<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Colombia’s Double Standard for Terrorism

The Colombian Government’s Lies on the Kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda and Its “Solidarity” With Venezuelan Coupsters


By Laura del Castillo Matamoros
Narco News Editorial Columnist

January 24, 2005

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA: Last December 15, the antiterrorist arrogance of the Colombian government got a boost in the national and international media. What was its trophy this time? Rodrigo Granda, another big shot from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in its Spanish initials). Granda, the FARC’s international spokesman for seventeen years, had supposedly been captured by the Colombian authorities in the city of Cúcuta, the capital of the Norte de Santander department on the Venezuelan border. Another “success” for the government after the capture of FARC commander Simon Trinidad. Yes, Granda was a dangerous man, a “terrorist.” The Colombian authorities had made another heroic gesture to protect Latin America’s oldest democracy. Granda had been captured according to all the normal procedures of the Colombian justice system.

That was what the big media show that the government put on (television cameras showed Granda handcuffed and surrounded by police) convinced the public. And it was what the most traditional sections of that public wanted to believe. However, the truth was quite different, and the Colombian government, the “irreproachable,” the most democratic in Latin America, the government that would never commit terrorist acts to achieve its goals, knew full well what was really going on.

How “irreproachable” was the manner in which the Colombian authorities handled Granda’s case? The facts that came to light days after his “capture” would put the diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela at risk. And with good reason…

It all began on December 18. Starting on that day, the happy ending the Colombian authorities had wanted to give to Granda’s case began to unwind: Carlos Lozano, publisher of the weekly communist newspaper Voz, publicly announced that, contrary to the official version of the story, Granda had been kidnapped right in the heart of Caracas by Venezuelan and Colombian agents working behind the Hugo Chávez administration’s back. Granda corroborated Lozano’s version when he gave his statement to the Colombian justice department on December 22. This alone was very serious. Isn’t kidnapping one of the methods supposedly used by terrorists? How strange! And isn’t the Colombian government, supposedly, not a terrorist organization in any way? Even stranger…

At the time, there was no response to any of these denunciations. The New Year’s celebrations allowed the administration of President Álvaro Uribe to keep putting off the issue, believing that they could avoid it completely. But a few of the Colombian media, including, surprisingly, the commercial media, were blowing the lid off the Granda case. Let’s take a look at just how rotten it was.

Uncomfortable Truths

On January 2, the FARC published a communique which, in addition to confirming that Granda was kidnapped, asked the Venezuelan government for an explanation as to what happened, considering that Granda had been invited to participate in the Second Bolivarian Conference of the People, held in Caracas. (It is worth noting that the Venezuelan government later challenged these claims by the FARC, declaring that Granda had not been invited to the event but rather came on his own accord).

Days later, on January 6 to be exact, President Uribe finally appeared before the press, furious, with his his usual elegant dramatic touch, saying that the FARC had no moral authority (and one really needs to see how comical he looks when he talks about these things) to complain about Granda’s fate, especially given what had occurred in the town of Tame, in the southeast department of Arauca: “These individuals from the FARC, on January 1, murdered seventeen peasant farmers, kidnap people constantly, carry out terrorist acts daily, violate the human rights of our citizens, deal drugs, and when they are captured they come out saying that their people were kidnapped, that their human rights were violated.” The President’s speech was very moving, but it would also be worth noting that, aside from avoiding any responsibility for Granda’s case, he didn’t account for the speculations that the massacre in Tame seems not to have been carried out by the FARC, but rather by a bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in its Spanish initials) paramilitaries that continues to operate in the area and has still not “demobilized.”

That same day, the Venezuelan government, through its internal minister Jesse Chacón, released the preliminary results of its investigation, which again showed that there were strong indications that Granda had been kidnapped and secretly taken to the city of Cúcuta, where he was turned over to the police. The findings suggested that the situation could become even more serious if the Venezuelans could prove the participation of Colombian officials in the incident – in other words, that Colombia had violated Venezuela’s national sovereignty.

What’s more, on January 10, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo published an article that presented even more up-to-date evidence of Granda’s kidnapping in Caracas, with both the testimony of various witnesses and the police’s contradictory versions about his supposed capture in Cúcuta.

Even when faced with all of these arguments, the Colombian government stuck to its usual, U.S.-style strategy in critical situations: playing dumb. And so Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Enrique Uribe and the General Commander of the Police made a statement to the press that would later be played again and again like a broken record: “The Police acted fully within their rights in capturing a Colombian citizen in Colombian territory.” Of course, the minister forgot to mention to the media that he had asked the Venezuelan government to do him the favor of releasing the four Colombian soldiers who had been arrested in the Caracas suburb of Maracay – some 700 kilometers (435 miles) from the Colombian border – after the police discovered them carrying out undercover operations. But of course, according to Minister Enrique, there had not been a single member of the Colombian police or armed forces in Venezuela.…

Nonetheless, on January 11, during his address on the “Aló presidente” television program, Chávez called the Colombian police chief a liar and demanded that the Colombian government reveal the identities of the officials that had carried out the kidnapping without the knowledge of the Venezuelan government, violating that country’s sovereignty.

