Archive for May 2008
Interpol’s Secretary General Ronald Kenneth has confirmed that over 600 Gigabytes of data extracted from three laptops, three USB pen drives and two external hard disc drives that were seized from slain FARC chieftain Raul Reyes on March 1 are 100% legitimate.
Interpol’s computer forensics experts concluded after more than 4,000 person-hours of analysis that none of the captured data was manipulated, edited or altered in any way.
And the data is vast, including 37,000 documents, 210,000 images, almost 8,000 e-mail addresses, and 983 encrypted files which Interpol cracked.
Interpol’s report is damning for President Hugo Chavez. It confirms Chavez has been cooperating actively for years with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Interpol did not analyze the contents of the data. It only confirmed the data has not been doctored in any way. But the documents already published confirm that:
· Chavez offered to lend the FARC $300 million to finance illegal weapons buys.
· Chavez offered to allow the FARC to smuggle illegally acquired weapons into Colombia through Venezuelan territory.
· Chavez offered to let the FARC use the port of Maracaibo to import weapons.
· Chavez offered to let the FARC hide its illicit weapons inside containers that would be listed officially as carrying weapons from Belarus and Russia.
· Chavez offered to help the FARC purchase RPG’s and surface-to-air missiles.
· The FARC has been providing guerrilla training to members of Venezuela’s Communist Party (PCV) for over four years. The contact person between the FARC and the PCV is National Assembly Deputy Oscar Figuera.
· Besides Chavez, other Venezuelan government officials actively working with the FARC include current Interior and Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, the current heads of military intelligence (DIM) and the political police (Disip), and several army generals.
· The FARC contributed $100,000 to the presidential campaign of Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa.
And there is so much more the government of Colombia has yet to release in the public domain. For example, the global “map” that could result from the 8,000 e-mail addresses could prove highly embarrassing for many governments in the region. It could also portend legal difficulties for individuals who have been in contact with the FARC including many US citizens in academia, think thanks and other entities.
The US Patriot Act is very explicit about aiding and abetting terrorist groups. And the FARC is officially a terrorist group. But it’s far too early to speculate about the possible fallout that Interpol’s report could cause in Washington, D.C.
Of more immediate interest is the upcoming Fifth Summit of the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean which begins today in Peru’s capital city Lima.
The summit’s official agenda is poverty, global warming and sustainable development. But the number one topic on everyone’s mind in Lima will be Interpol’s report confirming the legitimacy of the captured FARC documents.
At least two of the presidents attending the Lima summit – assuming Chavez and Correa show up – will be confirmed collaborators with a narco-terrorist group.
There is a strong chance that if Chavez, Correa and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez attend the summit sparks will fly because Chavez and Correa will not shut up.
In fact, the official release of Interpol’s report almost certainly will aggravate the diplomatic standoff between Caracas, Quito and Bogota.
Ecuador has already broken diplomatic relations with Colombia, and a suspension of trade relations is also likely. Correa has already suspended rice shipments to Colombia, and may close the border completely within days or even hours.
Chavez also may decide to suspend diplomatic and trade relations with Colombia, although a disruption of Colombian exports to Venezuela would quickly worsen food shortages in Venezuela.
And Chavez has threatened to invade and occupy all of the Guajira Peninsula, claiming in recent days that Colombia “stole” Venezuelan territory in the region.
Interior and Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin says Cuban and Nicaraguan security advisers are already in-country to assist the creation of Venezuela’s new National Police. The National Police will be up and running before the end of 2008, he adds.
President Hugo Chavez used his Special Powers to issue a Decree-Law dated 9 April 2008, published in Extraordinary Official Gazette No. 5,880, creating the National Police. We’ll come back to that Decree-Law in a future post.
The Cuban and Nicaraguan advisers in Caracas include Ramon Rodriguez Curvello, second in command of Cuba’s National Police, and the Commander General of Nicaragua’s National Police.
“Change will be difficult,” Rodriguez Chacin said on 12 May. But Venezuela’s new National Police will provide the Venezuelan people with “real security” which responds to the needs of the “humanist society all Venezuelans are building.”
The national police in Cuba function as part of the Castro regime’s totalitarian state, which relies on repressive methods to maintain control, says the US State Department’s web site. These methods, including intense physical and electronic surveillance of Cubans, are also extended to foreign travelers.
Foreigners visiting Cuba are frequently subjected to surreptitious scrutiny by the Cuban security forces, including the police. Overall direction comes from the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE), an arm of the Interior Ministry.
Any interactions between foreign visitors and average Cubans, regardless how well intentioned, can subject the Cubans to harassment, detention and other forms of repressive actions by state security elements.
The police in Cuba are used in a “community” role to monitor the daily activities of Cubans in the neighborhoods where they live. Uniformed and plainclothes police are also employed to disrupt protests by political dissidents.
The Cuban government recently has been trying to project a softer image of its internal security apparatus during the power transition from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul. But the Cuban police have a very long reputation for violence against political dissidents.
For example, last December Cuban police stormed into a Catholic Church in the eastern city of Santiago, pepper-sprayed and beat several dissidents in the parish hall used for celebrating masses and hauled seven off to jail.
The Cuban national police have absolutely no experience in providing civilian law enforcement services in a democratic society.
They also have no experience whatsoever operating in extremely violent countries like Venezuela where someone is killed every 60 minutes, and where an armed robbery or carjacking happens every 10 minutes.
But Cuban police advisers are not being imported to Venezuela for law enforcement purposes.
Their role here is to train elements of Venezuela’s new National Police in areas like barrio-level surveillance, and intelligence and counter-intelligence activities targeting political dissidents who oppose the Chavez regime. This likely includes traditional political opposition groups and new dissidents inside the fractured Bolivarian coalition.
The Nicaraguan police advisers may be helpful to some aspects of creating an effective, professional and democratic national police in Venezuela.
Nicaragua’s National Police was created by decree in 1980, and originally was called the Sandinista Police. Under the extinct Somoza dictatorship, law enforcement had been the combined responsibility of the National Guard, Office of National security and the Military Intelligence Service.
Law enforcement under Somoza placed the highest priority on political repression of leftist political dissidents, union officials and anyone who opposed Somoza. The new Sandinista Police initially placed the highest priority on repressing rightwing dissidents and anyone who opposed the Marxist Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega.
However, from that ignoble start Nicaragua’s National Police evolved into a reasonably professional law enforcement institution ( by Central American standards). Nicaragua’s police force also has the advantage of operating within a democratic framework for the past nearly 20 years, during which it has benefited from US law enforcement training assistance.
In some respects, Nicaragua’s national police experience may be helpful in Venezuela. For example, women comprise over 26% of the Nicaraguan national police, preventive community law enforcement is prioritized, and domestic policing (i.e. controlling family violence) is assigned a high level of importance.
But the Nicaraguan National Police (NPP) is habitually undermanned, under-trained and under- equipped to effectively respond to crimes in progress.
However, the NNP is the only law enforcement agency in Nicaragua today. It is responsible for public safety and security, criminal investigations of all types, customs and immigration enforcement and traffic control.
And it is rife with petty corruption. Persons involved in traffic-related incidents are often pressured for bribes. But such corruption is par for the course everywhere in Latin America.
It’s unclear what role the Nicaraguan police advisers will play in establishing Venezuela’s National Police.
