[ RadSafe ] Colombia Is Flashpoint in Chávez’s Feud With U.S.

Clayton J Bradt cjb01 at health.state.ny.us
Wed Mar 5 12:22:23 CST 2008

March 5, 2008

Colombia Is Flashpoint in Chávez’s Feud With U.S.

CARACAS, Venezuela — In the four days since Colombian forces crossed into
Ecuador and killed a guerrilla leader taking refuge there, tensions between
Colombia — Washington’s top regional ally — and its leftist neighbors have
erupted, highlighting the fact that Colombia and its policies are
increasingly viewed here as American proxies.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela called Colombia the “Israel of Latin
America” saying both countries bombed and invaded neighbors by invoking “a
supposed right to defense” that he said was ordered by the United States.
He has sent troops to the border and expelled Colombia’s ambassador. His
agriculture minister said Tuesday that the frontier with Colombia would be
closed to stop commerce.
In turn, Colombia said it would file charges against Mr. Chávez with the
International Criminal Court, accusing him of assisting Colombia’s largest
rebel group.
Meanwhile, President Bush fiercely defended Colombia, which receives $600
million a year in American aid to fight the leftist rebels and drug
trafficking. He used the diplomatic crisis to push Congress to approve a
Colombia trade deal that has languished for more than a year because of
concerns among senior Democrats over human rights abuses there.
Mr. Bush, who telephoned Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe, on Tuesday
morning, told reporters at the White House, “I told the president that
America fully supports Colombia’s democracy, and that we firmly oppose any
acts of aggression that could destabilize the region.”
Employing a new strategy to portray the trade agreement with Colombia as an
issue of national security, Mr. Bush used the occasion to call on Congress
to ratify the deal as a way of countering leaders like Mr. Chávez who had
emerged as scourges of American policies in the region.
“If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down our close ally, we
will damage our credibility in the region and we will embolden the
demagogues in our hemisphere,” Mr. Bush said.
Although Colombia violated the sovereignty of Ecuador, not Venezuela, in
its raid, Mr. Chávez, an ally of Ecuador, has taken the lead in accusing
Colombia of being an American stooge. That has been a favorite theme of
his, especially since November, when Colombia abruptly withdrew support for
Mr. Chávez’s mediation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
Adding to the tensions on Tuesday, Colombia’s vice president, Francisco
Santos, said Colombian forces had found evidence that the FARC had been
seeking the ingredients to make a radioactive dirty bomb.
Material found on a laptop computer recovered in the raid into Ecuador
provided the basis for Mr. Santos’s accusations about a dirty bomb, a
weapon that combines highly radioactive material with conventional
explosives to disperse deadly dust that people would inhale.
“This shows that these terrorist groups, supported by the economic power
provided by drug trafficking, constitute a grave threat not just to our
country but to the entire Andean region and Latin America,” Mr. Santos said
at a United Nations disarmament meeting in Geneva, in a statement that was
posted in Spanish on the conference’s Web site. The rebels were
“negotiating to get radioactive material, the primary base for making dirty
weapons of destruction and terrorism,” he said.
It was unclear from Mr. Santos’s statement with whom the rebels were
Mr. Santos made his claim based on information provided Monday in Bogotá by
Colombia’s national police chief about the FARC’s negotiations for 110
pounds of uranium, obtained from the laptop computer of Raúl Reyes, the
senior FARC commander killed Saturday in Ecuador.
Colombia’s government also said this week that it had obtained information
on the computer showing that Mr. Chávez was channeling $300 million to the
FARC. The information is the basis for its plan to file charges against Mr.
Chávez in the International Criminal Court, Mr. Uribe said Tuesday in
The tensions produced a heated diplomatic exchange during an emergency
meeting convened Tuesday by the Organization of American States in
Washington, during which several countries denounced Colombia’s actions as
a violation of Ecuadorean sovereignty.
Foreign Minister María Isabel Salvador of Ecuador demanded that the O.A.S.
formally condemn the actions by Colombia, dispatch a fact-finding mission
to investigate the events on its border, and call a meeting of regional
foreign ministers to consider further action.
“Ecuador rejects any effort by Colombia to avoid responsibility for
violating its sovereignty, which is a right that secures the peaceful
coexistence of all nations,” Ms. Salvador said. “Diplomatic apologies are