But the Colombian defense minister just kept repeating the same lie, the lie that even he no longer believed, that “the Colombian police never violated Venezuela’s sovereignty, as they never entered that territory.”

That day the testimony of Omar Rodríguez, the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in Colombia, also came to light. Rodríguez had interviewed Granda on December 13, in the Rozzetti clinic cafeteria in Caracas – the same place where, hours later, Granda would be forced to into the trunk of a car by two men in civilian clothing, as described in reports from the Venezuelan government’s investigation. And on that same day, January 11, Táchira state (just across the Venezuelan border from Cúcuta) congressman Luis Tascón announced that members of Venezuela’s Judicial Technical Police force had carried out the kidnapping, organized by a Colombian colonel who had offered them the modest sum of $1.5 million for the “operation.” But of course, the Colombian government doesn’t rub elbows with terrorists.

And while Uribe maintained his vow of silence and the defense minister kept repeating a speech he now seemed to know by heart, Venezuela kept revealing more and more convincing evidence that was beginning to derail diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Things got even worse on January 14, when Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Jesse Chacón publicly announced that the latest investigations now left no doubt that active members of the Colombian police had participated in the events of December 13. They were honorable members of two widely known Colombian security forces: the Guala (paradoxically,Colombia’s elite anti-kidnapping commando unit, a joint military-police force) and the Judicial Police (SIJIN), whose respect for human rights in Colombia has been, to put it one way, questionable, for many years.

But even worse, much worse, than Granda’s kidnapping, or the results of the Venezuelan government’s investigation, was the way in which the Colombian government finally cracked, probably after realizing that the situation was now out of its hands. The government admitted, through the minister of defense, what congressman Tascón had already confirmed – that the Colombian government had paid a bounty for Granda to be transferred to the authorities. (It is worth reading the article that Associated Press published about this where, with its irritating supposed objectivity, the news agency presents payments to bounty hunters as a normal, effective way of hunting down criminals.)

And yet that is still not the worst. In fact, looking at the situation from a diplomatic perspective, it would all be all right if Colombia would admit to its mistakes before the international community. But one must remember that the Colombian government is expert in transforming its mistakes into noble virtues. And that’s what they did this time: they admitted that they had paid the bounty but saw this procedure as completely legitimate. Just look at the statements from Vice President Francisco Santo, which demonstrate the overwhelming primitive intelligence used to deal with this type of situation: “They are welcome; hopefully, all the bounty hunters will come to capture the bandits. The money is there for them. The rewards are very good.” To further justify this strategy and to demonstrate its legitimacy, Santo gave the example of the United States (what a surprise!), which has offered millions of dollars around the world for Osama bin Laden’s head.

What was that about? Does the fact that the United States employs tactics in its “war on terror” that border on what could be called “state terrorism,” make those tactics legitimate? The concept of legitimacy sure is strange these days, especially since the fall of the twin towers. So, does that mean that the famous “Operation Condor” – carried out by South America’s Southern Cone dictatorships in the 1960s and 70s, where mercenaries were paid to kidnap, assassinate or disappear political opponents who had fled their countries – was also legitimate?

Because, inevitably, the Granda kidnapping (and that is the word, whether or not Uibe and his people like it) brings to mind other state crimes, and this convergence of operations has a prettier name, a more legitimate name: Plan Colombia, which the United States would like to make into Plan Colombia-Venezuela. All of this, of course, to take control of that greasy substance that is always part of the U.S.’s wet dreams: petroleum. And that necessitates turning Latin America’s oldest continuous democracy into a degenerated version of those South American dictatorships, where bounties are offered, mercenaries are hired, and political opponents are kidnapped.

Because whether the government and its double standard like it or not, Granda is a political opponent, accused of rebellion as opposed to some other crime (and it is known that rebellion is legitimate, and, depending on the situation, considered a political crime), independent of the fact that he works for the FARC. In fact, he was not found in Venezuela carrying out terrorist activities, but rather academic ones. And why didn’t the Colombian government request his extradition, through Interpol? Wouldn’t that have been the normal way to go about this? Obviously not for the Colombian authorities, and the reason is clear: Granda was mysteriously placed on Interpol’s list on January 9, a full 28 days after his kidnapping. But even more curious is that on January 15, Interpol’s own director in Colombia, Victor Cruz, revealed that in October 2004, Interpol’s General Secretariat in France rejected the Colombian government’s request to include Granda in its “red list,” as the crime of rebellion is not grounds for an international arrest warrant. And if Granda was not on Interpol’s lists, there was no possibility to request his extradition. In that case, what other choice did the Colombian government have? Well, they could take Granda out of Venezuela using “irregular” methods, simple as that.