Rodriguez Chacin made some remarks about “community” law enforcement, an area in which the Nicaraguan police have acquired a lot of operational experience in the past two decades.
But “humanist” is not a word normally associated with Rodriguez Chacin.
Venezuela’s current Interior and Justice Minister is one of the most lethal and merciless hard men of Chavez’s inner circle.
Rodriguez Chacin comes from a military background. He is a retired Marine officer, and is one of Venezuela’s most experienced veterans of low-intensity counterinsurgency operations against irregular forces.
During the late 1980s he co-founded a joint counter-insurgency task force called the Jose Antonio Paez Specific Command (CEJAP), which deployed in Apure against FARC, ELN and other armed irregular groups responsible for kidnapping numerous cattle ranchers along the border with Colombia.
The CEJAP included some of the toughest legal killers in Venezuela who were recruited from the political police (Disip), military intelligence (DIM), the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ), and the armed forces (mainly army personnel) .
But CEJAP quickly spun out of control and started murdering innocent civilians simply on the suspicion they might be associated with guerrillas.
In 1988 a CEJAP team ambushed and slaughtered 14 peasant fishermen at el Amparo in Apure, and in 1989 the group was dissolved.
However, while CEJAP existed, Rodriguez Chacin became one of the group’s most effective and feared interrogators.
“He is an expert with a knife and completely ruthless,” says a former CEJAP colleague who adds, “All of us were terrified of Rodriguez Chacin, including even Henry Lopez Sisco.”
Rodriguez Chacin was one of several CEJAP members who were charged with crimes relating to the massacre at El Amparo, though he did not participate physically in the operation and was not even involved at the command/control level.
Several of his former CEJAP associates say Rodriguez Chacin was treated unfairly, used as a scapegoat, and he developed as a result a deep hatred for the traditional ruling political establishment personified by Accion Democratica and Copei.
He participated in the second failed coup launched on 27 November 1992 against former President Carlos Andres Perez, and spent two years in prison on charges of treason and rebellion.
Rodriguez Chacin disappeared following his release from jail, but sporadic reports from Colombian intelligence officials between1995 to 1997 suggested he was establishing direct links with senior FARC leaders including Raul Reyes and Ivan Marquez.
In 1999 he reappeared publicly as a personal liaison between Chavez and Colombian irregular groups. In that capacity he reportedly played a key role in securing the release of several kidnapped Venezuelans.
He also traveled frequently into Colombia’s Caguan region between 1999 and the end of 2001, observing the ultimately failed peace negotiations between the FARC and the government of former President Andres Pastrana.
Chavez named Rodriguez Chacin Interior and Justice Minister at the start of 2002. In this capacity, Rodriguez Chacin was involved in helping to plan Operation Knockout.
He worked closely with then-Vice President Diosdado Cabello through a situation room at the Interior and Justice Ministry which operated around the clock, and ran electronic surveillance and human infiltration operations directed at the political opposition.
The intelligence generated by Rodriguez Chacin’s situation room was shared with Diosdado Cabello’ team, which was responsible for coordinating the deployments of the armed elements of Bolivarian Circles against opposition demonstrators during the first three months of 2002.
Rodriguez Chacin disappeared from sight again after the political violence of April 11-14, 2002. Reports from intelligence sources in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru indicate that he traveled frequently in those countries, but most particularly in the oil-rich northern provinces of Ecuador where the FARC has been active since the late 1980s.
Most recently, many of the documents extracted from laptops and other memory devices that belonged to dead FARC chieftain Raul Reyes confirm that Rodriguez Chacin was President Chavez’s personal emissary to the FARC.
The captured FARC documents also indicate that Rodriguez Chacin may be very vulnerable to charges of treason, helping to finance and arm the FARC, and associating with a known narco-terrorist organization.
And this is the guy who plans to stamp a “humanist” face on Venezuela’s new National Police.
History is written by the victor, goes the old saying.
This explains why so much history consists of lies, distortions and half-truths. History makes heroes of scoundrels. This is certainly the case of President Hugo Chavez and his official version of who caused the political violence which rocked Venezuela from April 11-14, 2002.
Do a Google search and you will find millions of words written mainly by leftist sympathizers of the Bolivarian Revolution in support of President Chavez’s official history of those dark days.
Very briefly, however, Chavez claims the government of US President George W. Bush, through entities like the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy, conspired with rightwing Venezuelan elites and rogue military officers to topple Chavez from power on April 11, 2002.
The main leader of the alleged coup attempt, Chavez says, was Pedro Carmona Estanga, president of the national federation of business chambers (Fedecamaras) in April 2002 and a business lobbyist who spent much of his career working for the ultra-conservative Sosa Branger family.
Carmona and other civilian opposition leaders conspired with treasonous military officials to topple Chavez from power for less than 72 hours, but millions of poor Venezuelans led by loyal military officials launched a popular counterattack, halting the coup led by Carmona and a handful of generals. A daring Army airborne commando rescue mission freed Chavez from captivity on La Orchila Island, and restored him to power.
Throughout this harrowing experience, Chavez never faltered, confronting his captors with courage and faith that the “pueblo” would free him and save the Bolivarian revolution.
President Chavez has narrated this official “history” countless times during the past six years, always portraying himself as the underdog victim of right-wing coup plotters and an imperialist US administration determined to seize control of Venezuela’s oil and gas reserves.
In fact, the Chavez government has spent millions of dollars since 2003 to disseminate this history internationally, with effective results, through entities like the Venezuelan Information Office in Washington, DC which is funded by the government of Venezuela. VIO operatives have lobbied tirelessly since 2004 to convince US legislators, journalists and university students that the Bush administration was responsible for the alleged coup attempt against Chavez.
Venezuela’s government also financed the production in Cuba of “The Chavez Code,” a book authored by Eva Golinger, a dual US-Venezuelan national, which claims to prove with declassified official US documents that the Bush administration conspired to overthrow President Chavez. The documents Golinger includes in the book to buttress her charges of a US-backed conspiracy do not, in fact, support any of her claims whatsoever. But the accuracy of Golinger’s allegations has never been challenged
The Chavez government also backed the production of the documentary “The revolution will not be televised,” which was broadcast worldwide by BBC with the claim that is a truthful and accurate rendition of what happened in Venezuela on April 11-14, 2002. The documentary has won international awards, but it is riddled with factual inaccuracies, video clips unrelated in any way to the events of April 11, and unsupported charges that reflect President Chavez’s narrative.
In the hours immediately following his return to power on April 14, President Chavez said he would establish an impartial Truth Commission to investigate what happened on April 11, what caused the violence, and who should be held responsible. But that promise was forgotten immediately. Instead, President Chavez on April 15 ordered then-Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez to open criminal investigations against the alleged coup leaders and dozens of individuals viewed as enemies of the revolution. Dozens of people were arrested on charges of military rebellion and other crimes. Many have been held in jail for years without trials or convictions.
The Attorney General and the Public Defender produced official investigative reports within a few weeks of the violence absolving President Chavez and heaping the blame on his political opponents. The National Assembly held public hearings packed with the president’s most radical supporters in the assembly, and selected “witnesses” carefully to buttress the president’s claim that he was the victim of a failed coup attempt.
