President Hugo Chavez has responded to an alleged “new aggression” from Colombia by “freezing relations” indefinitely.
Chavez blasted the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez on 28 July as “shameful…irresponsible.” Chavez said he has ordered Venezuela’s Ambassador in Bogota to return to Caracas immediately. Chavez said the entire diplomatic mission in Bogota has been ordered to return to Caracas, except for one official – the “lowest ranking” diplomat.
Chavez also declared that economic relations with Colombia will be frozen. “We’re going to substitute our imports from Colombia with imports from other sources,” Chavez threatened. Two-way trade between Venezuela and Colombia totaled over $6 billion in 2008, with the balance heavily in favor of Colombian exporters.
The alleged new aggression which Chavez protested in very harsh terms today is the Uribe government’s confirmation that Colombian troops captured several Swedish-made AT-4 shoulder-fired rockets at two FARC camps in Colombia last year. The Uribe government checked the serial numbers on the captured AT-4’s with the Swedish manufacturer, and confirmed they formed part of a shipment originally sold to Venezuela’s armed forces years ago, reportedly before 2002.
How did Swedish AT-4 rockets supposedly under tight security in Venezuelan military arsenals wind up last year in two FARC camps in Colombia?
And a related question: How did the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL), Venezuela’s homegrown clone of the FARC, also obtain AT-4 rockets? Photographs of a group of alleged FBL fighters armed with AK-47 assault rifles and one AT-4 rocket have been posted on Noticias24 and Noticiero Digital in the past week.
Predictably, President Chavez and his favorite radical lackeys – including Vice President Ramon Carrizalez, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Interior & Justice Minister Tarek al Assaimi – have furiously dismissed the charges aired by Colombia as the baseless fabrication of an international conspiracy to attack and discredit Venezuela’s socialist Bolivarian revolution.
But the newest smoking gun evidence that Chavez is in cahoots with the narco-terrorist FARC is damning: the serial numbers on the AT-4’s seized in FARC camps by Colombian troops match exactly the serial numbers of the AT-4’s that were sold to Venezuela’s armed forces. This has been confirmed by the Swedish arms manufacturer, and the governments of Sweden and Colombia.
A plausible theory aired by some independent Venezuelan security and crime experts is that the main culprits responsible for supplying the FARC with AT’4 rockets stolen from Venezuelan army arsenals are Division General Hugo Carvajal, director of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence division (DGIM), and Division General Cliver Alcala Cordones, commander of the army’s 41st armored brigade in Valencia (Carabobo) and former commander of the 11th infantry brigade in Maracaibo (Zulia).
The US Treasury Department designated Carvajal as a drug “kingpin” in September 2008 for cooperating actively with the FARC. The evidence used to substantiate this decision came partly from documents that were extracted from laptops seized by Colombian troops on 1 March 2008 in a FARC camp in northern Ecuador where FARC No.2 chieftain Raul Reyes had been killed by a Colombian airstrike only minutes before the troops arrived in helicopters.
FARC documents extracted from Reyes’ laptops also identified General Alcala Cordones by name as a friend of the narco-terrorist group and an official liaison of the Chavez government with the FARC.
Other documents taken from Reyes’ laptop also identified then-Interior & Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, and general Henry Rangel Silva, then-director of the Interior & Justice Ministry’s political police (DISIP), as key contacts between President Chavez and the FARC.
Moreover, these captured FARC documents detailed explicit pledges by Carvajal and Alcala Cordones to help the FARC acquire weapons including man-portable surface-to-air missiles.
The man portable AT-4, manufactured by Saab Bofors Dynamics, is an 84 mm unguided, fin-stabilized anti-tank rocket with a shaped charge warhead and a maximum effective range of 300 meters (984.3 feet). It is effective against most armored vehicles, but not against helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft.
But the FARC is also shopping for man portable SAM’s like the Russian-made Igla, and reportedly is working through its military contacts in the Chavez regime to obtain these advanced SAM’s from state-sponsored arms suppliers in Iran or Ukraine.
But it’s not just the Venezuelan military-owned AT-4’s captured from the FARC. The smoking gun evidence that the Chavez regime is cooperating actively with the narco-terrorist FARC is piling up very impressively.