And things didn’t end there. On January 15 President Chávez lost his patience and demanded that the Colombian government apologize publicly for what could be considered a violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty, or he would suspend any existing bilateral agreements between the two countries. He added that the whole thing seemed “unjustifiable, seeing that high officials of the Colombian state and the Uribe administration are bribing Venezuelan officials.”

And of course this time Uribe responded, but not exactly to apologize, rather to let loose his superficial arrogance: he said that the Venezuelan officials had not been bribed, but that Colombia had given rewards to informants. (Someone should ask the president where the difference is exactly between the two. And shouldn’t having informants in the Venezuelan government be illegal? Doesn’t that seem like espionage?) But the most comical thing of all was that he eagerly and angrily stated that Colombia’s own sovereignty was offended, now that he knew that Venezuela was harboring Colombian terrorists (keeping with those old and unsubstantiated rumors that the Venezuelan government maintains close ties to the FARC). So, according to Uribe, it turns out that that it is the Colombian government that should feel insulted and humiliated. What’s mor,e according to this reading of the events, the Venezuelan government should be apologizing to Uribe.

And can you guess, kind readers, who showed up to back up this spoiled boy’s tantrums? Well, none other than Mr. Bush, speaking through his emissary in Colombia, the most honorable Ambassador William Wood, who, in a very moving gesture, firmly established the White House’s solidarity with the Colombian government: “We support 100 percent the communiqué of Colombia – a declaration that is moderate, very energetic, and of transcendental importance, not just for Colombia, but for the anti-terrorist struggle in the Andean region.” What’s more, he demanded that President Chávez “define his position on the FARC.” How sweet of the ambassador!

But what is the real meaning of the solidarity Washington is showing towards Colombia? Has this conflict allowed the United States to kill two birds with one stone? That is, a) weaken the FARC’s international relations by taking its “foreign secretary” prisoner, and b) destabilize relations between Colombia and Venezuela, setting the stage for a possible war between the two nations, which would serve as a pretext for the U.S. to remove from power one of its major inconveniences of the moment: President Hugo Chávez. This is all very possible, especially taking into account the strong possibility that the CIA took part in Granda’s kidnapping, as Eliécer Otayza, president of the Venezuelan National Land Institute, suggested on January 12. And what is the CIA doing in Venezuela? Well, it should be obvious: the United States can’t be fond of a president pushing forward an agrarian reform that challenges the big landowners. That is certain.

The Good Terrorist

All of this suggests that the Colombian government is learning very well from its masters in the White House. It now knows the fine art of taking a crime and turning it into an act of great courage.

And it really knows how to do this well. Now it turns out that kidnapping citizens in another country has become an act of “legitimate defense,” while the country that has suffered a violation of its sovereignty has in fact become a “refuge for terrorists.”

The question that should be asked here – and that a certain section of the Colombian public, despite its narrow-mindedness, should take into account – is what President Uribe means by a “refuge for terrorists.” And if we do consider this question, we should remember a certain statement that President Chávez made to the press on January 10 (and which, of course, the Colombian government has not and will not dignify with a response): “Imagine if I were to dispatch a group of commandos, which I have at my disposal, and to seek out allies in Colombia, which I also have, to capture Carmona. I am incapable of doing that.”

And the crime that Pedro Carmona is charged with in Venezuela is exactly the same as that which Granda is accused of in Colombia: rebellion. But of course, in this case, according to the Royal White House Dictionary, that rebellion would be, well, legitimate (it’s that they like that word so much.) Of course. Defending the interests of the United States – how could that not be legitimate? And, so we all understand it, rebellion is illegitimate when someone opposes those interests, for whatever reason.

And of course, Carmona is not a terrorist. Not at all. Quite the opposite, he is a man of great moral values, who wanted to take power illegally in Venezuela, whose actions unleashed the systematic killings of dozens of Chávez supporters in the streets of Caracas during the events of April 2002, who tried to send Chávéz to his death. But Señor Carmona a terrorist? Never.

What follows, then, is a summary of the “legitimate” activities that this “martyr” of the Venezuelan opposition has carried out in Bogotá, where his presence seems to be honored by the most important sections of the Colombian oligarchy.

Paradise

After the failure of the coup in April 2002 in Venezuela, and with Chávez back in power, Carmona, an active member of Opus Dei in Caracas, was arrested by the authorities there, implicated in rebellion.

