CARACAS (IPS) - Some analysts say Colombia ordered the kidnapping of
guerrilla leader Rodrigo Granda in the Venezuelan capital last month to prove
to the United States that it is cooperating in the anti-terrorism "crusade,"
although the cost has been a serious rupture in Colombian-Venezuelan relations.
On Friday, leftist Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez announced a freeze
on all cooperation with Colombia and the withdrawal of his country's ambassador
He said that he would discuss the case with other governments, and that the
measures adopted would only be revoked if Colombia publicly apologizes for the
Carlos Romero, an expert on Venezuelan-Colombian relations, told IPS, "The
Colombian government had known for a long time that Granda was in Venezuela,
and was aware of the kind of life he was leading. They didn't just happen to
find him as the result of an investigation. They had his location pinpointed,
and when they decided the time was right, they had him picked up."
Granda was second in command in the so-called "foreign ministry"
of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's main leftist
rebel group. He was kidnapped in downtown Caracas last Dec. 13, with the support
of members of the Venezuelan armed forces and police, and spirited across the
border into Colombia, where he was turned over to the police.
At the time of the kidnapping, the Colombian government repeatedly claimed
that Granda had been captured in Colombian territory.
Now Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos and Defense Minister Jorge Uribe
have admitted that their government paid informers and kidnappers to seize Granda
in Caracas. The total payoff was around one and a half million dollars, according
to Venezuelan investigations.
Eight members of the Venezuelan armed forces, including a number of officers,
have been arrested and detained in connection with the case. The suspected participation
of active-duty and former Venezuelan police officers is also being investigated,
as is the allegation that the operation in Caracas was directed by a Colombian
SimÃ³n Trinidad (whose real name is Ricardo Palmera), the man in charge
of the FARC's financial affairs, was captured in Ecuador last year and extradited
to the United States in late December.
Also last year, Colombia's second largest leftist rebel group, the National
Liberation Army (ELN), reported that one of its leaders had been kidnapped in
the city of Maracaibo, in western Venezuela.
For two years, Granda had been living with his wife Yamileth Restrepo in a
two-story house with a large backyard and swimming pool in a residential neighborhood
1500 meters above sea level in El Consejo, located an hour and a half by car
"Under these circumstances, it is very hard to believe that his presence
wasn't known to the Colombian and Venezuelan authorities," said Romero.
"It is especially unlikely given what has been reported about Granda,
namely that he met with the leaders of different countries of the region and
is even said to have taken the director of the New York Stock Exchange to the
FARC's stronghold in Colombia," he added.
According to Alberto MÃ¼ller, a retired general from the Venezuelan army,
the operation that landed Granda in a Colombian prison "could have been
executed by the Colombian army or police in direct compliance with guidelines
from the United States."
MÃ¼ller told IPS that the United States implements a strategy of "exploiting
the internal or external disputes of other countries to pursue its own goals.
Washington wants to weaken the Venezuelan government," he added.
In his annual address to the nation on Friday, ChÃ¡vez said, "I
do not believe that the president of Colombia, Ãlvaro Uribe, was aware
of this operation, which flagrantly violated Venezuelan sovereignty, and I invite
his government to publicly make amends."
ChÃ¡vez ordered the withdrawal of the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia,
Carlos Santiago, and announced that full diplomatic relations would not be resumed
until the Colombian government had public apologized for this violation of Venezuelan
sovereignty and for the payment of bribes to members of the Venezuelan military.
All ongoing cooperation projects, such as the construction of a bi-national
gas pipeline, were to be immediately suspended, ChÃ¡vez announced, adding
that he is discussing the matter with other governments, due to the seriousness
of Colombia's actions in using bribery to incite members of the Venezuelan armed
forces to commit a crime.
Romero questioned why Colombia had suddenly decided to break with the status
quo that allowed someone like Granda to "participate in the kind of ambiguity
so typical of the conflict in that country, with armed clashes on the one hand
and guerrilla leaders meeting abroad with foreign politicians on the other."
One possible explanation, said Romero, a graduate school professor at a number
of Venezuelan universities, is the entry into force of "Plan Patriot,"
a Colombian military offensive aimed at penetrating territory under FARC control,
and largely viewed as the military phase of Plan Colombia, a U.S.-financed anti-drug
and counterinsurgency strategy.
This frontal attack on the rebel forces is supposedly based on "the premise
that all guerrilla groups are terrorist groups, and we are in the midst of a
global war on terrorism," he added.
Upon admitting that the Colombian government had paid a reward for the capture
of Granda, Defense Minister Uribe said that "Colombia will do whatever
it has to do, without violating international agreements and international law,
to ensure that the leaders of these groups are safely put away."
For his part, Santos said that "bounty hunters will be warmly welcomed
in Colombia. We hope they all come to help capture these bandits. There's plenty
of money, and it's here waiting for them."
Santos maintained that this is a "legitimate method, used in the United
States, for example, which is offering a juicy sum for the capture of Osama
bin Laden," leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the alleged mastermind
of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Romero noted that Uribe and other Colombian politicians "are toeing the
line of the hawks in the U.S. government, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
and acting as if Washington had told them, âHunt down the political leaders
of the guerrilla forces and send them here to us."
According to an editorial in the Colombian Communist Party weekly Voz,
"the Colombian government's doctrine, which is as dangerous as it is unacceptable,
is that the guerrillas must be persecuted through all possible methods, even
"There was a violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. The Colombian defense
minister has assumed responsibility for bribery, and therefore has participated
in the kidnapping of a citizen in another country, which is akin to applying
the law of the jungle in the Andean region," Venezuelan Vice President
JosÃ© Vicente Rangel.
"With this action, Plan Colombia is being extended to the whole Andean
region," said Rangel, adding that "my objection to the kidnapping
of Granda is the same as that made in the Southern Cone to Operation Condor,"
a covert military intelligence-sharing strategy followed by South American dictatorships
in the 1970s and 1980s.
Romero believes that the Venezuelan president's reaction has been particularly
forceful because "Colombia's actions not only throw a wrench into bilateral
relations, but also implicate the armed forces, where ChÃ¡vez hails from,
and could be interpreted as meaning that the president is not in full control
of his security and defense forces."
General Jorge GarcÃa Carneiro, the minister of defense, read a statement
on Friday in which he condemned the behavior of the Venezuelan military forces
involved in the operation.
ChÃ¡vez announced that they would be punished "with the full weight
of the law, because they have disgraced the uniform of the army of SimÃ³n
BolÃvar," the founding father of Venezuelan independence.
(Inter Press Service)