President Chavez’s version is accepted internationally as accurate and truthful. No one has challenged Chavez’s claim that he was the victim, but never the perpetrator, of the violence and bloodshed that toppled his presidency for two days in April 2002. However, Chavez’s official history is a great lie created to hide the fact that he was the chief intellectual author of the violence that killed 19 innocent people and wounded nearly 200 others in Caracas on April 11, 2002.
President Chavez’s deceitful tale of the events leading up to and surrounding the political violence of April 11-14, 2002 was manufactured with the aid of political propaganda experts in Havana. It was spread worldwide by the Cuban revolution’s international propaganda and support network, which includes “progressive” (i.e. Marxist and socialist) think tanks in Washington, DC; leftist publications and broadcasters in the US and UK including the BBC; and Marxist British and French journalists like Richard Gott and Ignacio Ramonet who have spent their careers searching for revolutions to support in Latin America.
Like all effective lies, President Chavez’s official history mixes truthful facts and disinformation. For example, it is true that some of his enemies in the military, opposition political parties, and traditional business and labor establishments did conspire to oust Chavez from the presidency.
It is true that some of the persons conspiring against Chavez sought during 2001-2002 to manipulate Venezuela’s emerging civil society movement in an effort to push the country’s first-ever democratic people power’s movement towards a scenario where violent public confrontations with the president would become inevitable.
It is also true that his fiercest opponents included the political parties, labor unions and business elites which lost their 50-year-old power over Venezuela’s political and economic institutions when Chavez was elected president in December 1998.
And it is true that Pedro Carmona was the public face of a conspiracy to establish an ultra-right wing, unelected government whose secretive architects were determined to erase all vestiges of Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution immediately.
However, the persons conspiring to oust Chavez from the presidency did not plan or execute the violent clashes which left 19 people dead near the presidential palace in Caracas on April 11.
That violence was planned and executed by the president, with the participation of very senior members of his government and military command.
To be continued….
President Hugo Chavez has warned often since at least 1993 that he was the intended target of political assassins and (after he became president in 1999) coup plotters. But starting in the second half of 2001 the president’s allegations that plotters were conspiring to topple him from power became more frequent and more immediate. “I know who you are. I have all of you identified by name and infiltrated so I know everything you are planning,” Chavez said repeatedly in nationally broadcast speeches during the second half of 2001 and the first three months of 2002.
Chavez was telling the truth. Chavez did know the identities of the alleged conspirators because one conspiracy was instigated and directed by individuals who operated as double agents for the president. This group, which included the Perez Recao brothers and some disgruntled military officers who once had been vocally loyal backers of Chavez, was handled by Vinicio “El Principe” De Sola (no relation to the respected DeSola family of attorneys and Supreme Court jurists), a former business associate in the 1980s and early 1990’s of Jose Vicente Rangel, a thrice-losing Socialist presidential candidate in the 1970s and 1980s, and an investigative journalist who had a clandestine parallel career as a military equipment supplier before he joined Chavez’s revolution. Rangel was Chavez’s defense minister in 2001-2002, and before that as foreign minister.
This group handled by De Sola, who reported mainly to Defense Minister Rangel and certain military officers designated by the minister, was an integral strategic and tactical component of Operation Knockout, which was the code name of Chavez’s secret plan to crush his political opponents in a Bolivarian version of Communist China’s Tiananmen massacre.
Chavez also had direct knowledge of a second group of conspirators within the armed forces, led mainly by naval officers and consisting of brigadier generals and vice-admirals, none of whom exercised direct command over any infantry, armored or air force units.
President Chavez did not deploy double agents to instigate a coup conspiracy within the military involving this second group. But he did learn of the group’s existence soon after its members started to conspire because, despite their military training and supposed knowledge of security practices, the vice-admirals and brigadier generals proved to be incredibly sloppy about their own security.
Military intelligence (DIM) agents infiltrated this group by confronting some of its members and forcing them to become clandestine informants. Chavez allowed this second group to continue plotting because it never represented a threat to his regime’s survival. None of the plotters commanded armed troops and never had any tactical capability to pull off a successful coup. However, the second group’s existence did reinforce the mock coup Chavez planned to stage with the first group where De Sola, Rangel’s double agent, was a leading participant.
For Operation Knockout to succeed, Chavez needed a credible but tactically toothless coup attempt that he could control and suppress quickly in order to justify a lethal military counterstrike aimed at wiping out his political opponents and destroying Venezuela’s young civil society movement in a single crushing blow.
Chavez called his plan “Operation Knockout” because he expected to destroy his political opponents like a heavyweight boxer floors an opponent with a combination of blows. The first blow would be inflicted by his armed Bolivarian Circles. The objective was to turn peaceful street protests by the political opposition into bloody street battles between the president’s civilian supporters and foes. The eruption of street violence between opposing civilian groups would trigger deployment of National Guard forces with the 5th regional command (Core-5) in Caracas. The National Guard troops would be under orders to confront the opposition protesters and protect the Bolivarian Circles. Chavez rightly expected that the deployment of national guardsmen against opposition protesters would intensify the levels of street violence he planned to provoke. The final knockout blow would be delivered by three armored infantry battalions based at Fort Tiuna that would be deployed on the president’s orders under Plan Avila, an army contingency strategy designed for use in cases of massive civil unrest threatening Venezuela’s national security and democratic stability.
Chavez was the chief intellectual author of Operation Knockout, but its development was a group effort. Active participants in the creation and subsequent execution of Operation Knockout included then-Vice President Diosdado Cabello; then-Interior and Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin; then-Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel; then-Armed Forces General-in-Chief Lucas Rincon Romero and the senior officers in command of the National Guard, Navy and Air Force; then-Third Army division commanding general Jorge Garcia Carneiro; then-Attorney General of the Republic Isaias Rodriguez; Libertador Mayor Freddy Bernal, then-National Assembly Deputy Juan Barreto; and several of the assembly’s most radical “chavistas.”
Operation Knockout was developed in great secrecy over a period of approximately six months, starting around October 2001. In fact, some of the senior military officers who participated in drafting some elements of Operation Knockout were unaware of the scheme’s armed civilian components until April 7, 2002 – the day Chavez brought together senior military, political and government officials to discuss its imminent execution.
Operation Knockout had political, civilian and military components. The political component sought to create the conditions that would trigger violent clashes between the government and the opposition, followed by a coup attempt. Chavez was a veteran conspirator, and was certain his opponents would launch a coup eventually. But Chavez also was confident there would be a coup because he planned to encourage an attempt against himself.
The civilian component of Operation Knockout was coordinated and implemented at the highest levels of the Chavez government by Vice President Cabello and by Interior and Justice Minister Rodriguez Chacin. The vice president’s office controlled the creation, recruitment, training, financing and coordination of the Bolivarian Circles. The majority of the circles created nationally were not involved in violent political activities, although they were ordered frequently to participate in red apparel at government-sponsored Bolivarian street demonstrations and other public events of the revolution.
But a small number of Bolivarian Circles, particularly in Caracas, were created explicitly to operate as violent armed street thugs to attack opposition demonstrators. The activities of these armed groups were coordinated by the office of the vice president, based on intelligence about the political opposition generated by a round-the-clock situation room commanded by Rodriguez Chacin at the Interior and Justice Ministry. The personnel running the situation room had been recruited from military intelligence (DIM), the armed forces joint strategic command (CUFAN), the defense ministry, the political police (Disip), the criminal investigative police (CICIP), and Libertador Municipality’s PoliCaracas.
