August 26, 2008
CARACAS -- A leading rancher accused President Hugo Chávez on Monday of turning a blind eye to Colombian rebels who have found safe haven across the border inside Venezuela.
The lack of security for ranchers along the border and elsewhere is hurting output of beef and other agricultural products, said Genaro Mendez, leader of the National Cattle Ranchers Federation. He also said land invasions by squatters have been a problem, and that ranchers have counted 196 kidnappings so far this year.
Mendez said that rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, remain in border areas because ''there is apathy'' on the part of the government and the military.
Chávez's government denies it is providing safe haven to Colombian rebels and says its troops aim to prevent any illegal armed groups from using Venezuelan territory along the border, which runs through inhospitable mountains and jungles.
Mendez said leftist guerrillas have a presence along the border in southern Apure state and that the Sierra de Perijá mountains are becoming a rebel sanctuary.