Chávez to FARC: chill out; FARC to Chávez: watch out

On his June 8 Sunday TV program, Alo Presidente, Venezeula’s President Hugo Chávez called on Colombia’s FARC guerillas to lay down arms, saying: “Guerilla warfare has passed from history, and you in the FARC should know one thing: you have been converted into an excuse for the empire to threaten us all, you are the perfect excuse. The day peace comes to Colombia, the empire will lose the principal excuse it has—terrorism.” (El Universal, Mexico, June 9)

Chávez also called on FARC leader Alfonso Cano to release all hostages in a humanitarian gesture, “in exchange for nothing.” The president’s comments came a day after Colombian authorities announced the capture in Colombia of two Venezuelans, including one identified as a National Guard officer, carrying 40,000 AK-47 rifle cartridges—which Colombian authorities charge were intended for the FARC. Venezuela initially rejected Colombia’s claim that one of the Venezuelans was a military officer, but officials in Caracas softened their tone on Sunday, saying they were investigating. (NYT, LAT, June 9)

Manuel Teobaldo Agudo Escalona, identified as a second sergeant of the Venezuelan National Guard, was detainted by Colombia’s Technical Investigation Corps (CTI) and army troops at Puerto Nariño border post on the Rio Orinoco, Vichada department. The other Venezuelan was identified as Germán Castañeda. Two unnamed Colombians were detained as well. The FARC’s Front 16 operates in the remote region of savanna and jungle. (El Tiempo, Bogotá; Fiscalía press release, June 6)

In another sign of retreat, Chávez said June 7 he would withdraw a decree overhauling Venezeual’s intelligence services—with provisions making citizen collaboration mandatory. Responding to criticism from legal scholars and human rights groups, Chávez told a campaign rally for Socialist Party gubernatorial and mayoral candidates in Zulia state: “Where we made mistakes we must accept that and not defend the indefensible… There is no dictatorship here. No one here is coerced into saying more than they want to say.” (NYT, June 8)

Under the new intelligence decree, which was issued last week, Venezuela’s two main intelligence services, the DISIP secret police and the DIM military intelligence agency, were be replaced with new agencies, the General Intelligence Office and General Counterintelligence Office, under the control of Chávez. It also required Venezuela’s residents to comply with requests to assist the agencies, or community vigilance networks loyal to Chávez. Refusal was to be punishable by two to four years in prison, or four to six for government employees. In a rare public judicial dissent, Blanca Rosa Mármol de León, a justice on Venezuela’s top court, said: “We are before a set of measures that are a threat to all of us. I have an obligation to say this, as a citizen and a judge. This is a step toward the creation of a society of informers.” (NYT, June 3)

The new National Intelligence and Counterintelligence System Law is now to be reviewed by the Venezuelan cabinet, following recommendations from the Supreme Justice Tribunal and the minister of Popular Power, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín. (ABN, Venezuela, June 9)

On June 9, FARC commander Iván Márquez was quoted by Venezuela’s Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa saying that Colombian president Alvaro Uribe “intended and still intends” to have Chávez and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa assassinated. He said Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) has “infiltrated more than 100 paramilitaries into Caracas for this aim.” He similalry charged that the DAS “is preparing various groups of sicarios [hired killers], to send them to Ecuador to assassinate the president, Rafael Correa, in coordination with an Ecuadoran general, by the name of Aguas.” (ABN, Venezuela; Milenio, Mexico, June 9)

Retired Ecuadoran Gen. Luis Aguas Narváez denied any link to a plot on Correa’s life. “The only general with the name of Aguas in this country is me,” he told TV Ecuavisa. Aguas Narváez, who commanded Ecuador’s Ground Forces under President Lucio Gutiérrez (2003-2005), said he “profoundly, categorically and energetically rejects these types of accusations.” (Unión Radio, Venezuela, June 9)

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