CARACAS, January 18, 2005—An emerging crisis between the Venezuelan and Colombian governments has continued to sour, as both sides traded accusations over the capture of Colombian guerilla representative Rodrgio Granda in Venezuelan territory. Attempts at damage control by both Venezuelan and Colombian foreign ministries has failed to cushion the sharp rhetoric of Venezuela’s President Chávez and President Uribe of Colombia.
Granda is a spokesman for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest of several Colombian armed guerilla groups. While attending a conference of Bolivarian Peoples being held in Caracas, Granda was captured on December 13, 2004 by members of Venezuela’s National Guard and Scientific Police (CIPC), apparently at the behest of Colombian officials. Colombian Foreign Minister Jorge Uribe admitted in a statement yesterday that his office paid out a reward for the capture Granda, though he did not specify an amount. Reports that the reward amounted to US$1.5 million could not be substantiated.
In an attempt at fueling the flames of a controversy that threatens to pit Venezuela and Colombia at odds for some time, Jorge Uribe offered to resign if it would help ease tensions. In an official statement yesterday, Jorge Uribe said, “If (my resignation) brings us closer to a solution, there would not be the least inconvenience.” However, the Colombian Foreign Minister left it up to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to decide whether he should resign or remain in his post.
Jorge Uribe’s Venezuelan counterpart, Alí Rodirguez Araque also tried to put a positive spin on the controversy in a statement to the press this morning, making it clear that a complete rupture of diplomatic relations with Colombia has not been planned, and that the Venezuelan government hopes that a compromise can be reached in the immediate future.
Last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recalled his ambassador to Colombia, vowing that official relations will remain frozen until Bogotá apologizes. According to statements made by Chávez and his minister of the interior, Granda was illegally kidnapped in Caracas in a complete breach of international law and Venezuelan sovereignty.
But the administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe maintains that it was Venezuela that violated Colombian sovereignty and not the other way around. In a statement given to reporters on January 16th at the Presidential Palace in Colombia, Uribe clarified that his government paid “rewards, not bribes” to Venezuelan military and police officials for the capture of Granda. Uribe continued, promising that his government would provide evidence of Venezuela’s ‘hospitality’ to Granda and other FARC “terrorists” wanted by the Colombian government.
Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izárra rejected this accusation in a press conference on Monday, reiterating that Granda was kidnapped in Venezuela. “His kidnapping, which was planned from Colombia and executed by officials of the [Venezuelan] National Guard, here in Venezuela, we consider to be an unacceptable violation of Venezuelan sovereignty,” said Izarra.
Izarra continued, noting that at the time of his capture, Granda was not wanted by the international police, Interpol. Venezuelan Minister of Justice and the Interior Jesse Chacón noted that Granda was not added to Interpol’s list of wanted criminals until January 9th, 2005. Colombian officials, however, maintain that Granda has been on Interpol’s list since 15 January, 2004.
Brazilian President Luiz Ignácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, Peruvian Foreign Minister Manuel Rodriguez have both offered to mediate the dispute. However, Chávez has made it clear that he will only meet with his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe and will no accept the interference of any other country since these affairs are of a strictly bilateral character.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, on the other hand, has scheduled a meeting with Brazilian President Lula for this Wednesday. According to Brazil’s foreign ministry, the agenda will include themes such as bilateral trade, Amazonian security, and regional integration, but will not include the diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela. Marco Aurelio García, international affairs advisor to President Lula, did not, however, deny the possibility that the crisis between Caracas and Bogotá might be addressed in Wednesday’s meeting.
In a strange coincidence, four Colombian police officers were arrested in the Venezuelan city of Maracay, on December 9th less than a week before Granda’s capture, as suspected spies. The officers were apparently involved in an undercover drug-trafficking investigation in conjunction with Venezuelan military personnel, and were released on December 22nd. The Colombian embassy said at the time that Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Jorge Garcia Carneiro and Colombian Ambassador Enrique Vargas "agreed on the need to strengthen coordination between the authorities of both countries," according to Reuters.
According to Venezuelan officials, the FARC is able to infiltrate the Venezuelan border because Colombia has not stationed an adequate number of soldiers in the frontier region, reported Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. For its part, Venezuela has over 20,000 soldiers stationed on the 1,400 mile-long Venezuelan-Colombian frontier, which is far more than Colombia has stationed there.