||Last Updated: 25 Mar. 2008 - 7:18:47 PM
Venezuela has a population of 23.5 million and is a major petroleum producer and exporter. The country is a member of OPEC. The US Government has had an uneasy relationship with the current President, Hugo Chavez, who is populist and maintains links with Cuba. Chavez was ejected from office for a short period in April 2002 by a failed coup attempt.
The country also suffers from high levels of violence, some of which is caused by terrorist activity. Post September 11 the US is taking a more active role in opposing terrorist groups throughout the world. The importance of Venezuela for a negotiator is in the political pressures that are building up in this part of South America.
Current Political Uncertainty
Regarding the failed coup attempt in April 2002 The Washington Post 29 July 2002 said that "The Bush administration drew criticism after seeming to acquiesce in Chavez's temporary ouster last April. U.S. officials have said the administration recognizes Chavez as Venezuela's legitimate president", the paper however reported that the State Department's Inspector General found that 'The department and the [US] embassy discouraged undemocratic and unconstitutional moves against the Chavez government.' The Washington Post also noted that, "Evidence of polarization remains. Two weeks ago, 600,000 protesters gathered in Caracas to demand the resignation of Chavez, a left-leaning former paratroops officer. Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich said last week that Chavez hasn't tried to smooth over the country's divisions."
CNN reported 15 August 2002 that "National Guard troops in Venezuela's capital blocked the streets and fired tear gas on Wednesday [14 August] as supporters of President Hugo Chavez protested a Supreme Court ruling that four top military officers will not face trial for their role in an attempted coup in April."
OAS Secretary General César Gaviria reported to the Organization of American States [OAS] on the results of his April 15-17 fact-finding visit to Venezuela. He pointed to continued “excessive polarization” in Venezuela, noting "increased reports of human rights violations, acts of intimidation and significant acts of vandalism and looting and increasing numbers of persons dead and injured." Gaviria also called on the Venezuelan government, opposition, social actors, human rights organizations, and the media "to commit to rejecting any participation in political debate on the part of the military."
The Miami Herald reported 31 July 2002 that "Along Venezuela's wild western border with Colombia, residents practically need a scorecard these days to keep track of the armed groups increasingly killing, kidnapping, extorting and smuggling cocaine.
With the latest appearance of one group that vowed to kill leftist President Hugo Chávez and another that vowed to defend him, seven armed factions now operate in the area's cloud-shrouded Andean mountains and sweltering savannas.
Fifteen kidnappings were reported in one border section alone this year, compared to one all last year, and 20 men and women were killed, execution-style, this year in the border town of El Nula, pop. 25,000, most of them suspected of drug trafficking." "The proliferation of armed groups on the border in part reflects Venezuelans' profound split over Chávez, a populist who survived a military attempt in April to topple his ''Bolivarian revolution'' on behalf of Venezuela's poor.
Many border residents blame Chávez, charging that after his 1998 election he made a ''nonaggression pact'' with Colombia's Marxist FARC and ELN rebels who had long operated on both sides of the thinly populated border."
"the 17,500-strong FARC continues to hold sway, even settling land disputes, family arguments and claims over car crashes"
The Los Angeles Times reported 30 July 2002 that "Chavez's revolution has never been well-defined. Part populism, part socialism, part direct democracy, it has deeply divided Venezuelan society, pitting unions, clergy, media and business against Chavez. He has courted close relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iraq's Saddam Hussein in an attempt to create a political bloc opposed to the United States and its globalization efforts. His fiery rhetoric and four-hour-long speeches have infuriated the opposition, though he has toned down his language since the coup."
The Los Angeles Times reported 19 July 2002 that Otto J. Reich, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, said that in the aftermath of the April 11 coup attempt Chavez has not kept a promise to open a new dialogue with his domestic critics. The Times also noted that "Private experts said that although both sides in Venezuela have made some gestures toward reconciliation, the gap between their positions is so great that there appears little chance of harmony. "There's very little give in terms of the political dialogue," said Riordan Roett, director of the Western Hemisphere program at Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. 'I don't see any space there for any kind of rapprochement.'
