The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Venezuela and the FARC: Congress set to empower Powell to cut off aid

President Hugo Chávez is (in different quarters) loved and hated as a sort of Castro Lite: spending years in the malarial jungle, boning up on his Das Kapital and leading cadres of dedicated young men in years of bloody guerrilla warfare is not his idea of a good time. Tweaking Uncle Sam's beard from time to time and basking in the applause of the Guardian and Counterpunch Tendencies for so doing is more his mark, and, so far, the modesty of his ambitions as manifested in his deeds has stood him in good stead [1].

Chávez has been accused of cosying up to all sorts of terror groups, Al Qaida included [2], supposedly with the intention of burnishing his image as a revolutionary without actually doing any fighting himself. But the most persistent allegation is that he provides tangible aid and comfort to the FARC.

It's a connect the dots slam-dunk - as it were: the Venezuela-Colombia border is such that control over much of the area on each side is nigh impossible. If Chávez is providing the FARC (or ELN) with bases and supplies, plausible deniability is not a tough call.

Indications have been contradictory: at the State Department Briefing on January 31 2002, the briefer was asked:
There are reports that Venezuela's Minister of Interior signed documents agreeing to provide oil and gas to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in exchange for the FARC's agreement not to kidnap anyone in Venezuela. Is there any truth to these reports? If true, would such an agreement suggest that the Government of Venezuela supports terrorism?
and replied:
We have no information to confirm or deny these reports...

As reported on October 21, General James T. Hill, Commander of US Southern Command (Southcom), asked about the allegations in the Linda Robinson article [2], which included Venezuelan support for the FARC, said
We don't have any proof to validate that article!
The same piece refers to a similar denial in the Miami Herald by Southcom Director of Operations Brigadier General Benjamin R Moxon.

On the other hand, Irish writer Gordon Thomas - apparently some kind of expert on these matters [3] - tells El Universal of Caracas (October 30) that
comparte las denuncias sobre la supuesta "connivencia" de las autoridades de Caracas con la guerrilla de Colombia, y aseguró que "en las selvas venezolanas hay dos campamentos guerrilleros que tienen dos anillos de seguridad de los organismos de seguridad de ese país".

There is action on the matter in the US Congress, however. In Sen Rpt 108-106 on the foreign operations appropriations bill S 1426 (linked with HR 2800), the Senate Appropriations Committee said it was :
alarmed by reports of cooperation and collusion between Venezuelan authorities and Colombian terrorists. The Committee includes a provision that restricts assistance to Venezuela, excluding democracy assistance, if the Secretary of State certifies that Venezuela is assisting, harboring, or providing sanctuary for Colombian terrorist organizations...

And that is substantially the provision (§687) that was passed by the Senate last Friday as part of HR 2800 [4].

According to the Bill Status page for HR 2800 (temporary URL), the next thing for HR 2800 is reconciliation in conference.

Amazingly, this development is nowhere to be found in the world's anglophone media - not according to Google News, at least.

It is picked up by El Tiempo of Bogotá (November 4). According to the piece, there is no equivalent of §687 in the version of HR 2800 passed by the House in July. But it seems that the conference report will most likely go with the Senate on the point:
...fuentes consultadas por EL TIEMPO en la Cámara afirman que con seguridad será insertada en el proyecto definitivo que se le enviará al presidente George W. Bush. "La única razón por la que nosotros no teníamos la misma provisión sobre Venezuela es porque aprobamos el presupuesto hace casi cuatro meses cuando este tema de la cooperación con los terroristas era solo un rumor. Pero ahora es mucho más", dice la fuente.

Yet only a fortnight ago, General James Hill of Southcom was crapping all over the idea! The story the hack was being spun by those fuentes was that USG had the goods on Chávez, but were reluctant to go public with a direct accusation:
La misma fuente asegura que durante las reuniones, los funcionarios han mostrado información de inteligencia, imágenes satelitales y testimonios que demostrarían la cooperación con los grupos armados.
Aunque en privado la mayoría de los funcionarios de esta administración dicen estar convencidos de que "algo está muy mal", en público se han mostrado ambivalentes al hablar sobre el tema.

Unfortunately, the piece doesn't suggest a reason for this reluctance.

The practical effect is small - the piece mentions aid of $25m, of which at least $5m of democracy and rule of law assistance is exempted from any cut; and, besides, laws now on the books would enable USG to cut the aid if it wanted it too.

It's politics: a shot across Chávez's bow. But one only shoots across a ship's bow if one has a plan ready in case it doesn't heave to. No doubt, the dream solution is for Chávez to be kicked out, Gray Davis-style, at a recall election sometime next spring. But, in escalating the diplomatic dispute by HR 2800, USG must have a Step 2, otherwise it just looks stupid to no purpose. (And the War on Drugs is enough looking stupid for any government, surely?)

More to come on this, I suspect.

  1. Having weathered last year's attempted coup, he now has to deal with the possibility of a recall referendum (or referendo revocatorio). The opposition need the support of 20% of the electorate to force a recall, and have been given from November 28 to December 1 to garner the necessary signatures. Chávez is warning potential signatories that
    Their names will be recorded forever...
    Which may remind British readers of the Don't tell him, Pike scene in Dad's Army, of beloved memory.

    There's a short piece on the referendum in Venezuela Analítica (November 4), which is one of the better Latin American sites for news analysis, and the place to go for those wishing to immerse themselves in Venezuelan politics. [A difficulty in making head or tail of events in Bolivia is that that country does not have a similar outfit.]

  2. My October 2 piece has links to the recent spat about the US News & World Report article by Linda Robinson, as well as earlier rows. The article is now behind the pay-wall: this looks like a reprint. A UPI piece (October 10) on alleged Al Qaeda links.

  3. According to Le Monde
    Spécialiste des services secrets, le Britannique Gordon Thomas, auteur de 53 ouvrages tirés à 45 millions d'exemplaires dans le monde et invité d'honneur du sommet de Cartagena...
    The piece says he's an expert on the CIA and Mossad, which might indicate he's spread himself a little thinly...

  4. The Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2004.


Chavez is doing some stoking of the fires, too: according to a piece in the Miami Herald (October 30), Chavez
noted that U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro had kissed a male guest at a recent embassy function and said, ''How strange,'' in what virtually all Venezuelans perceived as calling him a homosexual.
Shapiro we knew to be controversial - but for other reasons! The piece adds that
Just last week, pro-Chávez lawmakers made public a video they said showed U.S. secret agents training dissident military officers and municipal police in ''terrorist'' tactics. The U.S. Embassy said it showed agents of the Miami-based Wackenhut security company in a training session and denied any CIA wrongdoing.

Chavez and Uncle Sam, united in perfect symbiosis!

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