Killing of Venezuelan troops exacerbates Colombia-Venezuela tensions

Venezuelan officials claimed that a plot involving Bogotá and Washington is under way to destabilize Venezuela by igniting violence on the border with Colombia and in major towns in Venezuela

Venezuelan military officials heightened security measures at the border with Colombia (Photo: Efe)

Venezuelan Vice-President Ramón Carrizález questioned the role of the Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS) (File Photo)

Venezuelan military officials heightened security measures at the border with Colombia (Photo: Efe)

Western Hemisphere

November 2

Venezuelan Vice President: Colombians killed on the border were paramilitaries
Venezuela’s Vice-President Ramón Carrizález said on November 1 that he has evidence that eight of the eleven men killed last week were Colombian paramilitaries training in Venezuela.

Carrizález said in the TV show José Vicente Hoy, hosted by former Vice President José Vicente Rangel and broadcast by private TV channel Televen, that the group of men who were killed on the border was training on Venezuelan soil and was part of a paramilitary infiltration plan, DPA reported.

The top official added that the plot is part of a “systematic attack” from Colombia and the United States against the Venezuelan government. “The threat is becoming real. We are preparing to defend our territory, to secure sovereignty,” he said.

Carrizález stressed that Colombia “has over 50 years of internal conflict that is hitting” Venezuela and makes our country “a victim of (Colombia’s) domestic war.”

The Venezuelan Vice-President referred to the “espionage” activities carried out by the Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS). He claimed that there is evidence against the Colombian intelligence agency. Carrizález added that the DAS is involved in an alleged plot to destabilize the government of President Hugo Chávez.

A plot against Venezuela is under way, says lawmaker
“A permanent plot is under way, in which the Colombian Department of Administrative Security (DAS) has become a key element and a sort of Colombian Central Intelligence Service (CIA), headed by President Álvaro Uribe,” said Mario Isea, a deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly.

Isea added on the TV show Despertó Venezuela, broadcast by state-run TV station Venezolana de Televisión, that Uribe was aware of the Salomón, Fénix and Falcón plans, which are aimed at intervening in several South American countries.

“Uribe has built an air network to transport drugs in Colombia. He has always been a champion of narcopolitics,” Isea said referring to the book entitled Biografía no autorizada de Álvaro Uribe Vélez (Unauthorized Biography of Álvaro Uribe), the state-run news agency Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN) reported.

Colombia-US military agreement is shameful, says Venezuelan FM
A military agreement executed on October 30th by and between Colombia and the United States is “a shame for the history of our continent” and “nobody knows it,” said on November 2 Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicolás Maduro.

“The Colombian Congress does not know it; the public opinion or the whole Colombian government does not know it; the US Congress does not know it; nobody knows it,” said Maduro, acting as leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Efe reported.

“There are just media speculations saying that in this agreement there is assignment of territory; absolute immunity for any crime committed in Colombia by US troops, and that there is not assurance that the Colombian territory can be used against other countries in or out of the hemisphere,” Maduro added.

The PSUV leader termed “very serious” that Bogotá “insisted on making the historical mistake of ignoring the clamor in the hemisphere for our territory free from US bases.”

Last October 30th, Colombia and the United States signed a military cooperation agreement which will enable US troops and advisors to use at least seven bases of the Colombian armed forces.

November 3

Crossing point between Venezuela and Colombia remains closed
The Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge at the Venezuela-Colombia border remains closed since November 2. The area has been totally occupied by Venezuelan National Guard and Army troops.

Classes have been suspended for security reasons in the border area until further notice, especially in Pedro María Ureña, Bolívar and Junín municipalities.

At least 85 percent of stores have been closed, according to reports.

Although the National Guard has not imposed a curfew, the civil population is taking shelter at home. The situation remains tense but calm in the area. The road between Venezuela and Colombia is clear.

Tensions in the border area come after the murder of two National Guard troops in the zone. According to unofficial reports, a suspect has been arrested.

