On Feb. 02, 2004, The Miami Herald ran an editorial about petitions for asylum by two Venezuelan rebel military officers who escaped to Miami after investigations linked them to terrorist attacks against the diplomatic buildings of Colombia and Spain in Caracas in February 2003.
Venezuelan National Guard lieutenants José Antonio Colina and German Rodolfo Varela belong to a group of military officials that rebelled against the Venezuelan government by holding a protest camp in a Caracas plaza and making public speeches calling for the overthrow of the government.
The Herald editorial’s overall tone is one in defense of the terror suspects. The suspects’ political opposition to the government of President Hugo Chavez is obviously the reason why the newspaper bothered to address the case in an editorial.
The Herald’s editorial line opposed to the twice-elected Venezuelan President is well known, and an editorial defending some of Chavez’s political opponents should not surprise anyone. The Herald runs anti-Chavez news and articles on a daily basis. However, this case deserves special attention because even though the Herald claims to make “no judgment on whether these men are guilty or innocent”, it is clear that they are trying to persuade or to pressure U.S. immigration officers to grant asylum to two individuals who face serious terrorism charges.
The editorial calls for US Immigration officials to “give them an opportunity to make their case for asylum”, as if this was not the normal procedure in these cases. Telling the US Citizenship and Immigration Services how to do their job is inappropriate. The Herald itself reported in January 22nd that there were 899 applications for asylum by Venezuelans in 2003, of which 168 were accepted.
The issue is a “hot potato for the US government … no one wants to put at risk relations with one of our largest suppliers of petroleum,” continues the editorial, putting the U.S. on the defensive in another clear attempt at pressuring US officials. Perhaps a phrase such as “don’t let the oil distract you from following US law,” would have been more direct. However, Venezuela’s increasing sales of oil to the US in spite of the well known efforts by the Bush administration to destabilize the government of Venezuela makes it obvious that granting asylum to these individuals won’t stop that flow of oil. Giving shelter to more terror suspects in U.S. soil would just help expose the U.S. government’s double standards when dealing with terrorism.
Additionally, the Herald claims that the anti-Chavez military protest camp held at the Caracas plaza where the two terror suspects participated, “continues to this day”. As inhabitants of Caracas well know, and as reported by the Venezuelan media, the Plaza Altamira no longer houses the rebel camp. This lie can be attributed to simple lack of information, but it is inexcusable for a newspaper that covers Venezuelan developments on a daily basis. On a side note, the low attendance at the political acts staged there in months prior to its dismantling, evidences an overall disagreement with the criminal and morally questionable activities that according to court witness testimony, are linked to the camp.
But perhaps the most disturbing paragraph of the Herald’s piece includes suggestions for the terror suspects on possible arguments to make in their asylum request, and suggests that the Death Penalty is practiced in Venezuela; “They may even choose to ask for protection from deportation under the Convention Against Torture. They could argue that they would be executed in Venezuela on trumped-up charges” In contrast to the U.S., Venezuela stands proud as one of the first countries in the world to abolish Capital Punishment by doing so in 1899.
With regard to the charges, the evidence presented by the prosecutor is compelling enough to prompt Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice to back the detention request for extradition recently made by the Venezuelan government against these two individuals. The Supreme Court of Justice is clearly not controlled or influenced by the Executive branch, as evidenced by the Court’s exoneration of all charges of those involved in the 2002 coup d’etat against Chavez.
Newspapers must have total freedom to express their views about particular issues, but making false claims such as hinting at the existence of the Death Penalty in Venezuela is a matter that perhaps should merit an official request for apology and retraction by Venezuela’s government. There is clear intent here to harm Venezuela’s democratic government, not with facts, but with lies.
The Herald is right on something though, calling people “terrorists” doesn’t make them so, as the three children, aged 13 to 15, recently released from the U.S. terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, can assert. In this case, Venezuelan authorities base their claims on the results of police investigations, witnesses testimony and a court order, most of which have been made public and it is verifiable, unlike recent claims made by authorities in some other countries to justify their military actions.
With this incident, the Herald does a dirty job for Venezuelan opposition leaders who have abstained from defending these individuals publicly as part of an insincere effort to distance themselves from radical sectors of the opposition and to try to clear their image as coup plotters.
Siding with terrorism suspects just on the basis of their opposition to Chavez makes a dent on the Herald’s already damaged credibility as a reliable source of news and opinion on contemporary Venezuelan issues.
Those who wish to get some background on the case might want to read Terror Attacks and Murders are Perpetrated by Anti-Chavez Militants, According to Investigations (www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1118) or check out some more related information at www.venezuelanalysis.com/antichavezterror/
If you disagree with the Herald’s position on this case, write a letter to the editor or contact them at
Letters to the Editor
The Miami Herald’s editorial follows:
Venezuela’s request for extradition
Our opinion: Let the accused make their cases for asylum
Editorial in the Miami Herald
Mon, Feb. 02, 2004
Are they terrorists on the lam or victims fleeing political persecution? That is the key question in the cases of Venezuelans Germán Varela and José Antonio Colina. The Venezuelan government has asked the United States to extradite the two men to face charges in Caracas. But the two vocal critics of President Hugo Chávez have asked for U.S. asylum.
Regardless of the merits of the charges against them or of the extradition request, the first priority must be to give them an opportunity to make their case for asylum. International law requires it. Morality allows for no other course. The United States mustn’t return people to countries when they are proven to have a well-founded fear of persecution, or where they could be executed on false charges.
A hot potato
The situation is a hot potato for the U.S. government. President Chávez hasn’t endeared himself to U.S. diplomats with his divisive rhetoric and close alliance with Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro. And no one wants to put at risk relations with one of our largest suppliers of petroleum.
Messrs. Varela and Colina have been held at Krome detention center since their arrival in December. They are former National Guard lieutenants and were among some 100 disaffected military officers who occupied a Caracas plaza last year to start an anti-Chávez protest that continues to this day. Moreover, Mr. Varela’s father is a well-known opposition leader.
Venezuelan officials say Messrs. Varela and Colina are “terrorists.” Prosecutors have accused them of being involved in last year’s bombings of the Colombian Consulate and Spanish Embassy in Caracas and in a 2002 shooting spree that left three people dead.
We make no judgment on whether these men are guilty or innocent of these charges, nor on the merits of their asylum cases. They themselves will have to provide the evidence to persuade immigration authorities that they should be granted asylum. It won’t be easy. In fact, anyone found to have persecuted others is barred from getting asylum. The men can’t just argue that they have been framed in Venezuela; they must show convincing proof. The Department of Homeland Security investigators may well find evidence to the contrary.
Messrs. Varela and Colina may even choose to ask for protection from deportation under the Convention Against Torture. They could argue that they would be executed in Venezuela on trumped-up charges. If they’re persuasive, they wouldn’t be returned to Venezuela; but they might not be released from detention here, either, if the United States believed they were security risks of any kind.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government needs to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt for extradition. Calling people “terrorists” doesn’t make them so.
Martin Sanchez is co-editor Venezuelanalysis.com