Over last weekend Uribe travelled to the Colombia-Venezuela border town of Cucuta and the North-eastern province of Maicao, where he met with members of the Venezuelan opposition, including former governor of Tachira State, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz and representatives from Venezuelan business federation, FEDECAMARAS. Whilst some of the meetings were held behind closed doors, Uribe also gave a poorly attended public speech, accusing Venezuela’s current democratically elected leader, Hugo Chavez, of heading a “dictatorship” in the country.
“Venezuela has become the armed camp of the Chavista dictatorship,” said Uribe, “If Cuba is a social and economic failure, why does Venezuela insist in following that model?” he added.
During the meeting, the former president also handed over a list of 19 “abuses” of the Chavez government to the Venezuelan opposition, including; protecting drugs kingpins, governing over an increase in murders and kidnappings, violence in the frontier region, dismantling the economy and food sovereignty, manipulation of the judicial system, inciting a “coup” in Paraguay and “sponsoring” Telesur; a regional news network which Uribe claims is protecting terrorism and “intimidating” the few “remaining democratic media” outlets in the region. He also claimed that representatives of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), had been present at the recent Sao Paulo Forum in Caracas, and likened the founder of the guerrilla organisation to “Hitler”.
The meeting is the culmination of an increasingly public and hostile campaign against the Chavez government over the past few months, in which Uribe has used the private media and his twitter account as a platform to broadcast unsubstantiated accusations against Chavez, who he has branded a “murderer” and a “dictator”. Following an outburst on his Twitter account earlier in May this year, Uribe announced that he would take his “campaign” against the Venezuelan government to the Venezuelan-Colombian border.
Opposition and Uribe
Despite attempts by current opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, to distance himself from Uribe over the past few months, the former Colombian president has been exceptionally vocal in his support for the presidential hopeful, including publishing favourable messages on his twitter account under the title “#CaprilesPresident”.
Although Capriles has publically rejected Uribe’s “interference” in Venezuela’s internal affairs, the opposition allegedly asked the former Colombian president to become their “international spokesperson” to help defend “the results of the elections on October 7th” during last weekend’s meeting.
Uribe is reported to have had connections to the Venezuelan rightwing since his time in office, and has met numerous times with leaders of the MUD over the past year. The MUD’s presidential candidate, Capriles, also stirred controversy earlier this year in March, when he flew to Colombia to meet with members of the Colombian rightwing and international and Colombian businessmen who are “willing to invest” in Venezuela. He denied reports at the time that claim he had met with Uribe.
Despite these connections, Uribe maintains that he is not involved in “any campaign” or supporting “either candidate”.
“We are not intervening in politics, we do not support either candidate, nor are we in any campaign. Our only campaign is that to denounce the Chavista dictatorship’s trampling of democratic values and protection of terrorism, a terrorism which knows no frontiers,” stated Uribe from Maicao.
Uribe’s latest round of comments has caused a backlash in both Colombia and Venezuela, with activists in Tachira alleging that the former Colombian President is currently financing the opposition campaign in the Venezuelan frontier state.
“We know that he is behind the financing of the campaign in Tachira, behind the mobilisations in Tachira, he is provoking violence,” said Ismel Serrano, the coordinator of the PSUV’s Carabobo election campaign in the area.
Members of government, including Diosdado Cabello, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly and Vice-president of Venezuela’s governing socialist party (PSUV), have also come out in response to Uribe’s comments, making reference to Colombian politician’s dubious human rights record during his time as president (2002-2010).
“And who is Uribe? A global drugs kingpin and paramilitary, not just in Colombia, he is a criminal that wants to bring violence to Venezuela,” stated Cabello.
Uribe has courted controversy throughout his political career and is alleged to have cultivated links to powerful paramilitary and narco-trafficking organisations during his time as governor of Antioquia from 1995-1998. Whilst members of his family, including his niece, are currently facing extradition to the United States on drugs related charges, Uribe himself was named on a Defense Department intelligence report published by Newsweek magazine in 2004, which cited him as being 82 in a list of 104 prominent figures within the Colombian cocaine trade. Mass graves of up to 2000 people have also been discovered in Colombia from during Uribe’s time as president.
Although diplomatic ties were severed between Colombia and Venezuela in July 2010, Venezuela has enjoyed an improved relationship with the government of Manuel Santos, Uribe’s successor, who took office in August in 2010. Santos has frequently stated over the past few months that he considers Chavez to be a force of “stability” in the region.