Former Colombian Defence Minister Admits Sending Drones into Venezuela

Colombia sent spy planes into Venezuela in 2009 and 2010 and publicly lied about the intelligence activities at the time, a former Colombian defence minister has revealed.


Mérida, 16th November 2012 ( Colombia sent spy planes into Venezuela in 2009 and 2010 and publicly lied about the intelligence activities at the time, a former Colombian defence minister has revealed.

In December 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Colombia of violating Venezuela’s sovereignty by sending drones into Venezuelan airspace.

“They [Colombia] are preparing an aggression,” Chavez had warned, while also adding that “we do not have any plans against Colombia…the last thing I would ever want in this life is a war with Colombia”.

At the time, then-Colombian defence minister Gabriel Silva denied Chavez’s accusations, stating that, “Colombia does not have the capacities they [Venezuelan officials] describe”. “Perhaps it was that the Venezuelan soldiers confused Santa Claus’s sleigh with a spy plane,” he joked.

However, speaking on Colombia’s Caracol Radio this week, Gabriel Silva admitted that Colombia had indeed been using drones to spy on Venezuela. “At the time we were on the edge of war [with Venezuela] and we couldn’t allow Colombia to be invaded by Venezuela without warning,” he claimed as a motive for the operations.

In December 2009 relations between Colombia and Venezuela were fraught after the presidency of Alvaro Uribe made an agreement in October 2009 allowing the United States access to seven of Colombia’s military bases.

Bilateral relations had also deteriorated after Colombia attacked a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla camp in Ecuador in March 2008 without Ecuador’s permission. The attack killed 25 people, including Raul Reyes, a FARC leader.

Close Call

In his interview Silva also revealed that Colombia’s spy operations in Venezuela managed to locate the FARC’s second in command, Ivan Marquez (alias Luciano Marín Arango), and leaders of ELN Colombian guerrilla force, “very close” to the Colombian border.

An incursion by Colombian security forces into Venezuelan territory was planned to “extricate” Marquez, according to Silva. However, authorisation was blocked by Uribe on the consideration that “the political climate…wasn’t the most favourable.”

These events took place in the final weeks of the Uribe administration, in July 2010, when his government accused Venezuela of harbouring FARC and ELN encampments.

In response, Venezuelan President Chavez broke relations with Colombia. Chavez had previously stated that while guerrillas sometimes penetrated Venezuela’s difficult-to-patrol frontier with Colombia, this could not be used as a pretext to attack Venezuela.

In August this year Uribe also referred to the July 2010 incident, and said he had wanted to initiate a military operation in Venezuela but had “lacked time” as his presidency ended.

Gabriel Silva said that it isn’t known what would have happened between Colombia and Venezuela if the Colombian military operation to extricate Marquez had been executed. Marquez is now one of the FARC’s negotiators in peace talks with the Colombian government of Juan Manual Santos, which are taking place in Cuba.

In response to Silva’s comments, which contradict Uribe’s account of the July 2010 incident, Uribe has announced legal action against Silva.

Meanwhile Uribe renewed his criticism of his successor, President Santos, accusing him of going from a former “champion” opposed to the Venezuelan “dictatorship” to an “associate” of Chavez now.

Santos, who was also a defence minister under Uribe, has normalised and strengthened diplomatic relations with the Chavez administration since becoming  president of Colombia.