Rodriguez Chacin’s situation room conducted open source, and clandestine human intelligence and electronic intelligence operations aimed at President Chavez’s political opposition. Electronic intelligence operations included telephone and e-mail intercepts of individual opposition leaders and opposition institutions like Fedecamaras, the national federation of commerce chambers (Consecomercio), the national federation of cattle ranchers (Fedenaga), the Venezuelan Labor Confederation (CTV), Petroleos de Venezuela, and the Catholic Church, among others. Human intelligence activities were aimed at recruiting informants and infiltrating moles inside these opposition institutions.
The intelligence generated by Rodriguez Chacin’s situation room was used by the vice president’s office to plan and coordinate Bolivarian Circle deployments against public events (demonstrations, marches, etc.) organized by the government’s political opponents.
Other armed civilian groups that worked closely with Rodriguez Chacin and Cabello in late 2001-early 2002 included a clandestine security force within PoliCaracas commanded by Libertador District Mayor Freddy Bernal; dozens of gunmen financed through the Education, Health and Labor Ministries; urban militants associated with the Tupamaros based in the 23 de Enero apartment blocks near the presidential palace; and other violent groups associated with street-level Bolivarian fighters like Lina Ron. All of these groups received financial support and armaments through different national and municipal government entities.
Chavez saw these groups as reservist shock troops tasked with instigating street violence against his opponents. Their assigned mission in Operation Knockout was to physically attack opposition groups, creating conditions of extreme violence which would justify direct military intervention under a state of exception decreed by the president.
To be continued….
President Hugo Chavez is a very scared revolutionary.
Fear is driving the president’s latest histrionics against Colombia, the United States, and Germany.
Fright is behind the president’s wild claims that the US is promoting an international conspiracy to steal the states of Zulia, Merida, Tachira, Trujillo and Barinas from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Chavez roars loudest when his fears are greatest.
US Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield says the 15 May release by Interpol of its forensic investigation of over 11,000 documents extracted from several laptops, pen drives and external hard drives seized by Colombian security forces in the bombed-out camp of dead FARC chieftain Raul Reyes “will be a very interesting moment.”
That’s an understatement.
Chavez can deny the authenticity of the thousands of documents captured from the FARC until his face turns as red as his Bolivarian beret.
Chavez can threaten, bluster, intimidate and insult his enemies including “Meester DAN-ger” until he exhausts his dictionary of vulgarities.
But the bottom line is: Gotcha!!!
Interpol will confirm the authenticity of 11,000 smoking guns which prove beyond even the remotest shadow of a reasonable doubt that Venezuela’s President, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, is an international criminal.
Interpol’s report will confirm President Chavez is deeply and personally involved with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – a communist narco-terrorist group that traffics cocaine and heroin internationally, murders and kidnaps innocent civilians including Venezuelan citizens inside Venezuela, and is seeking by force of arms to illegally overthrow Colombia’s freely elected democratic government.
Some of the evidence against Chavez is already a matter of public record. For example:
· Chavez personally took part in covering up the FARC’s massacre of Venezuelan civilians in 2004. The FARC was prepared to admit its “error” and apologize formally, but Chavez insisted instead on blaming Colombian paramilitaries. Covering up evidence of a homicide is a crime in Venezuela.
· Chavez and his personal liaison to the FARC, current Interior and Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, offered the FARC between $250 million and $300 million in direct cash contributions which Rodriguez Chacin described as “a loan” in one of his many meetings with Reyes.
· Chavez, Rodriguez Chacin, the head of armed forces military intelligence (DIM), and senior political police (Disip) officials close to Rodriguez Chacin offered the FARC material assistance in smuggling illegal weapons into Colombia, including RPG’s, portable surface-to-air missiles, and other heavy infantry weapons.
· Chavez and his middlemen with the FARC offered to hide weapons smuggled into Colombia by the FARC inside containers of weapons imported from Belarus and Russia via the port of Maracaibo.
· Chavez and Rodriguez Chacin invited the FARC to provide guerrilla warfare training to Venezuelan military personnel and civilian military reservists.
And this is just the smallest tip of the geopolitical iceberg Chavez will smash into before this week is over.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa will not be spared either.
Interpol’s report is expected to confirm that Correa offered to cooperate directly with the FARC to destabilize Colombia’s democratic government, and turn Ecuador’s northern provinces into a new FARC stronghold.
Ecuador’s generals are not a castrated bunch like Venezuela’s Bolivarian generals – at least not yet. If Interpol’s report is sufficiently damning, Correa and several of his Cabinet ministers may find themselves out of a job and behind bars very quickly.
Or perhaps Correa and his criminal cronies could be forced to seek political asylum in Bolivarian Venezuela or Sandinista Nicaragua. But Cuba certainly will not accept them. Fidel and Raul Castro will keep their distance from Correa and from Chavez too.
The Cuban regime is not stupid, but many experienced Cuban revolutionaries probably think Chavez and Correa were about as smart as a sack of potatoes in their dealings with the FARC.
Reyes wrote down absolutely everything he was told by the emissaries sent by Chavez and Correa. And every dirty, treacherous, criminal detail of the FARC’s relationship with Chavez and Correa will be a matter of public record in a few hours more.
Interpol’s forensic report and separate intelligence analyses done by the Colombian and US governments, also likely will expose the FARC’s corrupt political network throughout Latin America.
Don’t be surprised if certain elements within the governments of Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, among others, are revealed as active collaborators with the FARC.
Hopefully, President George W. Bush will have the courage to add Venezuela and Ecuador to the US government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Hopefully, President Bush will impose very tough sanctions against the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador.
Arguments that the US must tread carefully in dealing with Chavez because US influence in Latin America could suffer if Bush moves unilaterally are geopolitical red herrings.
US influence in Latin America is already at its lowest levels since before the end of the Cold War.
US efforts to pursue multilateral approaches to the regional threat Chavez represents have gone nowhere in the past, and will go nowhere in the future regardless of what the Interpol report reveals about Chavez’s happy engagement with the FARC.
Brazil certainly won’t do anything. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva thinks Chavez is Venezuela’s “best president” in the past 100 years.
Argentina’s government won’t do anything. The Governments of Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay will not follow the US lead.
Nicaragua’s government barks at the command of Chavez. The Caribbean states still want the cheap oil supplies they expect never to repay in the future.
And Colombia’s government will tread softly too, especially if no other governments in the region side with the US in trying to contain Chavez.
This means it’s up to lame duck Bush, the least popular US president in memory.
The Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce in Caracas has joined the push to prevent sanctions from being slapped against Venezuela.
Bilateral US-Venezuela trade topped $50 billion in 2007 and is expected to go even higher in 2008, VenAmCham said in recent days.
Trade between Venezuela and the US is robust, reflecting the historic good relations between the US and Venezuelan business sectors, adds VenAmCham.
If the US imposes sanctions against Venezuela, bilateral trade relations could suffer huge disruptions. Chavez could retaliate by nationalizing US-owned non-oil assets in Venezuela.
But so what? Does anyone seriously believe Chavez will not eventually nationalize every significant foreign-owned asset in Venezuela?
Chavez has threatened dire retaliation if Bush sanctions Venezuela. Oil exports to the US would be suspended immediately, Chavez thunders. But so what?
