Los Angeles Times
June 08, 2008
On the same day Colombia said it had captured a Venezuelan national guard officer carrying 40,000 AK-47 assault rifle cartridges believed to be intended for leftist guerrillas, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said Saturday he would withdraw a decree overhauling intelligence policies that he had made earlier that week.
The rare reversal by Mr. Chávez came amid intensifying criticism in Venezuela from human rights groups.
The capture of the Venezuelan officer in eastern Colombia could reignite tensions between the neighboring countries over Venezuela’s support for the rebel group FARC.
Colombia’s attorney general, Mario Iguarán, said Saturday that security forces had captured the national guard officer carrying cartridges that the Colombian authorities believe were intended for the FARC.
While Mr. Chávez’s government did not immediately comment on the arrest of the Venezuelan officer, who was identified as Manuel Teobaldo Agudo Escalona, the episode suggests that pressure could mount in Washington to add Venezuela to the list of countries that are state sponsors of terrorism.
Colombian officials have recently said that Venezuela tried to provide arms and financing for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, basing their claims on references to such dealings in archives from computers obtained in an April raid on the rebels. The United States and the European Union classify the FARC as terrorists.
Venezuela, which expresses ideological solidarity with the Marxist-inspired FARC, has said that no further proof of such assistance has emerged. But that was before Colombia announced the arrest of the Venezuelan officer, captured in Puerto Nariño in eastern Colombia with another Venezuelan citizen and two Colombians.
The type of cartridges in the possession of the four men are used in assault rifles commonly employed by the FARC, which has been active in Colombia for more than four decades. Colombia, one of the largest recipients of American counterinsurgency aid outside the Middle East, has recently killed several senior FARC commanders.
Amid festering tension with Colombia, including claims that Colombian paramilitaries were fomenting destabilization plots, President Chávez quietly unveiled his intelligence law in late May, which would have abolished the DISIP secret police and DIM military intelligence, replacing them with new intelligence and counterintelligence agencies.
But in a rare act of self-criticism on Saturday, Mr. Chávez acknowledged the ire that his intelligence overhaul had provoked among legal scholars and human rights groups, which said Mr. Chávez was attempting to introduce a police state by forcing judges to cooperate with intelligence services and criminalizing dissent.
“Where we made mistakes we must accept that and not defend the indefensible,” Mr. Chávez said at a campaign rally in Zulia State for gubernatorial and mayoral candidates from his Socialist party. “There is no dictatorship here,” he continued. “No one here is coerced into saying more than they want to say.”
Reeling from the defeat of a constitutional reform in December that would have expanded his powers, Mr. Chávez, in his 10th year in power, is facing multiple challenges as a reinvigorated opposition fields candidates in regional elections this year and Venezuela’s economic growth slows despite record oil prices.