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia Seek Support In Crisis

Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia Seek Support In Crisis
Published: March 3, 2008
Filed at 11:34 a.m. ET

SAN ANTONIO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia all sought international backing on Monday in a crisis that raised the specter of war after Venezuela and Ecuador deployed troops to the Colombian border.

The crisis erupted after Colombia bombed and sent troops inside Ecuador in a weekend raid that killed a Colombian rebel leader in his jungle camp in a major blow to Latin America's oldest guerrilla insurgency.

Governments from France to Brazil sought to defuse the crisis in the Andes, where Washington ally Colombian President Alvaro Uribe faces left-wing leaders fiercely opposed to U.S. free-market proposals for the region.

Traffic was normal in San Antonio at the main border crossing point between Venezuela and Colombia and while Venezuela and Ecuador said they had reinforced their borders, there was no immediate sign of any mobilization.

Venezuela state TV offered blanket coverage of the crisis but it showed no images of tanks, planes or troops moving and no other media reported military movements in the border area.

Colombia said it would not send extra troops to its frontiers with Venezuela and Ecuador.

Bogota justified its operation on Monday by saying international law allows such actions against "terrorists" and accused Ecuador of permitting the Marxist FARC rebels to take refuge in its territory.

"We have never been a country for ventures either in politics or in military matters," Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos told a U.N. human rights commission in Geneva. "We have always been respectful of the principal of non-interference."

But Ecuador, a close ally of the larger, richer Venezuela, said Colombia deliberately violated its sovereignty and urged Latin American governments to pressure Bogota so that it does not repeat its "aggression."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is struggling to fix chronic food shortages in the OPEC nation, sent tanks to the border and threatened to counterattack with Russian-made jets should Colombia unleash a similar raid in Venezuela.

Chavez, who urged governments to side against Colombia, also closed his embassy in Bogota and fellow leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa expelled Colombia's ambassador from Quito. Chavez and Correa both called conservative Uribe a liar.

With Chavez warning war could break out, there was immediate impact on the economies of the three Andean nations which share active trade ties.

Venezuelan and Ecuadorean debt and Colombia's currency all lost value on Monday, reflecting worries of increased risk in investing in the countries.

"It raises headline risks for all three countries significantly," Gianfranco Bertozzi of Lehman Brothers said.


Brazil, the region's diplomatic heavyweight, said it would seek to resolve the standoff, cautioning that the tensions were destabilizing regional ties.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet demanded Colombia explain to the region why its troops entered Ecuador.

"A situation of this nature without a doubt merits an explanation," she said. "The most important thing today is that we can avoid an escalation of this conflict."

France, which has worked to free rebel-held hostages, called for restraint on all sides and said the rebel's killing was bad news because he had been pivotal in freeing hostages.

Colombia, which apologized for the raid, sought to ease tensions.

Despite the leaders' passions and brinkmanship, as well as the risk of military missteps on the tense border, political analysts said a conflict was unlikely.

Chavez -- the leader of Andean leftists -- was more interested in firing up his base of support with rhetoric and can ill afford to lose food imports from Colombia, they added.

The opposition criticized Chavez for drawing Venezuela into a crisis over a raid that involved other nations.

"The odds of an escalation to a war-like conflict still seem modest, with so much at stake for all sides," Bertozzi said. "Tension should therefore dissipate in the coming days."

(Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara in Santiago, Patrick Markey in Bogota and Raymond Colitt in Brasilia; Writing by Saul Hudson; Editing by Eric Beech)

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Colombian rebel leader killed in battle

Colombian rebel leader killed in battle
German Ecniso-Ancol / EPA

Troops chase guerrillas into Ecuador. Death of FARC's chief diplomat could shake up the group, analysts say.

By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 2, 2008

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- The second-highest-ranking leader in Colombia's largest leftist guerrilla group was killed in a predawn firefight near the Ecuadorean border, the Colombian government announced Saturday morning.

Luis Edgar Devia Silva, better known by his alias Raul Reyes, was found dead early Saturday in a jungle camp in Ecuador after a battle erupted between rebels and Colombian armed forces in southern Putumayo state and continued on the Ecuadorean side of the border.

Reyes, 59, was second in the hierarchy of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and was the rebel group's principal spokesman and chief diplomat. He was one of 50 FARC leaders indicted in the United States on drug and terrorism charges in March 2006. The U.S. State Department had offered a $5-million reward for information leading to his arrest.