not enough.”
An apology was not all she got. Ambassador Camilo Ospina of Colombia
strongly denied accusations that Colombian troops used military force on
Ecuadorean territory, saying that aircraft fired into Ecuador from the
Colombian side of the border.
He acknowledged that after the bombing, Colombian forces entered Ecuador to
examine the FARC camp. And what they found, he said, was evidence that
Ecuador had been harboring members of the FARC.
Mr. Ospina said that, in addition to the alleged payment by Mr. Chavez, the
information found on the laptops that Colombian troops seized indicated
that President Rafael Correa’s government had met several times with the
FARC and allowed them to set up permanent bases in Ecuadorean territory. He
said Colombia would seek charges against President Chávez at the
International Criminal Court.
“There is not the least doubt that the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador
have been negotiating with terrorists,” Mr. Ospina said. “Allowing
terrorist groups to keep camps on their territory border for the planning
and execution of terrorist acts is a crime and a clear violation of
international treaties.” Television in Venezuela also broadcast images of
tank battalions heading to the border, following a threat by Mr. Chávez on
Sunday that Colombia would be inviting war if it carried out an incursion
in Venezuela similar to the one on Saturday in a remote Amazonian province
of Ecuador that killed 21 guerrillas.
Mr. Chávez’s threat, which included a taunt that Venezuela would use its
Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets to attack Colombia, has been interpreted
here as a sign that Mr. Chávez stands ready to defend the FARC, a group
classified as terrorists in the United States and Europe that is reported
to operate without hindrance along Venezuela’s porous 1,300-mile border
with Colombia.
Contrasting the FARC’s image in Colombia as a group that finances itself
through cocaine trafficking and abductions and still plants land mines in
rural areas, documentaries on state television here in Venezuela portray
the FARC as an insurgency born out of efforts to combat Colombia’s moneyed
On his Sunday television program, Mr. Chávez went further by calling for a
minute of silence to mourn for Mr. Reyes, the fallen guerrilla leader whose
real name was Luis Édgar Devia.
“Chávez is effectively supporting narcoterrorists who take refuge in
Venezuela and Ecuador while saying a democratically elected leader of
Colombia cannot fight back,” said Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan
ambassador to the United Nations who is a vocal critic of Mr. Chávez.
Still, Mr. Uribe, Colombia’s president, is struggling to convince other
countries in the region of Colombia’s need to carry out the foray into
Ecuador. Even if they might agree with Mr. Uribe in private, leaders are
hesitant to publicly back him, given sensitivities over territorial
“Uribe hasn’t developed much of a foreign policy strategy beyond depending
on the United States,” said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at
Inter-American Dialogue, a research group in Washington. “This puts him
into a bit of a bind.”
Indeed, few places can profess such longstanding support for the United
States as Colombia, which sent battalions to fight alongside American
troops in the Korean War.
Despite remaining the largest supplier of cocaine to the United States,
Colombia has emerged as a top ally of the Bush administration, with
hundreds of American military advisers welcomed there to assist Colombian
security forces in counterinsurgency and antinarcotics operations.
But just as Mr. Uribe may be suffering because of his close ties to the
United States, he may also be fortunate to have Mr. Chávez as his main
adversary. Other countries in the region are increasingly uncomfortable
with Mr. Chávez’s belligerence as concern emerges over Venezuela’s
intervention in a matter involving Colombia and Ecuador.
“South America is not prepared for conflicts, and we do not want
conflicts,” Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, told reporters
in Brazil on Tuesday, explaining that his government would try to negotiate
a solution to the dispute along with other countries.

Jenny Carolina González contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia, Uta
Harnischfeger from Zurich and Ginger Thompson from Washington.
110lbs. of U-238 for a dirty bomb? That's about 16 mCi.  How many DU
penetrators is that? 110lbs. of cocaine is a LOT more deadly. (I wouldn't
want to be around when that cocaine bomb goes off - or would I?) Any way it
can't be 110lbs. of U-235 for a dirty bomb, unless the FARC are really
stupid.  So I guess the dirty bomb story is just that, a story. I wonder
whose idea it was?

Clayton J. Bradt
dutchbradt at hughes.net
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