May 22, 2008
Question of the day: Why hasn't 34-country Organization of American States chief José Miguel Insulza called for the regional group's investigation into the thousands of Interpol-verified computer files indicating that Venezuela and Ecuador are actively supporting Colombia's FARC guerrillas?
Before I tell you what Insulza told me in a long telephone interview this week, let's recall that key U.S. members of Congress are demanding an OAS investigation into the more than 37,000 computer files seized from slain Colombian FARC rebel leader Raúl Reyes.
Interpol, the world's largest police organization, certified last week that -- contrary to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's and his Ecuadoran colleague Rafael Correa's protestations -- the files were, indeed, from Reyes' computers and were not altered by Colombia.
In a May 13 letter to Insulza, Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, asked that the OAS' Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism hold hearings ``that could lead to appropriate actions by the OAS.''
Less diplomatically, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Myers wrote to Insulza on April 14 saying that the OAS has become a ''puppet for the forces of tyranny,'' and called for an OAS panel to investigate the Chávez and Correa's links to the FARC.
Critics say Insulza could show leadership and act on his own. ''We are yet to find any information in the OAS bylaws that states that the secretary general cannot request a member country for information that has regional security implications for OAS member countries,'' a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer told me Wednesday.
WHAT'S IN THE FILES
The Reyes computer files say, among other things, that Chávez had vowed to give $300 million to the FARC, and that the Colombian rebels had their own office inside Venezuela's military command in Fuerte Tiuna. They also say the FARC gave $100,000 to Correa's presidential campaign.
Asked why he hasn't called for an OAS investigation, Insulza told me ``it wouldn't be acceptable to the OAS General Council for me to act without a petition from a [OAS] member country.''
He added, ``The Colombian government has not asked me to take up this problem, nor has sent me the documents about this case. Therefore, I am not going to act in any direction as long as the Colombian government doesn't submit its point of view to me. I don't have these documents.''
Asked about his critics' allegation that he's not acting because he is running for president of Chile and doesn't want to antagonize proChávez groups within his leftist coalition, he said, ``I don't see, frankly, how this issue has anything to do with the Chilean election.''
He recalled that as foreign minister in 1998, he antagonized many leftist supporters when he backed the Chilean government's petition to extradite Augusto Pinochet to Chile, rather than expose him to possibly harsher treatment in Spain. ''In politics, I always do what I believe is right,'' Insulza said.
Asked whether he is in any way indebted to Chávez for his support during his election as OAS chief, Insulza said: ``I was elected by 31 countries, and by not any one country in particular.''
Insulza disputed claims by congressional sources that he has minimized the results of the Interpol investigation.
''Interpol has done a good job,'' Insulza said. ``Now, it's time for Colombia, either alone or together with other governments, to decide what to do with these documents. If some of these documents reach the OAS, I will treat them with the seriousness they deserve.''
A TALE OF COWARDICE
My opinion: We are witnessing a dangerous game of political spinelessness. Colombia is not submitting the documents to the OAS because it fears Venezuela's oil subsidies to the region will keep a majority of OAS members from backing an OAS investigation.
The Bush administration doesn't want to do it because it fears being seen as wanting to topple Chávez. Most Latin American countries have little to gain by sacrificing Chávez's petro-dollars for taking sides in what they see as somebody else's conflict. Insulza doesn't want to take a leadership role because he fears being left alone.
But the bottom line is that Interpol has certified the authenticity of thousands of documents that suggest a flagrant violation of OAS and United Nations nonintervention conventions prohibiting countries from assisting armed groups abroad. If everybody keeps looking the other way, and nobody even asks for a probe on the files' content, welcome to the law of the jungle!