Gov. César Pérez of the Venezuelan border state of Táchira, accused President Hugo Chávez of protecting Colombian guerillas that operate in his state. Pérez said that both leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries from Colombia operate in nearly a third of his state, but Venezuelan troops ignore the prior. “The guerrillas are there with the government’s blessing, and the military has orders to leave them alone,” Pérez told the AP. “The government only fights the paramilitaries, and I think it’s good they fight them, but the government has to do the same with the guerrillas, and it isn’t doing that.”
Pérez also protested that Táchira’s state police force is incapable of confronting the illegal armed groups because Venezuela’s national government has confiscated all of its assault rifles, leaving roughly half of the state’s 2,700-officer force with old .38-caliber revolvers. “Almost half of the police officers don’t even have revolvers,” he said.
Government officials say the weapons were seized because they did not have proper serial numbers. Chávez has accused Pérez of aiding the paramilitaries as part of a broader strategy to destabilize the Venezuelan government. Pérez denies the charge, saying Chávez presents no evidence to support the assertions. (AP, Nov. 11)
Catholic Church leaders have become increasingly vocal in their criticisms of Chávez as tensions escalate on the Colombian border. Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas called on Chávez this week to increase efforts to end “the war of crime” that exists in the country rather than threatening to attack Colombia. “That is the war which we must resolve because it is taking place on our streets,” he added.
Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro called on both nations to embrace peace and stressed that “everything is lost with war, with peace everything is won.” The archbishop criticized the “aggressive attitude” of Chávez, which he attributed to falling approval ratings and influence from the Cuban government. If war were to break out, the archbishop asked, “Where would Chávez put the four million Colombians who have lived here among us for the past five generations?” (Catholic News Agency, Nov. 11)