The US can survive nicely without Venezuelan crude, but Venezuela’s government will not do well if the US suspends oil purchases from Venezuela.
A US government study commissioned last year by Senator Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded the US could quickly recover from a complete suspension of oil imports from Venezuela.
However, this study also concluded Venezuela would be screwed because it would have difficulty finding new buyers for crude oil which can only be refined in the US. China does not have the deep conversion refining capacity, and neither do Iran, Belarus, Russia, Vietnam, India, Brazil or Argentina.
Hopefully President Bush will have the stones to list Venezuela’s Bolivarian government as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Of course, Chavez dearly hopes Bush doesn’t have the courage to act decisively against a criminal Bolivarian regime that cooperates and supports international narco-terrorists.
And Chavez may be right in betting that Bush is gutless.
But we hope Chavez is mistaken.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says in an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel that Hugo Chavez is Venezuela’s “best president in the last 100 years.” And (Chavez) does “not exert even remotely the influence attributed to him,” adds da Silva.
Da Silva also tells Der Spiegel that the election of leftist figures like Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and, most recently, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay “are signs of democratic progress. It was time that presidents who truly come from the people were elected.”
“Europe need not fear the left in Latin America,” President da Silva says in an interview published immediately before the Summit of Latin America, the European Union and the Caribbean convenes to explore ways of cementing closer ties between Latin America and the EU.
But what faction of the “Latin American left” is da Silva talking about? Radical leftists like Venezuela’s Chavez, Bolivia’s Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega? Moderate leftists like Chile’s Michelle Bachelet or da Silva? Or perhaps da Silva means the populist husband-wife team of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, a pair of world-class external debt deadbeats who have pimped some $7 billion out of Chavez since 2003?
The EU has good cause to be concerned about radical leftist leaders like Chavez and his fellow communists in the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA). This crew despises free trade, globalization, foreign investment, private property rights, individual rights and democracy. And they have failed utterly to spur sustained economic growth in their respective countries.
Chavez has been in power longest and has enjoyed immense financial resources, yet Venezuela today is in far worse shape than it was a decade ago, irrespective of the robust GDP growth numbers reported in recent years. Violent crime has never been higher and corruption has never been greater. Someone is murdered in Venezuela every 60 minutes, and someone is kidnapped every 24 hours. Venezuela’s non-oil productive sectors have been decimated by the idiotic “socialist” (i.e. thieving) policies of the Chavez regime. Petroleos de Venezuela has been wrecked beyond repair.
But Morales, Ortega and Correa also are mucking up badly in their countries. Private investment is down, economic growth is stagnating, social and political tensions have increased significantly, and corruption is growing worse. Viva la robolucion!
Efforts by Morales to turn Bolivia into a communist state modeled on alleged indigenous political history and culture are driving that country towards Balkanization as the wealthiest and most productive lowland regions seek greater independence and autonomy from the Marxist idiocy coming from La Paz. Now Morales faces a recall election thanks to political opponents in the Senate who may have miscalculated their strength. If Morales wins the recall election it will be seen by highland Bolivians as a renewed mandate for his indigenous revolution, while lowland Bolivian likely will interpret their loss as a step towards civil war.
Nicaragua’s political opposition also is pushing for a recall election against Daniel Ortega, the aging leader of the communist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Since his election, Ortega has been sticking closer to Chavez than stench to a pasture patty, stoking tensions with Colombia over San Andres Island and joining ALBA. But Nicaragua’s economy remains stalled.
Ecuador’s President Correa has turned his demonstrated complicity with the FARC into a one-sided diplomatic war with Bogota. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez gave Correa (and the rest of Latin America’s do-nothing leftist presidents) a world-class lesson in statesmanship and diplomacy at the Rio Group Summit in March, right after Colombian warplanes killed FARC chieftain Raul Reyes on March 1 while Reyes, an accused pedophile, kidnapper and narco-terrorist, slept at a permanent FARC base camp inside Ecuador which the Ecuadorean government had known about for at least three years.
Correa has been ranting ever since about Colombia’s “illegal” incursion into Ecuador and the alleged execution of Ecuadorean citizens in the FARC base camp after it was struck by up to six laser-guided “smart” bombs (thank you, Plan Colombia). Correa’s tantrum is because he was caught red-handed doing business with the FARC and compromising Ecuador’s national security in the process. Correa knows the generals are probably wondering if it’s time to get rid of the president, so he’s pushing a nationalist fight with Colombia in an effort to save his own derriere.
When this group of wannabe revolutionaries isn’t pushing their respective radical agendas at home or picking fights with their neighbors, their core economic policies seek to expropriate all of the productive sectors in their countries. That is how radical socialism (excuse me, communism) works. Productive sectors must be nationalized and stolen from their rightful owners, because communist state-owned enterprises only produce permanent financial losses and beaucoup corruption. High oil prices have kept the Chavez regime from drowning economically, but Morales, Ortega and Correa are barely managing to stay afloat with Hugo’s help.
This radical “Wild Bunch” makes all Latin American leftists look bad, including moderates like Bachelet and da Silva. They are way out of touch with the rest of the world, and the economic development of their countries is suffering as a result.
Da Silva’s assertion that today’s radical leftists in Latin America are like the radical European leftists of the 1920’s, only confirms his ignorance of European history. They’re not the same at all. EU and Latin American reds – ok, ok, “Socialists” – are as similar as apples and bananas. But we digress.
Besides the taint of being associated ideologically with the region’s radical leftists, da Silva and Bachelet have a lot of their own domestic baggage which some Europeans must be wondering about.
For example, what has da Silva done for Brazil in terms of social and economic progress that would not have occurred under a different president from the center-left or even the right? Brazil was already advancing before da Silva was elected president. Brazil’s economic success in recent years owes more to its own core strengths as one of the largest emerging powers in the world, than to any socialist measures introduced by da Silva. But yes, da Silva does deserve credit for not trying to muck things up by pushing Brazil sharply towards the left. Of course, if da Silva had attempted to drive Brazil sharply to the left, his presidency would have been very brief.
Bachelet is in a similar boat. Chile’s sustained economic success is rooted in the free trade and free market policies institutionalized in the 1980s by the right-wing military regime of General Augusto Pinochet, who voluntarily stepped aside in 1989 after Chilean voters declared their preference for democratic rule. In the years since, successive Socialist governments have not dismantled these core economic reforms, although they have tinkered with the system in ways which have made Chile’s economy less efficient. But what else have Chile’s Socialist governments, including Bachelet’s, actually accomplished in terms of bettering the lives of the Chilean people?
Da Silva’s assertion that Chavez is Venezuela’s “best president in 100 years” also confirms the Brazilian leader’s ignorance of Venezuelan history. And his ignorance is insulting to all Venezuelans because the president of Brazil presumably has the personnel and resources to do a little research before talking trash about Venezuela in an interview with Der Spiegel. Over the past century Venezuela has been ruled by many decent presidents who achieved positive social, democratic and economic change in incremental steps.
General Eleazar Lopez Contreras, who ruled from 1936-1941, freed all political prisoners who were jailed by his predecessor, the dictator Juan Vicente Gomez. Lopez Contreras also promulgated a new constitution, enacted a new labor law, created the National Labor Office (later the Labor Ministry), and the ministries of agriculture and communications. And he established the Venezuelan Children’s Council, the Industrial Bank and the National Office of the Currency.