Analysts described the killing of Reyes, part of the seven-member FARC secretariat, as the most damaging blow yet struck by the government of President Alvaro Uribe in his five-year campaign to defeat the rebels.

"This is of enormous importance. Reyes was the public face of the FARC and the only one who had international contacts," former Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia told Colombian TV network Caracol. Former President Ernesto Samper told an RCN television reporter that Uribe's campaign is "showing results and this is an example." Seventeen other rebels and one Colombian soldier were killed in the battle.

Reyes was the FARC's chief negotiator with the Colombian government during the failed peace process between 1998 and 2002 and visited several foreign countries to muster support. Recently, Reyes led negotiations that resulted in the FARC releasing six political hostages to representatives of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, including four last week.

U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who has been involved in back-channel efforts to persuade the FARC to release three U.S. defense contractor employees held since 2003, in a telephone interview declined to comment on how Reyes' death would affect those efforts.

"We sent a letter last week through our contacts to the FARC asking that the humanitarian releases continue and that we have a specific interest in the three Americans," said Delahunt, who met Reyes in 1999 in a peace mission to the Colombian jungle. "We're still waiting for a reply."

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro issued a statement Saturday evening criticizing the killing of Reyes as a "blow to the humanitarian accord process in Colombia. . . . It reveals once again the stubborn conduct of those who favor military options and armed conflict over a negotiated political settlement, without regard to the grave consequences."

Chavez later threatened Uribe with war if Colombian forces entered his country as they did Ecuador, according to Venezuelan news reports.

In a news conference Saturday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the fight began when Colombian aircraft, acting on a tip that Reyes was present, bombed a FARC encampment at a village called Granada around midnight Friday.

As troops closed in, they took fire from rebels about a mile away on the Ecuadorean side of the Putumayo River, which separates the two countries at that point.

After Colombian planes returned fire from their airspace, soldiers were ordered to cross into Ecuador to continue the fight. President Uribe, who was monitoring the operation, called Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to inform him of the operation "as it was happening," a Colombian Defense Ministry spokesman said.

It was unclear from government statements whether Uribe had Correa's permission to send troops into Ecuador.

On a Saturday morning radio show in Quito, Ecuador's capital, Correa acknowledged receiving Uribe's call and said FARC rebels at times made incursions into his country. He made no comment on the Colombian troops' presence there.

The rebels use Ecuadorean territory for rest and recuperation and as refuge from army attacks. Correa is said by Colombian and U.S. authorities to be concerned about the FARC's presence and increased drug trafficking, much of which the rebels control.

In recent interviews, Colombian military sources have told The Times that Correa's government has been highly cooperative in anti-drug operations targeting the FARC in the common border area.

The Colombian government said that after recovering Reyes' body in the Ecuadorean village of Santa Rosa, which is within a mile of the initial attack, soldiers took it to the Colombian town of Puerto Asis. It was not clear on which side of the border Reyes was killed.

Reyes entered the FARC after working as a labor leader in the southeastern jungle state of Caqueta, where he organized employees of Nestle. In the 1990s, Reyes headed the FARC's so-called international front that kept offices in Mexico and Costa Rica.

Since taking office in 2002, Uribe has succeeded in retaking large swaths of territory from the FARC, which is principally based in the sparsely populated jungle regions in the southeastern part of Colombia. That success is due in large part to billions of dollars in U.S. military aid that has enabled him to expand and modernize Colombia's armed forces.

According to the U.S. State Department's annual report on drugs released Friday, Colombia's military last year apprehended or killed more than a dozen mid- to high-level FARC commanders. Among the dead were FARC 37th Front leader Gustavo Rueda Diaz, alias Martin Caballero, and 16th Front leader Tomas Medina Caracas, alias Negro Acacio.

But Reyes is the first member of the secretariat to be brought down.

Alfredo Rangel, director of the Security and Democracy Foundation, a Bogota-based think tank, said the killing delivered a blow to FARC morale and could presage big changes in the rebel group.

"Reyes led the radical faction of FARC leadership, so his death could lead to a recomposition in favor of a more practical and realistic side, in terms of making a humanitarian agreement" to release hundreds of hostages still in FARC custody, Rangel said.

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