Venezuela Breaks Ties with Colombia after Rebel Spokesman Kidnapped from Caracas
A diplomatic crisis led to the straining of ties between Venezuela and Colombia after revelations emerged that bounty hunters paid by the Colombian Defense Department had kidnapped a top spokesman for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) from Caracas and transported him to Colombia. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the kidnapping an attack on Venezuelan sovereignty, while Colombia and the US attacked Chavez's leftist government for protecting FARC members within Venezuelan territory.
As cross-border trade was tightened, cries of protest went up from businesspeople, particularly on the Colombian side of the border, and integration-minded South American leaders tried to get Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to see eye to eye. But positions hardened as the crisis unwound throughout mid-January, with editorial writers and government officials on both sides firing accusations and the US siding loudly with conservative President Uribe, which did little to calm the conflict.
Kidnapping of FARC leader ignites standoff
The conflict began with the Dec. 13 capture of Rodrigo Granda, FARC "foreign minister." Colombia originally claimed that he had been apprehended in a Colombian border town, but it eventually came out that bounty hunters had been paid to kidnap Granda from Caracas, where a reporter said he had spoken to him the day before, and transport him in the trunk of a car to Colombian territory. Responding to increasing pressure to condemn the kidnapping, President Chavez withdrew Venezuela's ambassador to Colombia on Jan. 14, citing the "violation of national sovereignty."
He said business dealings with Bogota would be frozen until Colombia apologized for kidnapping the guerrilla chief on Venezuelan soil. Colombia admitted to paying bounty hunters to help seize the rebel, but denied its agents violated Venezuelan sovereignty.
Oil-producing Venezuela is Colombia's second-largest export market, with trade between the two countries reaching US$2 billion last year.
President Chavez told parliament on Jan. 14 that he had "ordered all agreements and business with Colombia to be paralyzed." He did not explain whether that meant a cessation of all trade ties between the two countries or just business ties between the two governments. However, efforts at building a US$200 million natural-gas pipeline between the two countries would be suspended, Chavez said. The two countries agreed last year to start work on the pipeline, which would eventually allow Venezuelan gas to reach Colombia's Pacific coast and from there reach markets in Asia and the western US (see NotiSur, 2004-10-08).
Colombian officials responded by preparing a list of FARC guerrillas they said were inside Venezuela and should be extradited to Colombia. Uribe issued a statement leveling Colombia's most serious and explicit charges, accusing Venezuela of having sheltered Granda and saying other Colombian terrorists and rebel camps were inside Venezuela.
"Colombia will deliver proof to the government of Venezuela of the protection that authorities of that country provided to Granda. Sheltering terrorists violates Colombia's sovereignty," Uribe's statement said. He added that he has the right to offer rewards for the apprehension of Colombian terrorists, wherever they are.
Critics compared the kidnapping to Operation Condor, the intelligence-sharing program among Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s that led to extrajudicial killings and kidnappings throughout the hemisphere (see NotiSur, July 7, 2000).
Chavez has denied that he tolerates the presence of FARC rebels in Venezuela and says the 2,200 km shared border is too long to properly patrol.
Granda's arrest--along with that of another senior FARC commander in Ecuador early last year--highlighted the ties between the FARC and neighboring countries, where the rebels are believed to often find sanctuary. …