His successor as president of Venezuela, General Isaias Medina Angarita (1941-1945), respected human rights and freedom of expression. He allowed the free activity of political parties, promoted constitutional reforms granting voting rights to Venezuelan women, instituted the direct election of deputies, and allowed the legalization of the Venezuelan Communist Party.
President Romulo Betancourt (1959-1963), who started his political career as a communist but realized quickly that communism would enslave and impoverish Venezuela, strengthened Venezuela’s control over its own oil resources, encouraged the creation of OPEC and founded the Corporacion Venezolana de Petroleo (CVP), Venezuela’s first state-owned oil company. He carried out land reform measures that invigorated agricultural production, and fairly compensated the owners of expropriated land. Betancourt stopped efforts by Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro to propagate communist revolution in Venezuela. Throughout his presidency and later, Betancourt always represented, and defended, democratic values and institutions n Latin America.
We could go on, but the point is da Silva’s calculated ignorance on the history of Venezuelan presidents in the past century is a slap in the face to Venezuelans who believe in true democracy. Da Silva’s permanent defense of Chavez is essentially a betrayal of the democratic values he claims to defend. He may be president of the largest nation in South America, but da Silva most certainly is not a statesman. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso is a statesman, and his Social Democrat roots are much closer to European socialism than the Latin American region’s current generation of communist bozos who costume themselves deceitfully as Socialists. But da Silva’s performance internationally is more like Morales’ role as Chavez’s poodle in Bolivia.
INTERPOL will formally present the public report and findings on its forensic examination of seized FARC computers and hardware to the Colombian government at the headquarters of the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) in Bogota at 10 am local time (15:00 GMT) on Thursday 15 May, 2008. This presentation immediately will be followed by a press conference. The public report will be posted on the INTERPOL web site.
The classified report will be delivered to the Colombian authorities beforehand, says INTERPOL. But our sources in Bogota say the classified report already has been delivered to the Colombian government, so it’s very likely the US government already has a copy of the classified report given by INTERPOL to the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez.
The INTERPOL reports (classified and public) cover the content data of three laptop computers, three USB pen drives and two external hard disks seized by Colombian security forces on 1 March,, 2008 when they retrieved the corpse of slain FARC chieftain Raul Reyes from a FARC base camp in Ecuador.
Under the terms of the agreement signed with Colombia’s government in Bogota on Wednesday 12 March, INTERPOL’s assistance included the deployment of an Incident Response Team (IRT) to Bogota to obtain mirror images of the content data of the laptops, pen drives and external hard disks in order to carry out an independent computer forensic technical examination of that content data.
President Hugo Chavez has been claiming since Reyes was killed that the documents are “false…forgeries…part of an Imperialist US plan” to isolate, discredit and destabilize Venezuela. A similar defense has been launched in Ecuador by President Rafael Correa. But facts are facts.
The US government received the same, identical mirror images of the data INTERPOL is studying, and US intelligence sources already have concluded that “thousands of documents” extracted from the laptops and other data storage devices are legitimate.
The documents confirm what most Venezuelans and Colombians have known for many years. President Hugo Chavez is actively supporting and cooperating with the FARC, which is designated an international drug trafficking and terrorist organization.
The captured documents published so far, and over 100 more reviewed privately by the Wall Street Journal, confirm the following:
· Chavez offered the FARC between $250 million and $300 million in financial aid to buy weapons and other military supplies.
· Chavez offered the FARC the port of Maracaibo to facilitate the transportation of illicitly acquired weapons through Venezuelan territory to Colombia.
· Senior Venezuelan military officers offered to help the FARC hide illegal weapons shipments inside containers of weapons Venezuela has purchased legally from Russia.
· Chavez offered to help the FARC acquire rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s) and portable surface-to-air missiles.
· Chavez has provided top FARC leaders with long-term sanctuary and protection in Venezuelan territory.
· Chavez asked the FARC to provide “guerrilla warfare training” to Venezuelan military personnel and civilian reservist groups.
· Chavez also raised the possibility of developing a joint Venezuela-FARC regional security plan.
· Chavez pledged he would pressure in favor of the FARC’s international recognition as a legitimate political belligerent organization.
The captured data also confirms that Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa was actively cooperating with the FARC to destabilize Colombia’s democratically elected government. In fact, Correa was so keen to embrace the FARC that he offered to allow FARC-designated personnel to engage in social organizing, education and support activities in northern Ecuador’s provinces bordering Colombia. Correa’s emissary was very obsequious, literally asking Reyes, “How can we help you?”
Hopefully, all of the data reviewed by INTERPOL will be posted on the Internet quickly. Colombia should ensure none of the data is withheld from public scrutiny. Hopefully, Latin American governments which have routinely looked the other way on regional security matters involving President Chavez and his illegal involvement with the FARC will reassess the situation, and will start to behave responsibly. Otherwise, they would be guilty of treason against their own peoples.
But we don’t have any expectations about other Latin American governments, which have mainly pursued a foreign policy which appeals to a flock of ostriches. With the sole exception of the Uribe government in Colombia, the “democratic” governments of South America are a feckless bunch of gutless politicos without the courage to take a stand in defense of true democratic values. Chavez has been intervening freely everywhere he wishes in Latin America.
Many Venezuelans and Colombians may be surprised by the depth of Chavez’s engagement with the FARC after the captured documents are published. But they certainly aren’t surprised that Chavez is in cahoots with a criminal narco-terrorist group like the FARC. Chavez’s personal engagement with the FARC has been a matter of public record in this region since the early 1990s.
The US government’s possible response to the INTERPOL report confirming the authenticity of the capture FARC data remains unknown. But US intelligence analysts have already concluded the data is legitimate, truthful and real – meaning none of it was forged.
An unnamed US intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal the data also shows the FARC is willing to purchase any weapons at any price – including “dirty” weapons. In effect, Chavez’s FARC allies would detonate a nuclear device if they could obtain one.
Chavez can feint, dodge, bluster and threaten all he wants. But Hugo finally got caught with his pants around his ankles, so to speak, and his criminally soiled political undergarments are about to be hung out on the Internet, for all of the world to look at in great detail.
We can only speculate about the names linked to incriminating information which these documents may contain. But Correa’s personal complicity with the FARC certainly will be confirmed, which explains why he is escalating a hysterical war of words with Colombia.
Correa knows his future as Ecuador’s president is at great risk. He could be removed at any time by Ecuador’s military, and no one will lament his ouster except the idiot communists who mistakenly think they have a mandate to turn Ecuador into a socialist state.
But Chavez’s problems potentially are much greater. Chavez is only a couple of steps removed from becoming an international pariah. He is certainly a candidate for sanctions under the OAS Democratic Charter.
The captured FARC documents dispel any remaining doubts about Chavez. Venezuela’s president is officially in league with drug traffickers and terrorists determined to destabilize Colombia’s democracy.
In fact, the activities Chavez has engaged in with the FARC, such as offering the narco-terrorist group up to $300 million in direct financial assistance, are illegal under Bolivarian Venezuela’s constitution and its laws. His criminal actions extend to theft of public property, misappropriation of funds, participating in an ongoing criminal conspiracy, and state treason.