Venezuela claims that soldiers were killed by Colombian paramilitaries
Vice-President Ramón Carrizález explained the government’s position about the killing of two National Guard troops on November 2 in state of Táchira, on the border with Colombia.

Carrizález stated that the two soldiers were killed by Colombian paramilitary militia seeking to gain a foothold in Venezuela.

“This forms part of a destabilization plan that we have been reporting for some time now. President Chávez and other top officials have been advised of this issue and it has been minimized by members of the sick opposition in our country.”

Carrizález said that the murder is intended to intimidate the Bolivarian National Guard.

The official said that the Venezuelan government will strongly fight against the paramilitary militia. He added that the Venezuelan authorities have arrested one suspect allegedly involved in the crime and have identified three other people.

Official says that Colombian criminal practices have penetrated Venezuela
Edwin Rojas, the director of the Department of Crime Prevention, said on November 3 that crime has penetrated the Venezuelan reality, but added that if the (Venezuelan) revolution did not exist, the problem would be “worse.”

“As time has passed, certain types of crimes that did not exist in Venezuela have appeared, such as the hiring of hit men, the paramilitaries, kidnapping and extortion,” Rojas said in TV show Despertó Venezuela, broadcast in state-run TV network Venezolana de Televisión (VTV).

He noted that Venezuela has made progress on contentious issues as security, thanks to the establishment of agencies such as the Prevention and Public Security Council, state-run news agency Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN) reported.

Colombia interested in relations back to normal with Venezuela
The Colombian government is still interested in having Colombia-Venezuela relations back to normal in the midst of one of the worst crises ever undergone by the two countries, said on November 3 Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaime Bermúdez, on visit to Ecuador.

Bermúdez noted, however, that some important issues are yet to be discussed.

“With Venezuela we have never closed the possibility of dialogue, of speaking. President (of Colombia Álvaro) Uribe called President (of Venezuela Hugo) Chávez on several occasions, as I did with (Venezuelan) Minister of Foreign Affairs (Nicolás) Maduro,” Bermúdez said during a press conference in the city of Cotacachi, AFP reported.

“This door remains open; we are aware that there are sensitive subjects; we have very important remarks to make with the Venezuelan government, but we also are determined to be able to have the best relations with that countries, like all other countries in the hemisphere,” he added.

Chávez froze the ties with Colombia last July, due to an agreement executed by Colombia and the United States that enables US troops to operate in at least seven Colombian military bases.

Links have been more and more strained because of the recent killing on the border of eight Colombian civilians and two Venezuelan militaries.

November 4

Brazil suggests non-aggression pact between Colombia and Venezuela
Marco Aurelio García, the foreign policy adviser of Brazilian President Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva, suggested Venezuela and Colombia to sign a non-aggression pact, in an interview published by Spanish newspaper El País.

He further proposed the two South American countries to agree on “a joint surveillance system of their common border.” García added that Brazil would be willing to provide assistance through “technical means.”

“It would be interesting for Venezuela and Colombia to agree on a joint surveillance system of their common border. I would not exclude a non-aggression pact,” García told the newspaper published in Madrid.

He noted that “in order to implement the joint surveillance system, we would be willing to provide with technical means such as surveillance aircraft,” AFP reported.

The most influential adviser of the Brazilian president “and one of the architects of Brazil’s surge in foreign policy,” as described by the newspaper, visited Madrid for a short time, invited by the Marcelino Botín Foundation.

García criticized again a military agreement between Washington and Bogotá under which US troops are allowed to use military bases in Colombia.

“We do not think that it is right. We can not prevent Colombia from taking its decisions, but we need assurances that there will be no imbalance in the region,” he stressed.

In this sense, he considered that “(President Barack) Obama’s diplomacy is still contradictory.” He cited his attitude toward Cuba and Honduras.

Chávez threatens to close Colombia border
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez threatened late on November 3 to completely close the border with Colombia and ordered a reinforced military surveillance in the area, following the killing of two National Guard troops in the area, which increased tensions between the two Andean countries.

