Chavez Denounces Colombian Paramilitary Activity in Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez denounced the presence of Colombian paramilitary groups operating in Venezuela with United States government support on his weekly Sunday talk show “Aló Presidente.”
Venezuela President Hugo Chavez during his TV show Aló Presidente on Sunday.

Mérida, February 12, 2008 ( — Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez denounced the presence of Colombian paramilitary groups operating in Venezuela with United States government support on his weekly Sunday talk show “Aló Presidente.” Chávez asserted that the zones most affected by the U.S.-designed plan to “fill us with paramilitaries” are the western border states of Táchira, Zulia, Apure, and Barinas, while Colombia is the base.

Paramilitaries impact the barrios of Caracas, as well, where they work mainly in civilian clothes and without heavy weaponry to co-opt local power dynamics, Chávez explained. This tactic is markedly different than that planned by 130 paramilitary fighters who were detained in May 2004 on a farm owned by opposition leader Roberto Alonso outside of Caracas, where they had been preparing a full-scale coup d’état against President Chávez, detainee testimonies revealed.

A principal source of paramilitary income is their control of 100% of Colombian heroine exports and 70% of Colombian cocaine exports, Azzellini claimed. In Colombia, giant drug cartels manage large quantities of the drugs, but in Venezuela paramilitaries deal smaller amounts in local communities to increase their leverage within the populations they are contracted to control. Chavez and Azzellini publicized this “open secret” at a time of heated opposition accusations that Chávez does not sufficiently cooperate in combating drug trafficking through Venezuelan territory.

Azzellini explained that the groups now in Venezuela are descendents of the United Self-defense of Colombia (AUC), a brutal paramilitary force formed in the 1980s by Colombian elites to assume the dirty work of the government, which was seeking to improve its dismal international human rights reputation. While the AUC tactic of “total terror” has been used in Colombian cities such as Medellín, paramilitaries now in Venezuela leverage local economic and political power more than sheer violence, according to Azzellini.

Nonetheless, paramilitaries in Venezuela are known for “social cleansing,” or the hired killing of local community members, says the Ezequiel Zamora National Farmers’ Front (FNCEZ), an organization that defends the rights of rural communities. Since an agrarian reform law favorable to rural workers was passed by the Chávez administration in 2001, paramilitaries have murdered 190 rural community members who dared to stand up to the owners of plantations, milk factories, and mines.

The most recent killings were last month, when Municipal Legislator Freddy Ascaño and Community Council Federation President Alfredo Montiel were executed by paramilitaries in their municipality of Tucaní, south of Lake Maracaibo in western Venezuela, the local population reported to the FNCEZ.

Paramilitary groups and their powerful contractors have also purchased farms beyond the border region of Venezuela, in the state of Guárico, the FNCEZ alleges. They use the lands for military training and the elaboration of their business in drugs, food, and gasoline contraband. Operations are facilitated by “miniscule sectors” of the local police, the National Guard, and other federal security forces that have been drawn into the paramilitary activity.

A declassified U.S. intelligence document from September 23, 1991, titled “Important Colombian Drug Traffickers,” implicates current Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and Uribe family members, as well as AUC leader Carlos Castaño, Azzellini revealed. The FNCEZ calls Uribe at best a “puppet” and more likely an active agent in the strengthening of paramilitary “state terrorism.”

However, President Chávez made no accusations Sunday of specific Colombian officials or President Uribe, who Chávez had sharply criticized during a recent dispute regarding humanitarian accords with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Meanwhile, Uribe observes a policy of non-responsiveness to Chavez’s comments.