VENEZUELA, COLOMBIA, US, FARC: Let’s get straight on facts and context

Posted on January 24, 2008

After reading a few commentaries that chastise (gently and not so gently) President Chavez for requesting other governments to quit referring to the FARC as a terrorist organization and to support instead a “belligerent status” for it, opening the door for real political movement on this issue in Colombia, I am sharing two important articles.

The first article, from which I have provided an excerpt and a link to the full article, gives the reasoning behind Chavez’ request for “belligerent status” for FARC and ELN. By the way, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister announced yesterday that her government is calling for doing away with the “terrorist” status appellation as well.

The second article, which I have pasted here in its entirety, provides the best analysis I have found on the topic and offers critical context for considering this issue, especially given US intentions and its stranglehold over the Colombian government.

Venezuelan Legislature Supports Belligerent Status for Colombian Rebels
January 19th 2008, by Kiraz Janicke –

“Chavez argues recognition of the guerrillas as a “belligerent force” would open the path to peace and require the guerrillas to abide by the Geneva Protocols by desisting from using such methods as hostage taking and terrorist acts against civilians.

Historically, rebel groups seeking to overthrow governments or to secede from a state have sought “belligerent status”-as it accords a legal standing similar to that of a government, including diplomatic recognition and activates the law of international armed conflict for both sides.

According to international law experts, Ewen Allison and Robert K. Goldman, in the book “Crimes of War,” a rebel group gained belligerent status based on the 1949 Geneva Conventions “when all of the following had occurred: it controlled territory in the State against which it was rebelling; it declared independence, if its goal was secession; it had well-organized armed forces; it began hostilities against the government; and, importantly, the government recognized it as a belligerent.”

International Red Cross spokesperson in Colombia, Yves Heller on Wednesday however, classified the situation in Colombia as an “internal armed conflict”, this effectively side steps the issue of recognition but requires both parties – the government and the guerrillas – to abide by a distinct body of humanitarian law crystallized in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocol II in 1977.

While belligerent status would make the guerillas accountable to international human rights provisions in the Geneva Protocols, it also has political implications that the Colombian government does not want to cede such as recognition of FARC and ELN control over huge swathes of Colombian territory.

The Colombian government also does not recognize that there is an “internal armed conflict” in the country, rather, since 2001 it has classified these groups as a “terrorist organizations.” eend of EXCERPT

January 24-30, 2008…

Colombia, Venezuela and the guerrillas

With no wish to offend anyone

By Eduardo Dimas
Read Spanish Version

The news was sent to me by a friend, by e-mail: A call had been made to
stage demonstrations against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) on Feb. 4, in all public squares in the world named after Liberator
Simón Bolívar.

I don’t know how many public squares of that type exist on earth, but it
must be an appreciable number. My friend received the information, which has
already appeared in all the media in Latin America and Europe, from an
acquaintance of his in Venezuela, a member of the opposition to the
Bolivarian Revolution.

Knowing the source, one thinks about other things, all related but
different. Will the demonstrations be against the FARC or against Hugo
Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution? Or will they be against Chávez’s
attempts to achieve the release of the persons who are in the hands of the
guerrilla organizations? Those attempts do not please the Empire.

Watch out, because the origin of the summons is very strange. Apparently,
it comes from an impartial element. But we all know that impartiality in
politics is not abundant and sometimes we play the role of “useful fools”
without realizing it.

Is it correct or fair to demonstrate against the FARC? Wouldn’t it be better
to stage a major demonstration in all Bolivarian public squares on earth,
calling for peace and reconciliation in Colombia? That, in the end, is
what’s best for Colombia. And it is also the principal objective of Chávez’s
effort, when he asks for an exchange of prisoners and recognition of the
guerrilla movements as belligerents.

The FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have existed for more than
40 years. They control extensive areas of the country. Altogether, it is
estimated that they have more than 30,000 armed fighters, which means they
enjoy a broad base of popular support.

It is the only way for these groups to have survived for so long the
Colombian Army’s big military campaigns, funded and advised by the United
States for years. Both organizations have political and economic programs to
solve the pressing problems that affect the people of Colombia, whose index
of poverty is high.

The accusations of terrorism leveled at the guerrillas could, in my opinion,
be also applied to some military and repressive procedures conducted by the
various governments in Colombia. Except that, in that case, we’d have to
call them state-sponsored terrorism, rightly enough. Not to mention those
governments’ known links to drug trafficking, supported by the United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), whose horrendous crimes are well
known by international public opinion.

According to Clara Rojas and Consuelo González, during the process that led
to their release, the Colombian Army increased the bombing and operations in
the zone where they were located, endangering their lives. For that reason,
it became necessary to postpone their handover to the international
commission, from Dec. 31 to Jan. 10.