US Consular Information Sheet - Venezuela
The US State Department noted that "Cross-border violence, kidnapping, smuggling and drug trafficking occur frequently in remote areas along the 1,000-mile border between Venezuela and Colombia, specifically in Venezuela's Zulia, Tachira, Barinas, Apure and Amazonas states" and "In September 2000, Venezuelan government officials noted increased activity by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) along the tributaries of the Orinoco River in northwest Amazonas State." "Express kidnappings," in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are on the rise in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas, and numerous four-wheel drive vehicles have been targeted for carjacking in the Caracas and Maracaibo metropolitan areas.
CNN 12 April 2002 said that the U.S. government chided ousted Venezuela President Hugo Chavez during the attempted coup in April 2002, saying his government provoked the crisis ... "Chavez supporters, on orders, fired on unarmed, peaceful demonstrators," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, referring to Thursday's violence that killed 12 people and wounded dozens more. "Venezuelan military and police refused to fire ... and refused to support the government's role in human rights violations."
There are a number of terrorist organizations operating in Venezuela, the best known one is the FARC, which is mainly based in Columbia.
The FARC, a terrorist group which operates in Venezuela and Columbia, has been co-operating with the IRA, said The Guardian 21 August 2001 the paper reported that, "Three suspected IRA men captured in Colombia last week are alleged to have promised to provide Semtex and other war material to help Farc guerrillas launch an urban bombing campaign."
The Miami Herald reported 23 May 2002 that "since Colombia's peace talks [with the FARC] broke down in February, there have been reports of a growing FARC presence in Brazil, Venezuela and Peru." "In Venezuela, FARC rebels clashed with a Colombian military squad in late March on the border with Venezuela, leaving scores dead on each side of the border. Colombian military officials said the attack was launched from the Venezuelan side. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela denied the charges."
UP reported 10 July 2002 President Carter's visit to Venezuela, Carter said that "some members of the political opposition seem singularly fixed on removing President Chavez," and he criticized the attitude of the Venezuelan media, which he described as "priding themselves on being in the forefront of opposition to the government." Carter said that he remained optimistic that a dialogue in Venezuela was possible. "I see hope, and I expect to see a successful effort made".
The Washington Post reported 22 July 2002 that "Colombia's next president says he's won the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Colombia's fight against a thriving drug trade that has funded years of civil war." The Post reported that "Chavez's support could be instrumental. The leftist Venezuelan leader has ties to Colombia's larger guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC" and also noted that "Chavez, who once declared himself 'neutral' in Colombia's conflict, has since toned down criticism of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-backed effort to choke rebel income by fighting drug trafficking."
Venezuelan political columnist Domingo Alberto Rangel reports [vheadline.com 5 June 2002] that the FARC is considering inviting US ex-President Jimmy Carter to visit their camps with the full freedom to ask questions and investigate their methods of waging war and their treatment of prisoners.
US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Administrator Asa Hutchinson, specifically linked the FARC to drug dealing in a news conference 26 March 2002 he observed that while "there used to be a distinction between the drug traffickers and the insurgency groups," it is now "clear that the terrorists are engaged in [drug] trafficking as well." He added that U.S. aid to Colombia should now be expanded to assist that country's law-enforcement operations, in view of the heightened security threat posed by the drug-trafficking/terrorist nexus. He also spoke about Venezuela, "We are very concerned about the cross-border activities of the FARC between Colombian and Venezuela. This does not necessarily reflect a lack of vigilance on the part of the Venezuelan government and police. It reflects a reality of the activities of the FARC and our concern that it will spread over into Venezuela and they will use that area. That is why it is essential that we maintain close cooperation with Venezuela and they continue putting law-enforcement pressure on their side of the border."
The scene has been set for a greater US involvement in this part of South America and given the resources, financial and military available to the FARC, there is the potential to create a major conflict. A settlement of the political issues within Venezuela and Columbia is therefore essential; but given the interweaving of political activism/terrorism and drug-dealing this is an extremely difficult problem.
The Jamestown Foundation reported 24 October 2002 that, "During Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's spring 2001 visit to Venezuela, he was greeted by that oil-producing nation's leader Hugo Chavez with the declaration that the Chinese Maoist revolution was the source of his own social revolution. The Chinese and Venezuelan militaries have dramatically stepped up ties since Chavez came to power."
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