In Colombia, disagreement on Venezuela

Latin America and the Caribbean
ELN guerrilla leaders pose in an area near the Venezuelan border, in a photo from a captured guerrilla computer revealed last week.

Colombia’s armed-forces chief and defense minister contradicted each other yesterday on the question of FARC guerrilla activity in Venezuela.

Admiral Édgar Cely, head of Colombia’s armed forces, told Colombia’s Caracol radio:

“The truth is that what was shown at the end of the government of President Uribe holds.”

The Admiral referred to former President Álvaro Uribe’s government’s denunciations of Venezuela before the OAS [PDF] in July 2010, made just before Uribe left office. The outgoing president accused Venezuela’s government of harboring FARC leaders and guerrilla encampments in its territory.

Since taking office a year ago, Uribe’s successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, has sought to patch things up with Venezuela. Hugo Chávez’s government has extradited, or may soon extradite, some mid-ranking guerrillas to Colombia, and President Santos has said that the FARC rebel camps in Venezuela no longer exist.

Admiral Cely clearly disagrees. He was quickly contradicted, though, by Colombia’s civilian defense minister, Rodrigo Rivera. According to Rivera, who before taking his current job was an ardent Uribe supporter and critic of Venezuela:

“The relationship with Venezuela has changed substantially and positively during the past year with regard to security and cooperation to confront all transnational crime phenomena at the border. … We have received repeated public and private expressions from the highest levels of the Venezuelan government, in the sense that they don’t tolerate the presence of criminals from Colombia in their territory.”

Possible new revelations of guerrilla presence in Venezuela, like the ELN photos released by Colombia’s police last week, are the greatest threat to President Santos’s attempted rapprochement with Caracas. The Santos government is thus determined to downplay concerns about guerrilla activity on the Venezuelan side of the border. Admiral Cely apparently didn’t get that memo.