Will FARC fracas unfasten Colombia's reforged ties with Venezuela?
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos will speak with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez about the presence of the Colombian guerilla groups FARC and ELN in Venezuela, reported Caracol Radio Aug. 3. The move follows Colombian armed forces commander Adm. Edgar Cely's July 31 remarks that the FARC and ELN are still using Venezuela as a staging ground—a charge that was repeatedly made by former president Alvaro Uribe. Cely's comments were quickly disavowed by Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera. Chávez nonetheless said, "We are awaiting clarification regarding strange statements that came from Colombia's senior military chief." (Colombia Reports, Aug. 3)
Venezuela meanwhile said it will undertake an examination of the health of Guillermo Enrique Torres, AKA "Julian Conrado" AKA "El Cantante" (The Singer), a FARC leader who is also a songwriter and considered a key propagandist for the guerilla group, to determine if he is fit for extradition to Colombia. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said that his government would "act in accordance with national and international law." Conrado was captured by Venezuelan authorities last June in Barinas state, near the Colombian border (see map), and there have been rumors that he has appealed for asylum. Conrado, said to be suffering from prostate cancer, served on the FARC's negotiation council during the 1998-2002 peace talks with the Colombian government (and was falsely reported to have been killed in the 2008 Colombian military raid on Ecuadoran territory in which FARC commander Raul Reyes was slain). (El Tiempo, Aug. 6; Colombia Reports, Aug. 1)
Fears that Venezuela is harboring the guerillas were renewed last month when Colombia's government announced that its fighter jets had destroyed a suspected FARC bomb-making factory in a border village in Arauca department. The operation reportedly led to the seizure of mines, mortars and more than a ton of explosives. (RTT, July 18)
Similar accusations may be resumed against Ecuador. Colombian authorities on Aug. 4 announced the seizure of more than half a ton (16 kilograms) of cocaine along with processing chemicals and guns and explosives in an operation against the "Daniel Aldana" FARC column in the hamlet of Llorente, near the Ecuadoran border just south of Tumaco, a coastal town notorious as a narco-port in southern Nariño department. (Notimex, Aug. 4)
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