There’s not the slightest doubt that President Chavez is a strong supporter and strategic ally of the FARC.
The FARC documents extracted from Reyes’ laptops confirmed that Carvajal, Rangel Silva, and former Interior & Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin (who also was designated a “kingpin” in September 2008), cooperated materially with senior FARC leaders, including:
*Pledging cash contributions by Chavez to the FARC of $250 million to $300 million.
*Offering to help the FARC acquire sophisticated weapons, including man portable surface to air missiles like the Russian-made 9K38 Igla, a two color infrared guided surface-to-air missile (SAM) with an operational range of 3.2 miles (5.2 km) and a flight ceiling of 11,000 feet (3.5 km).
*Offering to smuggle weapons illegally acquired by the FARC through the port of Maracaibo in Zulia.
*Providing Venezuelan documents, official security details, housing and financial support to senior FARC leaders. The Colombian government says at least nine of the FARC’s highest-rankig leaders are hiding permanently in Venezuela.
*Protecting FARC narcotics trans-shipments through Venezuelan territory.
Moreover, the US Government General Accountability Office (GAO) has just published a damning report on the growing involvement and active participation of rogue elements of key Venezuelan security entities in drug trafficking with the FARC, and with Colombian paramilitary groups and professional organized crime groups.
The report, titled “Drug Control: U.S. counternarcotics cooperation with Venezuela has declined,” was researched between August 2008 and July 2009, with visits by GAO investigators to Colombia and Venezuela. (The GAO report notes at the outset that Venezuelan authorities they met with in Venezuela did not cooperate with their investigation.) The report’s main findings include:
*The transshipment of Colombian cocaine through Venezuela increased four-fold from 2004 to 2007, from 60 mt in 2004 to about 260 mt in 2007 (17% of all cocaine produced in Colombia in 2007).
*The FARC accounts for about 60% of the cocaine shipped from Colombia to the US.
*A growing portion of the cocaine enters Venezuela on the Pan-American highway through the Cucuta/San Antonio crossing, hidden in the over $6 billion a year two-way trade characterized by a hefty and increasing surplus for Colombia. But Colombian cocaine also enters Venezuela in boats that travel down the Colombian Meta, Vichada and Guaviare Rivers until they empty into the Orinoco River in Venezuela.
*Some cocaine leaves Venezuela in commercial containers aboard ships from the ports of Maracaibo, Puerto Cabello and La Guaira. Some cocaine leaves in small fishing boats or go-fast boats which travel as far as the island of Hispaniola. Venezuela has 4,000 km of Caribbean coastline and 185 km of Atlantic Ocean coastline. However, large amounts of cocaine also leave Venezuela by air, traveling mainly to Hispaniola, but increasingly since 2004 to Central America too (Nicaragua, Honduras). In 2007 JIATF-South detected 178 suspect flights taking off from Venezuela, compared with 109 in 2004. Most of these illegal flights originated from the state of Apure.
*Most of the cocaine seized in Europe since 2004 originated from Venezuela. Cocaine seizures in West Africa totaled over 33 mt from 2005, 2007, and most of it originated from Venezuela.
*Corrupt Venezuelan National Guard and CICPV anti-drug units are actively engaged in the drug trade.
Predictably, President Chavez immediately also trashed the GAO report. Lies, all lies, thundered Chavez. Interior & Justice Minister Tarek al Assaimi called a press conference with international news media to accuse the US of being the world’s biggest drug trafficker. The minister also called attention to the alleged increase in drug seizures reported since the start of 2009 by the National Guard and CICPC.
However, foreign counter-narcotics sources who work in this region say the Interior and Justice Ministry’s numbers are inflated. CICPC sources also tell Caracas Gringo that none of the recent official drug seizures announced by Interior & Justice Minister al Assaimi have affected FARC-owned shipments through Venezuela. The GAO report also reflects international suspicions that a large portion of the drugs seized officially in Venezuela are not destroyed as claimed, but secretly are put back into the export market.
Official attention in Washington, DC is focused mostly on the Mexican government’s military offensive against power drug cartels which murdered close to 8,000 people last year, and are on track to slaughter larger numbers in 2009. Mexico’s government is cooperating with the US in battling the drug cartels, and it’s costing that country dearly in deaths, property damage and lost economic output.
