Venezuela: Colombians Massacred Near Border Were Paramilitaries
By Kiraz Janicke
November 02, 2009 - Venezuelanalysis.com
Venezuelan Vice President and Defence Minister Ramón Carrizales claimed on Sunday that he had evidence that a group of Colombians who were kidnapped and assassinated a week earlier in Venezuelan territory were part of a "paramilitary infiltration plan" that aimed to destabilise the socialist government of President Hugo Chavez.
The bodies of 9 Colombians, one Peruvian and one Venezuelan kidnapped on October 11 during an amateur football match were found executed on October 24, in the border state of Tachira. They are believed to have been executed by an illegal armed group operating in the region.
Carrizales appeared on the television show José Vicente Hoy, hosted by former Vice President José Vicente Rangel and broadcast by private TV channel Televen. He told Rangel that the victims, known as "Los Maniceros" or peanut vendors, because they apparently made a living selling peanuts, "had all the characteristics of a paramilitary group in training, which was being consolidated with another goal."
"The threat from Colombia and imperialism is materialising," said Carrizales, "but we are also preparing to defend our territory to ensure our sovereignty."
The families of the victims have denied that they were involved in paramilitary activity.
Opposition governor of Tachira, Cesar Perez Vivas blamed the massacre on the National Liberation Army (ELN), a leftist guerrilla group from Colombia, and accused the Chavez government of losing control of the border region.
In turn, Carrizales sustained that the governors of Tachira and Zulia, another border state controlled by the opposition, are responsible for the security of their states, because they manage the regional police forces and security resources, "which is not to say that as a national government we're evading our responsibilities."
The region bordering Colombia is one the most conflict-ridden areas of Venezuela. Authorities say that Colombian paramilitary groups, leftist guerrillas, drug traffickers and extortion rings all operate there.
Carrizales also accused Perez Vivas, who is from the right-wing COPEI party, of "complicity" in forming an alleged "logistics base" for paramilitary operations in the region.
Earlier this year, Perez Vivas, together with representatives from business organizations and private security firms, created a parallel police force called the "Regional Human Security Council," in Tachira.
The "Regional Human Security Council" and a previous separatist referendum on autonomy promoted by Perez Vivas were ruled unconstitutional by the Venezuela Supreme Court.
Amidst reports of increased paramilitary activity after the massacre, the Venezuelan government ordered the deployment of 515 border guards to Tachira on Friday, in order to strengthen security in the region.
Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami, in an interview with state-run VTV, announced that eight Colombians including a known paramilitary leader, Jorge Roa Bolanos were captured in San Antonio del Tachira, a city 850 kilometres west of the Venezuelan capital on Friday. El Aissami did not say whether the arrests were related to the massacre.
"These people were intimidating the local population… they were handing out fliers, as the paramilitaries do, saying that social cleansing was going to start. That is to say, murders and disappearances," he said.
Local media reported that as many as one thousand business establishments shuttered their doors. However, the minister said just a "limited number" had closed. "Once we strengthened the [military and police] presence, little by little calm and daily activities were restored," El Aissami said in San Antonio.
The Venezuelan government will take strong measures against paramilitary groups operating in its territory, because it will not allow foreign forces linked to the U.S. Empire and the Colombian Army to generate fear amongst Venezuelan citizens, the minister declared.
Relations between Venezuela and Colombia, which share a 2,219 km land border, have deteriorated since Colombia agreed to a deal that expands the US troop presence on its military bases. Venezuela says the agreement is a threat to its Bolivarian revolution and to peace in the region.
The incidents on the border, together with the recent arrest of three men accused of spying for the Colombian intelligence service last month have exacerbated these tensions.
In a report to Venezuela's National Assembly El Aissami presented what he described as "irrefutable evidence" that Colombia had sent spies to Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba as part of a CIA operation.
The documents allegedly originating from Colombia's DAS were discovered following the apprehension of the suspected Colombian spies on Venezuelan soil, El Aissami said.
Colombia denied the accusations and on Saturday announced the expulsion of a Venezuelan National Guard member visiting its territory.
Bogota has also accused its neighbour of arming leftist Colombian guerrilla groups – a charge that Venezuela emphatically denies – and not doing enough to stop drug trafficking.
Venezuela has responded that Colombia is the largest cocaine producer, accounting for 60% of global production and that its internal problems are spilling over into Venezuelan territory.
Trade between the two countries has also declined considerably after Chavez vowed to reduce trade with his neighbour following the US military agreement.
Although Venezuela remains the second largest destination for Colombian exports after the U.S., exports to Venezuela in September declined 49.5% according to a report by Colombia's Statistics Department due to the blockade imposed on Colombian agricultural products by Venezuelan authorities.
Venezuela aims to substitute all imports of raw materials from its neighbour by the end of this year.