The captured documents also confirm how incredibly clumsy and, yes, stupid, President Chavez has been in his dealings with the FARC. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has been conspiring all over the region for a half-century and has never been caught like Chavez was caught.
The US government sent its best intelligence assets on a hunt for smoking guns to implicate Castro in crimes of international drug trafficking and terrorism, and the “hunters” didn’t find anything that would stand up in an international court of law.
But Castro’s anointed successor as leader of the revolution in the Americas – Hugo Chavez – was snagged hook, line and sinker.
Chavez has nowhere to run, and there is nothing he can say to dispel the truth: Venezuela’s president is supporting the international criminals, drug traffickers and terrorists who belong to the FARC.
Venezuela “will not cross its arms while the empire and the oligarchy strike down the hope of a people,” President Hugo Chavez warns. Venezuela will intervene in Bolivia if President Evo Morales is ousted from power in a recall election ordered by the Bolivian Senate, he says. Chavez does not tolerate the intervention of countries in the sovereign affairs of other countries, but in the case of Bolivia “the rules of the game will break.”
However, Chavez is lying and he is bluffing.
Chavez lies when he claims Venezuela does not tolerate external interventions in the sovereign affairs of other countries. In recent years, Chavez has actively intruded in the sovereign affairs of practically every country in Latin America.
Chavez has been supporting the FARC in Colombia for years. His personal ties to the FARC go back to 1994, according to research done by the late political scientist Alberto Garrido. The laptop owned by slain FARC chieftain Raul Reyes has yielded thousands of documents confirming that Chavez has offered to finance and arm the FARC, and supports the FARC’s goal of seizing power in Colombia.
Venezuela’s president also has intruded permanently in the sovereign affairs of Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and Mexico.
Paraguay’s intelligence services have seized manuals from local radical leftists with detailed Bolivarian instructions on how to infiltrate and destabilize its political and economic institutions.
In Peru Chavez has financed “Casas del Alba” which are being used to train and arm indigenous communist militants.
In El Salvador Chavez supplies cheap oil to municipalities ruled by members of the communist Farabundo Marti National Liberation front (FMNLN).
In Mexico Chavez has financed the creation of Bolivarian Circles and is funding radical communist groups that operate from within the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
However, Bolivia is the crown jewel, of sorts, in Chavez’s grand plan to spread his Bolivarian revolution throughout South America. And Evo Morales has been, quite literally, Chavez’s personal “pet” since the firebrand communist indigenous leader was elected president of Bolivia in 2005.
So Chavez is lying when he says Venezuela does not tolerate one country intruding into the affairs of other countries.
Chavez also is bluffing when he threatens to send armed troops to Bolivia.
There may be a handful of Venezuelan troops willing to deploy to Bolivia, but the vast majority of the armed forces (over 90%, at least) will not obey any presidential orders to invade another country. Anyway, President Morales lacks the constitutional authority to invite any foreign troops to occupy Bolivia.
Venezuela’s armed forces do not have the training, equipment or transport capability to deploy anywhere even in small numbers. When Chavez reacted to the death of FARC chieftain Reyes by deploying ten infantry battalions to the border with Colombia, many of these troops were sent in buses rented by the Defense Ministry. And they were sent to the border without munitions, radio communications systems, food supplies, tents and other basic military supplies.
There may be a few Bolivarian generals willing to lead a handful of Venezuelan troops to Bolivia aboard chartered commercial aircraft, but President Chavez certainly will not lead his troops into harm’s way.
The Venezuelan leader’s weak kidneys are legendary within the armed forces. Since his days as an adolescent cadet in Venezuela’s military academy, Chavez distinguished himself as a soldier who consistently avoided risking his physical integrity.
The president’s unarmed combat instructors from his years at the academy recall that Chavez always flinched and backed away from opponents during unarmed combat exercises.
Chavez was the principal planner and top leader of the failed military coup of February 4, 1992. But he was the only officer, among five colonels who commanded rebellious forces, who failed to achieve his assigned objectives, and negotiated his surrender without ever firing a shot.
And some of his companions in Miraflores Palace on April 11, 2002, including former Vice President and former Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel, have recalled in recorded conversations that Chavez was a very frightened man when he realized his grand plan to massacre hundreds of innocent civilians had failed.
Rangel did not realize he was being recorded in 2002 when he confided to a longtime associate that Chavez was the first to demand a negotiated surrender and safe passage out of Venezuela to Cuba. “You can’t make a revolution with a coward,” Rangel told his associate.
President Chavez blusters line an enraged pit bull, but he doesn’t have the stones to start a war in Bolivia. However, Chavez is certainly capable of ordering his armed thugs in Venezuela to intimidate and terrorize his opponents and the general populace.
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has issued a report titled “Playing with Fire: Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela” which looks at the diplomatic conflict between these countries that triggered by the death on March 1, 2008 of Raul Reyes, the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The report was authored at the direction of Republican Senator Richard Lugar by Carl Meacham, the committee’s senior Republican staff expert on Latin America. Mr. Meacham is considered one of the most perceptive Republican experts on Latin America currently in Washington, DC; he grew up in Latin America and has been engaged with the region throughout his professional career. The full report can be purchased from the US government printing office (www.bookstore.gpo.gov or (202) 512-1800).
Mr. Meacham visited Ecuador and Colombia, and wrote his report before Interpol issued its own report on whether thousands of documents seized in a laptop owned by FARC chieftain Reyes are authentic. The laptop was captured at the FARC camp by Colombian security forces which entered Ecuador to retrieve the narco-terrorist chieftain’s corpse. Interpol’s report on the contents of Reyes’ laptop will be issued on May 15, but daily newspaper El Tiempo of Bogota has already reported that Interpol has concluded the captured laptop and its contents are legitimate and authentic.
If El Tiempo is correct about Interpol’s still-unpublished conclusions, the political implications for President Hugo Chavez in Caracas and President Rafael Correa in Ecuador potentially could be very significant. It depends on how far President George W. Bush is prepared to go in terms of imposing terror-related sanctions against the current governments of Venezuela and Ecuador.
Before reviewing Mr. Meacham’s recommendations, it must be understood that his report’s main goal is to defuse pressures by some Republican policymakers in Washington, DC to have the Bush administration list Venezuela and Ecuador officially as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Senator Lugar by nature is a moderate, unlike his predecessor as the top Republican lawmaker on the Foreign Relations Committee, former Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC).
Helms very likely would have ordered his senior staffer on Latin America, former OAS Ambassador Roger Noriega, to produce a report on the Reyes incident calling for tough sanctions against the Chavez and Correa governments if the contents of Reyes’ laptop were officially authenticated by Interpol. But Senator Lugar has always preferred multilateral consensus-building between Washington and the region’s democratic governments. Ideologically, on Latin America issues he leans towards center-left think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations than The Heritage Foundation.
Lugar believes that US credibility and influence in Latin America, which has declined significantly since 1994, very likely would be further hurt if the Bush administration takes unilateral actions against Caracas and Quito. The oil and other corporate lobbyists in contact with Lugar and his Republican staffers undoubtedly also have cautioned strongly that any terror-related sanctions against Venezuela, particularly, could endanger Venezuelan oil exports to the US and US non-oil exports to Venezuela.
