Friday, July 4, 2008

Audacious rescue deals FARC a blow

We are so happy for this........... To see all these 15 hostages alive....... Ingrid is FREE!!!!!!
vdebate reporter

Audacious rescue deals Farc a blow
By Jeremy McDermott BBC News, Medellin
Ms Betancourt said her rescue was a "perfect operation"
In an operation of unprecedented audacity, the Colombian security forces have rescued 15 hostages from the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
The initiative has dealt a mortal blow to the left-wing guerrillas' plans to secure the release of hundreds of rebels in prison.
"Thank you to the army, from my country of Colombia, thank you for your impeccable operation," said Ingrid Betancourt, the most famous of the hostages in guerrilla hands, as she landed in the capital Bogota to be greeted by her mother and husband.
"The operation was perfect."
Not a shot was fired by the Colombian security forces as they managed to free the most closely-protected hostages, guarded by the cream of Farc rebels.
'You are free'
The military operation, codenamed Check - as in "checkmate" - was the result of high level infiltration of the guerrilla army.
Farc have now lost, in one fell swoop, all the trump cards for their negotiations for a prisoner exchange and their principal diplomatic weapon to force the government into making concessions
"This operation... is without precedent and shows the high quality and professionalism of the Colombian armed forces," said Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
Somehow, double agents managed to persuade Farc's feared First Front leader, alias "Cesar", to put the hostages onto a helicopter, saying that they were to be taken to the guerrillas' top leader "Alfonso Cano".
It was only when the helicopter was in the air that the soldiers revealed their identity and overpowered the rebels on board.
"I did not realise what was going on until 'Cesar' was tied up on the floor, naked and one of the men said: 'We are from the army and you are free,'" said Ms Betancourt as she described the rescue mission.
Farc have now lost, in one fell swoop, all the trump cards for their negotiations for a prisoner exchange and their principal diplomatic weapon to force the government into making concessions.
President Alvaro Uribe, who has always refused to grant the guerrillas their precondition for talks, a large demilitarised zone in the south-west of the country, now has no reason to cede anything.
Farc in disarray
The international pressure which he endured, principally from presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is likely to melt away.
The rescue also vindicates his tough policy against the guerrillas who killed his father, and it will allow him to continue unhindered in his plans to defeat Farc militarily and force them to the negotiating table.
This latest incident shows, yet again, that Farc are in disarray, reeling after a series of blows.
In March this year one of their top commanders, "Raul Reyes" was killed when the Colombian air force bombed a rebel camp within Ecuador, sparking an international row that has still not been resolved.
A week later another leader, "Ivan Rios", was murdered by one of his bodyguards, who collected the bounty offered by the government.
Then the most serious of all, the death from a heart attack of Farc's 78-year-old founder and leader, "Manuel Marulanda".

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Rescue boosts Uribe's standing

Good for Uribe. He has been intelligent enough not negotiating with the terrorist of Las FARCs. Congratulations President Uribe and Colombian people for this rescue....... was perfect.
vdebate reporter
Rescue boosts Uribe's standing
By Jeremy McDermott BBC News, Medellin

Ms Betancourt described her treatment in the jungle as cruel
The successful rescue of 15 hostages from the clutches of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) has had a massive political impact, nationally and internationally.
It has boosted President Alvaro Uribe and his tough stance against the Marxist rebels and silenced demands that the government make concessions to the guerrillas.
Now the perception is that the military defeat of the Farc is not only possible but inevitable, something that seven years ago would have been unthinkable, when the guerrilla army numbered more than 16,000 fighters and held sway in over a third of the country.
"We are at the end of the end of the Farc," said Admiral Guillermo Barrera, the head of the Colombian Navy.
Praise for president
The latest operation has shown what total disarray the Farc are in and how there appears to be little, if any, reliable contact between the ruling body and the commanders on the ground.
The rescue has vindicated Mr Uribe's uncompromising position with respect to negotiating with the Farc and justified his refusal to make concessions in order to gain the release of hostages.
He had been under pressure from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the release of Ingrid Betancourt - and in a rather more outspoken manner by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who called Mr Uribe, among others things, a "mafioso" and a "warmonger" for his refusal to sit down with the guerrillas.

Two Farc rebels were captured by soldiers during the hostage release
Now both leaders have softened their positions. The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, who accompanied Ms Betancourt's children as they travelled from Paris to meet up with their mother, spoke for President Sarkozy and said that France "admired what had been done".
President Chavez said he was "delighted" and "jubilant" at the successful rescue and was looking forward to welcoming Mr Uribe for a planned visit in the near future admitting that "we said some hard things. Between brothers such things happen".
In January, the Venezuelan leader called for the Farc to be taken off international terrorist lists and insisted the rebels be recognised as a legitimate belligerent force.
He has since backtracked on that, condemning the guerrillas for their policy of kidnapping and telling them that it was time to end the fighting.
Consummate politician
The successful rescue of the hostages will no doubt boost Mr Uribe's already staggering approval ratings, which hover at around 80%.
It will also perhaps secure any re-election plans he might have. President Uribe has already changed the constitution once, which allowed him to stand again as a candidate in the 2006 elections.
He has not ruled out tampering with the constitution once more and indeed one of the political parties that support him, Partido de la U, is currently working on collecting enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the matter.
Ms Betancourt also supported any potential re-election bid by Mr Uribe, when she said that the 2006 re-election of Mr Uribe, with his hard-line policies, was seen by the guerrillas as a great blow. When asked about a third Uribe term she said:

Ms Betancourt will fight for the liberation of the remaining hostages
"Why not? It is interesting. That does not mean to say that I would necessarily vote for him as perhaps I have more affinity with other candidates."
And what now for Ingrid Betancourt?
She looks set to pick up where she left off in February 2002 when she was kidnapped by the Farc at a rebel road block.
Then, she was campaigning for the Colombian presidency and since her release she has acted like the consummate politician she is, talking exhaustively with the media, praising the military, the government and the foreign nations that worked so hard on behalf of the kidnap victims.
She already has her new mission mapped out, fighting for the liberation of the hostages still in Farc hands.
"We need to fight for the freedom of the others, who are still in the jungle, still held by Farc," she said.
"There are a lot of people round the world who want to help us - fighting for the liberty of other Colombians."
The former presidential candidate, now with a profile and status the envy of politicians the world over, is in a very strong position to act as ambassador and activist for the release of the remaining hostages and the search for an end to the country's 44-year civil conflict.
Ingrid Betancourt will now no doubt be a permanent fixture on Colombia's political stage.

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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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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Colombia Says Rebels Sought to Make Dirty Bomb

Colombia Says Rebels Sought to Make Dirty Bomb
By SIMON ROMERO
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?
AP

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

Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia Seek Support In Crisis

Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia Seek Support In Crisis
By REUTERS
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.

NEIGHBORS SEEK TO DEFUSE CRISIS

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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