VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT DENOUNCES SMEAR CAMPAIGN
The Venezuelan president alleges that, as a result of his opposition to Colombia’s anti-drug programme with strong financial and military backing from the United States, a campaign to discredit him has been ‘orchestrated by Bogota, Washington and Miami’, including allegations that he supported guerrilla and rebel groups in other Latin American countries.
By Andres Canizalez
Caracas: Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez insisted on 7 December that an international campaign is underway to discredit him, ‘orchestrated by Bogota, Washington and Miami’, because of his opposition to ‘Plan Colombia’, an anti-narcotics strategy.
Chavez affirmed that ‘Bogota’s boorish oligarchy’ is responsible for the campaign, targeting him for his rejection of its programme to fight drug trafficking - soon to be launched by the Andres Pastrana government in Colombia with strong financial and military backing from the United States.
He also accused the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs, Peter Romero, of being an ‘international agitator’, because of criticisms that the US official made about Chavez in The Miami Herald newspaper. ‘I am disappointed that the US has a professional agitator as a high official,’ Chavez said, adding that he had requested ‘official explanations’ from the US embassy in Caracas on Romero’s comments.
According to the US-based daily, Romero said that Washington has information about the Venezuelan president’s support for indigenous leaders in Bolivia who organised widespread protests there in September, and for the Ecuadorian military officials who led the movement to remove President Jamil Mahuad in January.
‘If I said now that Venezuela fully supports Plan Colombia, I am sure that all these elements would disappear,’ the president told a 7 December video-conference with journalists in Brazil, Colombia, the USA and Caracas.
Relations between the Chavez and Pastrana governments grew especially tense after guerrilla leaders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) participated in a seminar organised in November by Venezuela’s representatives in the Latin American Parliament. The situation led both countries to recall their respective ambassadors ‘for consultation’.
The Miami Herald also reported on 5 December that the Andean region is worried by Chavez’s attempts to export his ‘social revolution’, and by his government’s ties with the Colombian guerrillas.
Romero ‘has no idea of the role he is playing, or he does, and has a hidden agenda’, the Venezuelan president said regarding the newspaper’s interview of the US official.
‘It is not the first time (The Miami Herald) has fabricated things,’ he said, stressing that he agreed with his counterpart in Cuba, President Fidel Castro, who said the newspaper is part ‘of the Cuban-American mafia’.
Chavez also outlined his views on the situation with Colombia in an extensive presentation during the four-hour press conference, which included media archives and rifles.
The president said there had also been a campaign in 1995 to link him with Colombian guerrilla groups, and showed examples of publications, including the Venezuelan magazines Cambio and Semana from that year.
He also provided for viewing the rifles used by the Venezuelan armed forces, saying that their serial numbers allegedly indicated they had been in the hands of the Colombian rebels. But he asserted that such reports were ‘a lie, because here (the rifles) are, and they have been here for more than 20 years’.
In his opinion, these elements and the ‘lies’ about his alleged aid to the Bolivian indigenous movement and the military in Ecuador, are part of the ‘internationally orchestrated campaign that has great resonance in many countries’. Chavez categorically denied that he personally knows, or that his government has ever been linked with, the Bolivian peasant leader Felipe Quispe or the former rebel colonel in Ecuador, Lucio Gutierrez.
During the 7 December press conference, Chavez maintained a conciliatory tone when talking about Colombia, despite his denunciations. He indicated that if the Colombian ambassador returns to Caracas, his government would take similar steps towards returning bilateral relations to normal.
However, he said, the Venezuelan government would continue to reject Plan Colombia. ‘The conflict is internal for Colombia, but it undeniably affects all neighbouring countries,’ he stressed. He called on the Colombian government to take a closer look at its $7 billion anti-drug programme and its heavy military component, largely influenced by the USA.
Chavez commented that he had stated his position during a recent conference with the head of the US army’s Southern Command, Gen. Peter Pace, in Caracas.
‘We are essentially concerned that the peace process will fail. If they seek negotiations for peace in the country, are they going to do so with a plan that includes reinforcing the military?’ wondered the Venezuelan president. - Third World Network Features/IPS
About the writer: Andres Canizalez is a correspondent for Inter Press Service, with whose permission the above article had been reprinted.