Chávez arming Colombian guerillas?
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on a visit to Colombia Jan. 18 that the US is concerned about a Venezuelan military buildup, pointing to "what Mr. Chávez has done militarily in recent years and his acquisitions—both those he's made as well as those he states he's making for the future—high performance airplanes, modern submarines." President Hugo Chávez is negotiating with Russia to buy five diesel submarines that he says Venezuela needs to protect its extensive offshore oil drilling facilities. (AFP, Jan. 18) Days after Mullen's remarks, Miami's El Nuevo Herald cited anonymous Colombian intelligence officials as saying that the country's FARC and ELN guerillas are receiving ammunition manufactured in Venezuela. The officials said the 7.62mm AK-47 ammo recently captured from the FARC is produced by the state-owned Venezuelan Anonymous Military Industries Company (CAVIM). (Nuevo Herald, Bloomberg, Jan. 21)
On Jan. 20, US Drug Czar John P. Walters charged in an interview that the Chávez government is facilitating the rising flow of drugs through Venezuela to Europe and North America: "Where are the big seizures, where are the big arrests of individuals who are at least logistical coordinators? When it's being launched from controlled airports and seaports, where are the arrests of corrupt officials? At some point here, this is tantamount to collusion."
Walters said the volume of Colombian cocaine moving through Venezuela is believed to represent at least one-third of Colombia's production, and continues to increase. He provided no statistics to back up his assertion.
In September, the US government found that Venezuela was one of two governments that had failed to take sufficient counter-narcotics actions. The Venezuela Information Office, a Washington-based agency funded by the Chávez government, called the accusations misleading, saying they ignored the country's "history of cooperating" with international agencies.
US complaints about Venezuelan counter-narcotics operations have risen since August 2005, when Chavez broke off all cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Caracas. Since then, seizures have fallen, and drug shipments by aircraft and shipping containers have skyrocketed, US officials charge. Then-Ambassador William Brownfield said in 2006 that the amount of drugs flowing through Venezuela had quintupled in five years.
In December, US officials in Caracas said as many as 100 illicit airstrips, stretching from Tachira state in western Venezuela to Bolivar state in the east, were being used for cocaine trans-shipments. The officials charged that the Chávez government had brought no major convictions of traffickers in several years. (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 21)
Chávez responded to the charges by calling Colombian President Àlvaro Uribe a "coward" and a "sad peon of the North American empire" for his dealings with Mullen and Walters. He said the "Colombian oligarchy is seeking reinforcements for the attack, and they are turning to the gringos." (El Universal, Caracas, Jan. 21)
See our last post on Colombia and Venezuela.