September 27, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan members of an extreme-leftist social and political organization unveiled a monument to late Colombian rebel leader Manuel Marulanda on Friday as dozens of onlookers chanted rebel slogans and burned a U.S. flag.
The Venezuelan chapter of a group known as the Continental Bolivarian Coordinator - with support from Venezuela's small Communist Party - led the effort to erect the monument. The group sympathizes with the objectives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC - which include overthrowing the Colombian government.
Organizers said President Hugo Chavez's administration played no role in displaying the bust. Mounted on an eye-level pedestal, it now gazes out over the ramshackle houses in Caracas' 23 de Enero slum.
But Freddy Bernal - a close Chavez ally and mayor of a Caracas bureau - attended Friday's ceremony, even as Colombia voiced its indignation.
Participants sang FARC anthems beneath flags representing Palestine, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela's Communist Party and Basque separatist group ETA.
"The insurgent fight is crossing Latin America!" shouted a group of young people, burning a U.S. flag.
The Colombian Foreign Ministry asked the international community to condemn the monument. The FARC has been directly involved in drug trafficking and crimes against humanity - including kidnappings, recruiting minors, murder, and the use of anti-personnel mines - a ministry statement said.
Marulanda, whose real name was Pedro Antonio Marin but was commonly known as "Sure Shot," was a founder of the FARC. He died of a heart attack in the Colombian mountains in March, at the age of 78.
At the time of his death, Marulanda was wanted by the Colombian authorities for more than 100 crimes. He helped bring Colombians "suffering, terror and misery for more than 50 years," said Gen. Freddy Padilla, the head of Colombia's armed forces, who also criticized the monument.