In effect, the report’s top caveat to President Bush is that the US must tread carefully because listing Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism could have unforeseen and unintended negative consequences for US strategic interests in Latin America. The region’s historical “sensitivities regarding sovereignty and the history in which these sensitivities developed…wars between Latin American countries and past interventions by European powers and the US…” must not be ignored when determining what, if any, sanctions should be imposed against Venezuela and possibly Ecuador.
Mr. Meacham’s report makes these recommendations:
· It is important for the United States to encourage a constructive regional framework that features a clear and explicit consensus. This consensus should unequivocally declare that the methods used by the FARC, and other like groups, violate both Colombia’s sovereignty and the sovereignty of other countries where they operate, regardless of how these groups are classified, whether terrorist, irregular or belligerent.
· Staff strongly cautions that policymakers must be wary of the implications of poorly thought out sanctions which might isolate the United States and lessen its ability to bring about constructive reforms and thereby advance US government interests.
· Staff advises that any new sanctions regime must not impinge on US commercial prospects in Venezuela.
· Staff believes in this case that U.S. actions are stronger if they rest on the foundation of regional support. Absent such support, US sanctions on Venezuela would be less effective. Indeed, they might be counter-productive.
· The USG has to act with care that other Latin American countries do not see themselves labeled unnecessarily and provocatively as supporters of terror, or the surrogates of terrorists, simply because they are carrying out their perceived national interest in maintaining relations with Venezuela.
· It is better for the United States’ long term interests in the region to be seen as respectful of the on-going process established in the OAS, which up to now has been beneficial in defusing tensions.
· On this occasion, rather than “speaking softly and carrying a big stick”’ the better posture for the USG to assume is one of speaking with gentle persuasion, and wise counsel, and letting those “sticks”’ that may need to be wielded be ones of a multi-lateral rather than a unilateral nature.
· Additional sanctions would be perceived as more legitimate if enacted within a multilateral framework.
· If Venezuela is found to be complicit, the U.S would be wise to allow for the regional dynamic to take its course. If the US reacts too strongly, attention will go from Venezuela’s transgressions to yet another example of “American intervention”’ and strong-arm tactics.
· It is in this climate that political space will open for USG input that seeks to engender effective multilateral action in reaction to any nation that contravenes US national security priorities and the collective interests of member countries of the OAS and signatories of its Charter.
· The US government must ensure that information gathered from the “Reyes Computers”’ is disseminated broadly and the process of how it was analyzed is transparent.
We’re told that Mr. Meacham’s recommendations reflect the views of some senior State Department officials on how to manage relations with Venezuela if it’s confirmed that President Chavez has been cooperating actively with the FARC. Some observers of the broken US-Venezuela relationship will say that moderation, multilateralism and a nuanced diplomatic strategy in which the OAS countries are engaged in developing joint policies to contain Chavez is the only effective approach to the political explosion from Caracas which certainly will come when Interpol’s report is issued in less than a week.
However, while US interests in the region probably would not be advanced if President Bush decides unilaterally to list the Chavez government as a state sponsor of terrorism, the option of a multilateral and moderate approach of engaging the region’s democracies to develop effective strategies to contain Chavez will not work either.
The US does not have the influence and authority to build a regional diplomatic front in Latin America to contain Chavez, even if – as Mr. Meacham proposes – all the captured FARC documents are published on the Internet by a credible and impartial entity like Interpol. Most policymakers and think tank wonks in Washington, DC still believe the US still has economic, military and political sway over Latin America. But these folks are sadly mistaken, and out of touch with the geopolitical realities of the region today.
The large South American democracies – Brazil, Argentina and Chile – will not engage in any multilateral diplomatic moves against Venezuela’s Bolivarian government. Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Panama and the Caribbean states certainly will refuse to engage with the US against Chavez. Peru’s government isn’t friendly with Caracas, but also likely will say no. Colombia likely will prefer neutrality since Venezuela is its second largest trading partner. The Colombians know Chavez’s intentions better than anyone else, but the nine-years-plus that Chavez has been in power has been a very prosperous period for Colombian exporters. Perhaps El Salvador and Mexico could be persuaded to join with the US.
The OAS always has been a toothless entity, a Washington-based reflection of the weak diplomatic influence of its member states, many of whom Chavez successfully neutralized years ago with cheap oil and cash. OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean Socialist who owes his cushy job to the support he got from the Chavez government and other governments friendly with Caracas, will never agree to use the OAS to push a multilateral diplomatic offensive against Venezuela. It makes no difference what the captured FARC documents may “prove.” Besides, if the OAS does try to impose any sanctions on Venezuela, President Chavez simply will quit the OAS.
Chavez also could retaliate harshly against US companies and nationals in Venezuela. He could nationalize the auto, pharmaceuticals and food companies. And he could expel US nationals from Venezuela.
But Venezuelan threats of severe economic repercussions in the US are irrelevant. A decision by President Chavez to suspend oil exports to the US and to prohibit US imports from entering Venezuela would be extremely damaging to Venezuela, far more so than to the US. Most of the crude Venezuela exports to the US must be processed by deep conversion refineries. The US has most of the world’s deep conversion refining capacity, while valued new Bolivarian partners like China, Iran and Russia do not have such capacity. Also, over half of Venezuela’s food, pharmaceuticals, auto parts, etc. imports come from the US.
However, Chavez can count on the aid of US oil companies, the US Chamber of Commerce and other entities that represent companies doing business in Venezuela, all of which will lobby strenuously in Washington against imposing any sanctions on Venezuela.
Alstom of France is being investigated in Europe for allegedly paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to win contracts in many countries including Venezuela, the Wall Street Journal reports. Alstom currently has major maintenance contracts at the Guri Dam with state-owned hydro-power utility Edelca in Bolivar state. Alstom also was contracted to build most of the Caracas-Los Teques metro line, and for years it has been the lead contractor at the La Vueltosa expansion of Cadafe’s Uribante-Caparo hydro-power project in Venezuela’s Andes region.
In 2007, Alstom was accused paying energy ministry and Cadafe officials tens of millions of dollars in bribes to “win” the La Vueltosa contract. Alstom officials in Caracas say “non, non, non” when asked to respond on the record to the allegations in the Wall street Journal’s article. But of course, they’re not being truthful. If Alstom is under criminal investigation in Europe for alleged bribery in the developing world, there must be substantial probable cause. And if one lives in Venezuela, there’s no doubt whatsoever that Alstom may have skirted some European laws relating to corruption.
But here’s the rub: It’s not a crime in Venezuela to pay bribes – unless the government doesn’t like you. But if you’re a friend of the Bolivarian government, there’s “no problemo, mon ami.” President Chavez and his Bolivarian National Assembly have made numerous reforms to Venezuela’s criminal code since 2003, including reforms which explicitly decriminalize bribery because state entities and enterprises are exempted from laws meant to prevent bribery, corruption, money laundering, etc.
This means the European police officials investigating Alstom should not expect any help from the government of Venezuela, because under Venezuelan law Alstom has not paid any bribes – even if it might have paid some Venezuelan government officials “commissions” to land multi-millionaire public works contracts. But who can blame Alstom, when everyone from Beijing to Moscow, and from Tehran to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Quito, La Paz and Managua, Cuba and most of the Caribbean are hustling Hugo Chavez for all the cheap oil and cash they can squeeze out of the great Bolivarian leader.