President Hugo Chavez and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are jointly mobilizing against the Colombia-US agreement that allows US counterdrug and counterterrorism forces to deploy from over a half-dozen Colombian army, air force and navy bases.
The FARC has issued a communiqué calling on all patriotic revolutionaries to join forces to fight the US military presence in Colombia, defend the Bolivarian revolution, and halt the planned US invasion of Venezuela.
The FARC also has called on residents of the Colombia-Venezuela border to create “anti-imperialist committees” to oppose the Colombia-US base use agreement.
Nelson Bocaranda reports that the Colombian government has intelligence reports about recent meetings in Caracas between FARC and ELN leaders and “the very highest leadership of the Bolivarian government.”
At these meetings, he says, offensive strategies including propaganda/disinformation campaigns and armed attacks in Colombia have been discussed.
Chavez claims a US military invasion of Venezuela will be launched from the military bases which the US is “establishing” in Colombia. Chavez is lying, of course. He knows that the US assets will be allowed to deploy from existing Colombian military bases over which the Colombian government and armed forces will retain full control at all times. He also knows that there will never be over 800-900 US military and civilian personnel in Colombia at any time.
But the Colombia-US base use agreement constitutes a real obstacle to Chavez’s plans to expand the Bolivarian revolution into Colombia. The US military presence, while very small, will hinder Chavez’s ability to foster instability in Colombia. The US presence also will serve as a deterrent against the possibility that Chavez someday might actually start a war with Colombia.
A democratic Colombia aligned closely with the US is a huge geopolitical thorn in Chavez’s rump. Radical Bolivarian leaders aligned with Chavez rule in Bolivia and Ecuador, while Paraguay’s president, the randy Father Fernando Lugo, tilts toward Chavez. Peru’s democracy stands on cracked and weakened institutional foundations, its indigenous majorities are restive, and Shining Path reportedly is making a strong comeback in that country’s coca growing regions. Chavez appears to be optimistic that his revolutionary allies in Peru will prevail sooner than later.
Democratic Colombia is a wedge through the middle of Chavez’s scheme to revive the 21st century equivalent of Gran Colombia with his Bolivarian revolution. But if Colombian democracy can be replaced with a Marxist Bolivarian government aligned with Caracas and Havana, the possibilities of achieving this political goal might improve significantly. The US would be booted completely out of South America, and democratic Panama’s southern flank would be exposed to Bolivarian expansion into Central America where Chavez already has a Marxist ally in Nicaragua’s Ortega.
Colombia will hold presidential elections in first-half 2010. It’s still unclear if President Alvaro Uribe Velez will be legally eligible to run for a third term. But Chavez hopes to influence the outcome of those elections. Colombia already has a Bolivarian party competing in next year’s elections. Its leaders deny receiving any aid from Caracas, and say they are not politically associated or aligned with Chavez. But these assurances are not credible.
Chavez has many allies in the Colombian establishment who share his radical Marxist ideology or who would sell out for chump change. For example, Chavez is personally close to Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, the FARC’s de-fact top mouthpiece in that country’s Congress. Reportedly, Chavez also is in touch with former President Ernesto Samper, whose 1994 presidential campaign received millions of dollars in contributions from the defunct Cali cartel, which broke up in 1995.
When the Cali cartel broke up, the FARC took over the bulk of Colombia’s illicit narcotics industry, briefly controlling as much as 85% of the business before the market shook out as new drug trafficking organizations emerged from the ashes of the Cali and Medellin cocaine cartels. However, today the FARC still controls over half of the Colombian cocaine industry.
Chavez and the FARC have been strategic and political allies for at least 15 years. Chavez’s first personal contacts with the FARC reportedly occurred in the mid-1980s when he was a young army officer stationed at Elorza in Apure, and already conspiring actively to overthrow Venezuela’s democratic government. But in 1994 Chavez forged an explicit political and strategic alliance with the FARC in meetings that took place in Colombian territory.
Since Chavez became president in early 1999, the FARC and ELN have been allowed to roam freely in Venezuelan territory. It’s public record that top FARC leaders hide in Venezuela under false identities backed by legal identity documents issued by the Chavez regime. FARC and ELN leaders enjoy official DGIM and Disip protection, are lodged in protected safe houses, and are provided with official transportation and security escorts in Venezuela.**
Chavez’s longtime personal liaison to the FARC’s top leaders is former Interior & Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, who left the regime in third quarter 2008 just before the US government designated him as a material collaborator of the FARC. Rodriguez Chacin reportedly cooperates with the FARC’s Bolivarian Continental Coordinator (CCB), an initiative which seeks to expand the FARC’s political presence regionally/globally. But since FARC is also the world’s largest cocaine trafficking enterprise, wherever the FARC sets up politically, its drug trafficking arm also grows. It’s certain that Rodriguez Chacin was present at the meetings between FARC/ELN leaders and very senior regime officials reported by Bocaranda.
Increased border violence, particularly along Tachira’s border with Colombia, is one likely consequence of the Chavez regime’s explicit alignment with the FARC against the Colombia-US base use agreement. But if the Chavez regime cooperates or supports future FARC and ELN attacks launched against Colombia from positions inside Venezuela, border violence also could flare up in the states of Apure and Zulia. Growing instability along most of the 2,200 km-long border separating the countries would give President Chavez a good excuse to militarize the governments of these states.
** It’s difficult to estimate the number of FARC fighters based in Venezuelan territory, but there could be anywhere from 800 to 1,500 fighters. It’s known that three FARC fronts have a permanent presence in-country managing the group’s narcotics trafficking, money laundering and arms smuggling operations in Venezuela.
Their criminal associates in the Chavez regime include key figures like military intelligence (DGIM) director Hugo Carvajal, and former Disip director Henry Rangel Silva. The US government also designated these officials as FARC collaborators in September 2008.
The ELN and Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL) also operate in Venezuela. The ELN may have several hundred fighters in Venezuela. The FBL claims to have between 2,000 and 3,000 armed members who support Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution.
Organized paramilitary groups, mostly restructured remnants of the now-defunct United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), also operate in Venezuela, but their numbers are unknown.
These organized militant groups, which claim an ideological motivation for their criminal activities, tend to concentrate along both sides of the border. In Venezuela their numbers are higher in states like Apure, Tachira and Zulia; but increasingly they have spread throughout the country and now have some presence in cities far from the border like Caracas, Puerto La Cruz, Cumana and others.
There are also literally hundreds of small criminal enterprises on both sides of the border engaged in smuggling consumer goods, gasoline and diesel, illegal narcotics, weapons, stolen vehicles, people and whatever else they can turn a profit doing.