Venezuela: Clarify Relationship With Colombian Guerrillas
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||3 June 2008|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Venezuela: Clarify Relationship With Colombian Guerrillas, 3 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4847bc20c.html [accessed 25 December 2014]|
(Washington, DC, June 3, 2008) - The Venezuelan government should provide a full accounting of its relationship with Colombian guerrillas responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today.In 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez served as a mediator, with the authorization of the Colombian government, in efforts to secure the release of prisoners held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC). Yet email messages found on laptop computers reportedly recovered from a FARC encampment by Colombian security forces in March 2008 describe meetings in which Venezuelan officials also appear to have offered assistance to the Colombian guerrillas, including safe havens, weapons procurement, and possibly even financial support.
Interpol announced on May 15 that its forensic experts had verified that the computer files were authentic and had not been modified in any way while in the custody of Colombian authorities, though they did not assess the accuracy or source of their contents. Chávez dismissed Interpol's findings as a "clown show that doesn't deserve a serious response."
"The emails raise serious questions about Venezuela's relationship with the Colombian guerrillas that deserve serious answers," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "At the very least, they appear to show that the guerrilla commanders who were engaged in horrendous abuses believed they had the backing of the Venezuelan government."
Human Rights Watch has not had direct access to the computer files. But according to excerpts released by the Colombian government and reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the files contain email correspondence in which FARC commanders recount multiple meetings with Venezuelan officials. These messages refer to a meeting in which President Chávez reportedly offered to provide the FARC with safe havens within Venezuelan territory. They also mention meetings in which two Venezuelan generals, Hugo Carvajal Barrios and Clíver Alcalá Cordones, appear to offer the guerrillas assistance in procuring weapons. The email message refers to another meeting in which Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín reportedly promised to facilitate the delivery of arms shipments to the guerrilla group. In addition, there are several email messages that allude to what appear to be offers of financial support to the FARC, including allocating to the guerrillas an oil ration which they could sell for profit.
Chávez has categorically denied that Venezuela has provided a safe haven or financial assistance to the FARC, or maintained any contacts with FARC commanders other than those aimed at securing the release of hostages.
At the same time, however, Chávez has repeatedly expressed sympathy for the FARC. In his effort to persuade the international community to stop classifying the FARC as a terrorist group, Chávez said in January 2008 that the FARC had "a political and Bolivarian project that is respected here [in Venezuela]." Chávez also called for a national moment of silence in Venezuela for senior FARC leader Raúl Reyes and praised him as a "good revolutionary" after he was killed in February 2008.
"For any government to support a guerrilla group like the FARC that routinely commits atrocities against civilians is entirely beyond the pale," said Vivanco. "If the contents of these emails are in fact accurate, they show that the FARC was set to receive much more than rhetorical support from the Chávez government."
The FARC have a horrendous record of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The group systematically takes hostages for ransom, as well as for political gain, in some cases holding victims hostage for years under horrific conditions, posing grave risks to the hostages' lives and health. The FARC also engage in targeted killings, "disappearances," acts of torture, and massacres of civilians. The FARC routinely recruit children as combatants, including many under the age of 15, the minimum recruitment age permitted under the Geneva Conventions. Children in the FARC's ranks who attempt to desert are often shot, and the FARC have been known to order children to torture and execute other children or captured enemies.
Human Rights Watch called on the Venezuelan government to clarify whether any Venezuelan officials have provided, or offered to provide, assistance of any kind to the Colombian guerrillas. Venezuela should explain what exactly was discussed in the FARC meetings with President Chávez, Interior Minister Rodríguez Chacín, and other Venezuelan officials. It should also clarify whether FARC commanders met with Generals Carvajal and Alcalá, or any other military personnel, and if so, what was discussed at those meetings.
Human Rights Watch also urged President Chávez to issue clear instructions that no Venezuelan government or military official should provide any form of assistance to the FARC, and to guarantee that any officials found to have done so will be appropriately sanctioned.
On June 2, José Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) promised that the OAS would conduct an investigation of the computer files to assess the accuracy of their contents after Ecuador officially requested an inquiry.
"It would be a mistake for the OAS to limit its investigation to Ecuador and not address the relationship between the FARC and the Venezuelan government as well. A rigorous and impartial investigation is urgently needed to get to the bottom of this matter," said Vivanco.
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