“We have not (ordered the closure of the border). But if the situation escalates, we could do it. One of the measures we are discussing (is) to declare the emergency on the border and … close it,” said the socialist leader in a cabinet meeting broadcast by the state-run TV network.

The recurrent diplomatic tensions have become a political risk factor for investments in both countries due to their increasing impact on bilateral trade, including textile, food and fuel, which last year hit a record exceeding USD 7 billion, Reuters reported.

“I am making a call to continue fighting. We are taking all the necessary measures (such as) the increase of (military) units across the border,” Chávez added, after holding Colombia responsible for recent violence in the volatile area.

Witnesses reported that dozens of Venezuelan soldiers blocked on November 3 the main crossing point between the two countries. They stationed an armored vehicle with a machine gun to prevent the traffic of cars and people.

Hundreds of people were forced to cross the border on foot carrying suitcases, bags and goods. Long lines of vehicles were seen in both custom offices waiting for Venezuelan military officials to lift the blockade.

Uribe’s govn’t sees no justification for murder of Colombians in Venezuela
The Colombian government on November 4 asked Venezuelan authorities not to judge in advance concerning the slaughter of a dozen Colombians in Venezuela and to speed up the inquiries to clarify the events.

“With regard to the killing of Colombians in Venezuela, any assumption is very serious. Some people in that country are suggesting that, for being presumed members of misnamed paramilitary groups, there would be some justification for what happened,” said Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaime Bermúdez.

“In the face of the murder of any citizen, the State action should be equally resolute, whether parties who purport to replace it, terrorists, drug traffickers or militias. Justice should fully work with no room for political judgments in advance,” added the top officer in a communiqué quoted by AFP.

Bermúdez also “regretted” on behalf of the government of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, “the death of two members of the National Guard of Venezuela and expressed solidarity with the victims’ relatives and friends.”

Ex Colombian President Samper warns against “pre-war” with Venezuela
Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper warned on November 4 against a “pre-war situation” with Venezuela due to the mishandling of the military agreement executed by Colombia and the United States for the use of military bases and lack of communication between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments.

The ex president told Caracol Radio that the crisis is bigger and bigger and efforts should be made to open communication channels between Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez, Efe reported.

“I would dare say that we are in a pre-war situation; the mishandled issue of the bases; Venezuela feels threatened by the bases; the [Colombian] government signs the bases, without a public discussion on the matter and all this begins to accrue,” he reasoned.

Colombia and the United States entered into an agreement last November 6 that allows US troops and advisors to use at least seven Colombian military bases for antinarcotics efforts and fight against terrorism.

Authorities reopen main Colombia-Venezuela border crossing
The border between Colombia and Venezuela was under strict military control after authorities reopened the Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander international bridges on November 4. There were stringent restrictions on land transport before traffic between the two countries resumed.

The situation was very difficult in the Venezuelan city of San Antonio del Táchira, because in the morning the passage of vehicles from Venezuela to Colombia remained closed whereas the traffic from Colombia to Venezuela had been reopened.

Venezuelan authorities were instructed to reopen the passage of vehicles in both directions at 3:00 pm on November 4. National Guard troops thoroughly checked vehicles in the border carried out by were stringent. People were also allowed to cross the bridge by foot.

November 5

FM: Border insecurity is a “destabilizing plot” devised by Colombia and US
Insecurity in the border between Venezuela and Colombia is not random and rather stems from a strategy developed in Washington and implemented by Bogotá, said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuelan top diplomat’s statements came in an interview with state-run news agency Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN) published on November 5.

“This plan intends to destabilize Venezuela through violence, murders by hired hit men, killings, the rise of cross-border crime, and high crime rate in the main Venezuelan cities. This plot has been denounced and we are coping with it,” Maduro said.

The Foreign Minister stressed that paramilitaries are the “weapon” used to carry out the destabilizing plan.

Maduro added that the “paramilitaries” have been supported by opposition groups and leaders, particularly by César Pérez Vivas, the governor of the southwestern state of Táchira, located on the border with Colombia.