And he wasn’t taken down impressively in the street be men in civilian clothing, wasn’t forced into the trunk of an automobile, as happened to Granda, who is accused of basically the same crime. No, Carmona was treated with respect despite it all, and was even given house arrest…

Nevertheless, Carmona, supposedly aided by members of the Technical Judicial Police (you’ll remember that this force also includes some of the people who kidnapped Granda), was able to escape from his home and take refuge in the Colombian embassy, where he requested political asylum. Of course, the Colombians didn’t hesitate to say “.” Logically. Then-president Andrés Pastrana had given his full support and solidarity at the time of the coup. Luis Carlos Villegas, president of the Colombian National Industrial Association (ANDI in its Spanish initials, a major promoter of privatization and free market programs), had also sent an emotional letter to Carmona at that time, expressing his excitement that he was the new president of Venezuela.

Despite the fact that Carmona had become a fugitive, the Venezuelan government did not initiate anything like what was done with Granda, and said it was ready to accept the decision of the Colombian government on whether or not to grant him political asylum.

Days later, Pedro Carmona was received with open arms by an exclusive group of Bogotá’s extreme right. Among his closest friends were people as respectable as Enrique Gómez Hurtado, leading pro-Uribe senator and declared enemy of the government of President Chávez, who he has labeled as “one of the supports for subversion in Colombia.” Or Juan Manuel Santos, former treasury minister, brother of the vice president, and co-owner of El Tiempo, Colombia’s top daily newspaper, who showed himself to be very pleased the day of Chávez’s overthrow, and spoke of Carmona as an “expert on Colombia.” Former Foreign Minister Clemencia Forero, who still had his position at the time he helped Carmona arrive in Bogotá, was also there, and called him an “outstanding and serious person.”

This “outstanding and serious person” was transformed into a first-class citizen in Bogotá. He lives in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods. He is constantly invited to meetings, parties and dinners where he meets with important figures of Colombia’s political sphere. Bogotá has in fact become for him a “little Miami,” now that it is the principal center of operations for his favorite pastime: organizing conspiracies against the Venezuelan government. According to complaints from Venezuela, he even speaks at conferences for the Colombian military. Here, he has become a real leading figure.

In fact, Carmona meets frequently in the Colombian capital with Former Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez, accused of corruption and whose extradition the Venezuelan government has requested. It is no secret to anyone that Pérez is a long-time supporter of the idea of assassinating Chávez to get him out of power. So, Carmona and Peréz are doing more than just going to church together. During 2001, the two would meet in the Dominican Republic to make preparations for the coup. And it should be mentioned that Carmona was an official in the government during Pérez’s administration.

Since arriving in Bogotá in a Colombian Air Force plane, Carmona has wasted no time. On December 4 and 5 of 2002, he met in the National Police’s Hotel del Fondo with outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell (on an official state visit to Colombia). Other officials were also present at the meeting, including former U.S. ambassador to Colombia Héctor Fabio Velazco, as well as journalists from both countries and other important Venezuelan and Colombian personalities, as reported on Indymedia by journalist Gina María Ramírez. The goal of the meeting? Nearly obvious: design a plan to carry out another military coup against President Chávez. But, of course, Mr. Carmona is not a terrorist.

And do you remember, kind readers, the incident last April 12, with the group of Colombian paramilitaries captured on a farm just a few kilometers outside Caracas, whose objective was to carry out an attack on Miraflores, the presidential palace? Well, the Venezuelan government’s investigation into the matter discovered, on August 6, thanks to a found email message, that Carmona, who is not a terrorist, had been in on the plan from Bogotá.

Here it is worth asking, aren’t overthrowing governments and fomenting violence, among the things usually labeled “terrorism?” Because at this point, that’s what it looks like Carmona is trying to do. If that is so, couldn’t Colombia be considered as harboring international terrorists? In fact, on January 21, the Chávez administration announced that it would send Colombia a list of the Venezuelan terrorists living in that country, so that they could be arrested and sent back to Venezuela, in response to a similar list that the Colombian government sent. So, are there some terrorists who deserve more respect than others? How do they win that respect? By supporting the policies of the United States government? That makes their actions legitimate and them no longer criminals?

And the paradox will continue as long as Granda – who until now has not been assigned any crimes other than rebellion but is considered a dangerous terrorist – remains in a maximum security prison, while Carmona, who now has several other accusation hanging over him, is treated as a first-class citizen in Bogotá. The Venezuelan government is not drawing up any plans to kidnap him.

Why does the Colombian government demand that Caracas stop being a sanctuary for terrorists, while it gives asylum to one in in Colombia, and even grants amnesty to the most bloodthirsty and cruel terrorists in Colombia’s history, the paramilitaries, who, don’t deserve any kind of political deal?

Apparently the Colombian government has a serious problem in how it deals with the concept of terrorism… but one can’t expect much from its officials, as that would mean defining their own deeds as such. That would simply be asking too much.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America