But official Washington doesn’t appear to be paying much attention to developments in Venezuela, where President Chavez is a publicly self-confessed political and strategic ally of the narco-terrorist FARC. However, the Chavez regime’s alliance with the FARC has direct implications for the Mexican government’s war against the drug cartels that generate about $40 billion per year of illicit drug-related “GDP” for Mexico.
President Chavez is a friend of the FARC. His most important military and security associates have confirmed links to the FARC. Organized crime gangs are operating at the highest levels of DGIM and DISIP. The anti-narcotics units of the National Guard and CICPC are also hopelessly corrupt.
It all ties together very nicely, logically even: Chavez and the FARC; the Venezuelan leader’s Bolivarian Revolution and the FARC-inspired Bolivarian Continental Coordinator (CCB); the FARC’s international drug trafficking activities and the Chavez regime’s Cuban-backed regional spread of Bolivarian revolution (i.e. social conflict, street violence, instability).
The Chavez regime stoked the political conflict which exploded in Honduras on 28 June with the legally-sanctioned removal from power of former President Manuel Zelaya. The Chavez regime deployed Bolivarian activists into Honduras long before Zelaya became president in January 2006. Chavez personally cultivated (i.e. bribed) Zelaya to join his Bolivarian cause. As the Chavez-Zelaya relationship blossomed, international drug trafficking through Honduras by illegal aircraft originating in Venezuela increased significantly. This wasn’t a coincidence. Wherever the Bolivarian revolution travels regionally, FARC drug traffickers always appear too.
Of course, the FARC already was doing business with Mexican drug cartels in the mid-1990s, about the same time that Chavez (accompanied by Rodriguez Chacin) first met with senior FARC leaders in Colombia to forge a clandestine political alliance.
However, recent reports by the Mexican government’s intelligence services confirm the widespread presence in Mexico of “Bolivarian” circles and cells, many of which are suspected of serving as links between radical Venezuelan groups, the FARC, and armed militant (i.e. Marxist guerrilla) groups and drug cartels in Mexico. These links also exist in Central America, from Panama to Guatemala.
What’s to be done about this? Nothing, it appears.
Moises Naim, the respected publisher of Foreign Policy in Washington, DC, said very recently that President Chavez has the resources to remain in power for a very long time. “Chavez pa’ rato.”
The Organization of American States won’t challenge Chavez. In fact, the OAS has been deep in Chavez’s pocket for years, thanks to geopolitical bribery schemes like Petrocaribe. (Chavez to Petrocaribe beneficiaries: “I give you cheap oil, and you kowtow to all my whims.”)
The recent performance in Honduras of OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza confirms he won’t take any notice of Chavez. After all, he just declared that he has no mandate as OAS secretary general to offer any opinions about Venezuela’s internal political processes. Come again?
Some critics of Insulza explain his despicable behavior with respect to Honduras on one hand, and Venezuela on the other, as reflecting his worries about locking in Chavez’s support for his re-election to another term as OAS Secretary General.
But Caracas Gringo thinks the real reason is that somewhere in the world Insulza has an offshore bank account with a large seven- or eight-digit balance supplied by Chavez. Venezuela’s president buys his backers. Ask the Kirchners in Argentina, whose reported net wealth has ballooned to over $12 million while Argentina’s economy has tanked anew. But we digress…
Will US President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do anything to respond to the Chavez regime’s association with the narco-terrorist FARC? We think not.
There are some hopeful hints that something might be happening. For example, the just-announced US-Colombia agreement giving US counter-narcotics assets the right to deploy for ten years from three air bases and two naval bases in Colombia. Also, the GAO’s just-published report on the sharp increase in Colombian drug trans-shipments through Venezuela.
But our gut instinct is that key Latin America advisers close to Obama in the White House are too sympathetic towards the likes of Chavez, or else too ignorant/indifferent with respect to the major regional threat which Chavez has become, to support any efforts to contain Chavez.
And then there is President Obama himself. Caracas Gringo is in the minority of those pitiyanqui voters who believe the Gringos who voted for Obama in 2008 bought themselves a pig in a poke. No point in taking this idea any further in this post, except to warn that Obama/Clinton likely don’t have the geopolitical savvy or political cojones to take on Chavez… digo yo.