At least 100 illegal Colombians detained in western Barinas state
Barinas state Garrison Chief Vladimir Padrino reported on November 5 on the detention there of at least 100 illegal Colombians travelling in three minibuses.

General Padrino, the local military chief, told state-run TV channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) that the arrest took place in a police checkpoint, Efe quoted.

Padrino added that the case had been submitted to the Attorney General Office, which would be responsible for the enquiry. The military said that he could not speculate on the origin and destination of the illegal citizens, or the purpose of their visit to Venezuela.

Queried by reporters, he answered that he could not rule out a connection between this case and the detention early this week of another four illegal armed Colombians. “Some days ago, we found a group of illegal people carrying arms, and they were taken to the Attorney General Office. We cannot play down any connection in this regard,” Padrino said.

Two rifles of slain National Guard officers and a new body found in Táchira state
Minister of the Interior and Justice Tareck El Aissami reported that on November 4, the armed forces found in Andean Táchira state two AK rifles and a communications radio property of the National Guard officers killed on the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

The minister noted that an unidentified person was found dead. Agents of the Scientific, Penal and Criminology Investigation Agency (Cicpc) took the body for the identity and post mortem.

“In the scene we also recovered a firearm, a 9mm gun with altered serial numbers; this also forms part of the evidence,” said the minister.

November 6

Lula intends to arrange a meeting between Chávez and Uribe
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said that he aims to arrange a meeting between his Colombian and Venezuelan counterparts to settle their differences, the Brazilian newspaper Valor reported.

The Brazilian Head of State lamented that his US counterpart Barack Obama forgot about Latin America after having promised a renewed relationship.

Lula criticized the agreement that allows US military to use Colombian bases and requested President Uribe to give assurances that the operations will be limited to the Colombian territory.

On the alleged concerns of the United States about President Hugo Chávez, Lula said that there is a mutual mistrust.

“I do not know whether Americans should be concerned about Chávez or Chávez about Americans,” he said.

As for the differences between Venezuela and Colombia and the alleged threats by Chávez to close the border and eliminate bilateral trade with its neighboring country, Lula said that nobody can make politics out of newspaper headlines.

He said that the economies of Colombia and Venezuela are complementary.

Lula said that he trusts that Chávez will get on well with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and that he intends to arrange a meeting between the two leaders on November 26, in the Brazilian city of Manaus.

The Brazilian President has invited the leaders of the Amazon countries to visit Manaus in order to hold a summit where Presidents will adopt joint positions ahead of the Climate Conference to be held next December in Copenhagen.

He recalled that he recently had dinner with Chávez and had a luncheon with Uribe. Lula said that he will manage to sit the two leaders together on the same day in Manaus.

“Colombia must send a non-aggression signal,” says Venezuelan VP 
Ramón Carrizález, Venezuela’s Vice President and Defense Minister, said that the Colombian government is the one that should send a signal that “it is not preparing to attack Venezuela,” because President Hugo Chávez “has always extended his hand (to the neighboring country) but they have bitten it.”

“Colombians are the ones who should send a signal and stop the aggressions that have been taking place (in Venezuela), such as spying (its territory), supporting paramilitary groups, attacking Venezuela directly or through its allies,” Carrizález said after being asked about the possibility of holding bilateral meetings to overcome the diplomatic crisis.

The Vice President said that the opinion of former Colombian President Ernesto Samper concerning “the pre-war situation” with Venezuela is “respectable.” “Samper stated this because he is aware of what is happening in his country about the US military bases,” Carrizález concluded.

Spain requested to monitor situation on the border
The government of President Álvaro Uribe asked Spain to explore “mechanisms to verify and monitor the situation” on the border with Venezuela, where tension has arisen over the last few days, the Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs said November 6 in a statement.

Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez contacted his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos to make the request, the official communiqué said, as reported by AFP.

Last September, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had offered to mediate in the diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela. However, the Colombian Head of State rejected the Spanish offer. Uribe alleged then that the communication channels with Caracas remained open.”

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