Mérida, November 18th, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Wednesday, the Venezuelan government deported three suspected members of Colombian armed insurgent groups who are wanted by Bogotá. The move came the same day that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reaffirmed his government’s commitment to extraditing accused Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled to his native Venezuela – and not to the U.S. where he is also wanted on similar charges.
Colombia’s Santos confirmed on Wednesday that the Venezuelan “gesture” is part of the renewed bi-lateral relations between the neighboring countries.
Nilson Navarro Mojica and Priscila Ayala Mateus were detained on October 7th during an armed raid by Venezuela’s Penal, Criminal and Scientific Investigative Unit (CICPC) in which authorities secured the release of businessman Abraham Younes Haffar, kidnapped one month earlier.
No details are available yet as to the circumstances of Osvaldo Espinosa Varón’s arrest.
Mojica and Mateus are wanted in Colombia for supposed ties to the insurgent National Liberation Army (ELN), while Varón is accused of pertaining to the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP). All three had warrants out for their arrest by Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization.
In a statement released by Venezuela’s Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs, the Chávez government affirmed that the three had been arrested for, “crimes relating to kidnapping and resistance to authority, crimes against the public security of the nation, altering the peace and calm of the Venezuelan people.”
The government’s statement also referred to four other Colombians held on similar charges, stating that they would remain in Venezuela because the Colombian government “had not requested their extradition.”
Meanwhile in Bogotá, the Santos government expressed its approval of Venezuela’s decision.
“The Colombian government wants to express its great satisfaction with the decision made by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to hand over to our authorities [Mojico, Mateus and Barón],” stated Colombian Minister of Defense Rodrigo Rivera Salazar on Wednesday.
According to Salazar, the decision “marks a clear sign of cooperation by both governments in the fight against crimes affecting us on both sides of the border.”
According to Colombian daily newspaper El Universal, Mojica is accused of heading up the ELN’s Omaira Montoya Company, part of its Domingo Laín Front. The paper affirms that Mojica and his “sentimental partner” Mateus are both wanted in Colombia for ties to the ELN and charges of, “rebellion, aggravated homicide, kidnapping and robbery.”
With respect to Varón, the paper writes that he is accused of FARC-EP links since 1990, and that he is an important figure in the organization’s international financing.
According to Stephanie Hanson, of the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations:
“FARC and ELN were both founded in the 1960s, after Colombia’s two main political parties ended more than a decade of political violence and agreed to share power. In 1963, students, Catholic radicals, and left-wing intellectuals hoping to emulate Fidel Castro’s communist revolution in Cuba founded ELN. FARC formed in 1965, bringing together communist militants and peasant self-defense groups.
Both the ELN and the FARC have similar programs: Both say they represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy classes and oppose U.S. influence in Colombia, the privatization of natural resources, and multinational corporations. Both organizations are included on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
In January 2008, Chavez publicly rejected the U.S. and European Union classification of the FARC and ELN as terrorist groups and later called on the Colombian government to recognize the groups as “belligerent forces” subject to the Geneva Conventions. Chavez has also expressed concern over plans to increase U.S. military presence on Colombian bases, claiming it would lead to a “destabilization of the region.”
The New York Times (August 2nd, 2009) and TIME Magazine (May 16th, 2008) both reported on Colombian accusations during the Uribe government that Venezuela was directly supporting Colombia’s insurgent groups, citing uncorroborated evidence said to have been found on laptop computers that survived a Colombian bombing raid on a FARC-EP encampment in Ecuador. Santos, who was Colombia’s Minister of Defense at the time, authorized the raid.
Restored Venezuela-Colombia Relations
Relations between Venezuela and Colombia were severed in July after outgoing Colombian President Álvaro Uribe accused Venezuela of allowing the FARC to operate from its territory. Relations were restored when Santos took over the presidency in August.
Two meetings between Chávez and Santos have taken place since then, including one held earlier this month in Caracas in which Chávez affirmed that the two “are committed to not allowing anyone to derail us, independent of our political differences.”
Santos last week called Chávez his “new best friend,” and yesterday confirmed Colombia’s plans to extradite accused Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled to Venezuela instead of to the United States where he is also wanted on similar charges.
According to Colombian daily newspaper El Tiempo, the handing over of Mojica, Mateus and Varón by Venezuelan authorities is “one of the most significant gestures made in the new phase of bilateral relations.”