Winning the war against FARC

Por Venezuela Real - 14 de Julio, 2008, 18:32, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

Diego Arria / Richard Brand
New York Daily News
July 14, 2008

This month's spectacular rescue by Colombian commandos of 15 hostages cast an international spotlight on the miseries inflicted by the terrorist group responsible for the kidnappings, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Much of the FARC's strength is derived from its protection of an illicit narcotics trade which channels cocaine to North American communities. But the recent hostage rescue has also drawn attention to the real role played by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in using the FARC to destabilize the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, his regional archrival.

During a previous commando raid in March, which killed FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes at his Ecuador campsite, Colombian soldiers recovered files from Reyes' laptop showing, among other things, that high-ranking Venezuelans had schemed with the FARC to supply the group with high-tech weapons, ammunition and a $300 million grant. The files also detailed plans to exploit the hostage issue for political gain.

Chavez's support for the FARC has been known and tolerated for some time. Indeed, Venezuela has been harboring their leaders, who have operated openly within Venezuela's borders. Chavez's ban on overflights by U.S. planes participating in anti-narcotics operations in Colombia and his government's refusal to cooperate with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency have also benefited the FARC immeasurably. It is no coincidence that during Chavez's presidency, Venezuela has turned into a major conduit for the transshipment of cocaine.

Despite the FARC's killing of thousands of civilians and its continued holding of 700 hostages, the oil-rich Chavez government confessed its direct support for and solidarity with the region's most notorious terrorist group. During a speech this spring before Venezuela's congress and an assembled diplomatic corps, Chavez asked that the FARC be removed from U.S. and European terror lists.

It is clear that Chavez's earlier involvement in appearing to negotiate the release of FARC hostages was not a humanitarian act, but rather cold political grandstanding. It is suggestive of the amicableness between Chavez and the FARC that when the Colombian commandos duped the FARC and released the hostages, they chose as a disguise clothing and aircraft similar to those used by previous Venezuelan delegations.

Evidence of Chavez's support for the FARC has been revealed just as the Colombian military has made its biggest advances in its strategy of eliminating the group's leaders while encouraging defection among the rank-and-file. The rescue of the prominent hostages deprives the group of its most valuable bargaining chips. What's more, the hostages' stories have helped cement world opinion against the FARC. Marc Gonsalves, one of the rescued Americans, described being held in chains while tropical diseases ravaged his body. His message to the FARC and its sympathizers, conveyed by media across the world: "FARC, you are terrorists...terrorists with a capital 'T.'"

A shaken Chavez has been forced to adopt a more cooperative tone. This is all good, but Chavez's track record advises that once the pressure is off, he will revert to his old ways.

We must keep the pressure on.

Colombian intelligence agencies should publish the thousands of unreleased files from Reyes' laptop, which are widely believed to contain further detail on Chavez's dealings with the FARC and other terror groups. Further, any Venezuelan officials implicated in supporting the FARC or other terror groups should have their assets frozen and travel restricted, as recently happened to a Venezuelan diplomat accused of raising funds for Hezbollah and establishing a Hezbollah center in Caracas. The U.S. should also strengthen Uribe's hand in fighting the FARC by reducing existing trade barriers with Colombia, which will send a message across the world that the U.S. stands with its allies in the fight against terror.

Arria is a former Caracas governor and Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations. Brand is an attorney and a former foreign correspondent for The Miami Herald.

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