Was the objective of the Colombian government to facilitate the release of
the kidnapped women or to hinder it? Later, it was learned that the
government had for months been in custody of the boy Emmanuel, son of Clara
Rojas, because it had found the family that was caring for him. However, the
government did not announce that information until the last minute. Why?

With all respect, I don’t think that such a position can be justified by the
government’s rights and sovereignty. The same applies to the FARC. They said
they were going to release a 4-year-old boy born in captivity — which
motivated Chávez to name the rescue operation “Emmanuel” — but it later
turned out the boy was not in the FARC’s hands. Why?

Aside from the mutual mistrust, which has historical roots, the
participation of several Latin American and European governments in the
operation deserved greater compliance by both parties, especially the
Colombian government.

Even before the two women were released, President Álvaro Uribe decided to
call an end to the efforts of all the governments involved. Why? Later,
(he had no alternative) he agreed that the women should be released by the
FARC in Colombian territory, in the presence of a commission formed by
representatives of the International Red Cross, and the Venezuelan and
Cuban governments.

In the entire process, there are many “obscure” points, a discussion of
which would be simply speculative, but that’s not the objective of this
article. An element that some question and others praise is Chávez’s
insistence in asking the Colombian government to grant the guerrilla
movements the status of “belligerent organizations” and stop describing them
as “terrorists.”

It wasn’t Uribe’s government that called the FARC and the ELN “terrorists.”
It was the administration of Andrés Pastrana, in late 2001, after the Sept.
11 attacks, and after President W. Bush announced his “total war” on the
terrorism that has committed so many crimes and inflicted so much damage to
the prestige of the United States.

If you have a good memory, you will recall that a few years ago peace talks
were held between the FARC and the government in the city of San Miguel del
Caguán. The reason wielded by Pastrana to call off the talks was that the
FARC had performed some unilateral actions that led to the death of a
considerable number of civilians.

However, some reports indicate that the guerrillas were forced to defend
themselves from the attacks of the AUC, a tool of the Colombian oligarchy,
as well as attacks from high military officers and the U.S. government
itself, all of which were intent on wiping out the guerrilla movement. Some
sources say that the attacks were a way to halt the talks and justify the
appellation of the guerrillas as “terrorists”.

It is difficult to think, therefore, that Chávez’s call will fall into
receptive ears among the principal executives in the Colombian government
and the top leaders of the Colombian Army. Even less receptive is the U.S.
government, which refused to acknowledge Chávez’s role in the release of the
two women.

Several Colombian media, linked mostly to the oligarchy, have accused Chávez
of “meddling in Colombia’s domestic affairs” and say he has violated
“the principle of non-interference.” Others, with better intentions, have
described Chávez’s proposal as “undue intromission” into Colombia’s domestic
affairs. As far as I know, the only thing Chávez has done is expressing a
proposal with his habitual vehemence.

Chávez even asked the Venezuelan National Assembly to support that request
and urged the rest of the world’s governments to echo it. Immediately, the
Colombian government responded that “under no circumstance” will it grant
the guerrilla groups “the status of belligerents.”

The fact is that, according to Colombian law, to establish negotiations with
the guerrilla movements it is not necessary to grant them that status. For
several years now, the government and the ELN have held peace talks in Cuba
— with few results so far, as might be expected.

It is difficult to presume that, under the current circumstances, Chávez’s
efforts could be successful. Perhaps not even the release of the 700-plus
people kidnapped by the FARC and the 1,000-plus prisoners in the hands of
the government can be carried out — much less any peace talks.

But there is something even more worrisome. Relations between Venezuela and
Colombia have substantially deteriorated. They are neighboring countries
with borders that extend hundreds of kilometers. Venezuela is the proponent
of a process of integration in Latin America and a harsh critic of White
House politics.

Colombia is an ally of the United States and depends on Washington to keep
up its war against the guerrilla movement. In addition, the Colombian
oligarchy, represented in all the structures of government, has shown signs
of totally rejecting the Bolivarian Revolution, as seen in the campaigns
carried out by the media outlets it owns.

For years, there have been reports of the actions of Colombian paramilitary
groups on the Venezuelan side of the border, with the objective of creating
problems in diplomatic relations and destabilizing the Bolivarian
Revolution. Let us remember that some time ago nearly 100 Colombian
paramilitary fighters were captured in Venezuela while on a mission to
participate in one of the many attempts by the opposition to overthrow or
kill Chávez.

Will those actions intensify or will the Colombian government do everything
in its power to stop them? As I ask this question, I bear in mind that
several of the putschist oppositionists were given asylum in Colombia and
that others are in the United States. I also consider the close relations
between the oppositionists and the Bush administration, and the anti-Chávez,
anti-Venezuela campaigns being carried out by some media owned by the U.S.

I think that a complicated situation has been created that must be resolved,
for the good of the two peoples and governments. A conflict between the two
nations would be the worst that could happen to the process of Latin
American integration. Is that what the White House and the Colombian
oligarchs want?