Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez asserted June 21 that the governments of Táchira and Zulia, states bordering on Colombia, now rely upon Colombian paramilitaries to promote destabilization. Both governments are in the hands of Chávez political opponents whom the president regularly characterizes as “fascist.” A separatist movement has materialized in both places.
Some of the paramilitaries apprehended by police are identified with the Colombian “Black Eagle” groups, although security forces of the two states are also implicated.
Interior minister Tareck El Aissami went to Táchira last week as part of a new campaign to monitor activities of “violent agents from Colombia” aimed at creating “an autonomous enclave of the two states similar to the separatist “half moon” area of eastern Bolivia.
President Chávez threatened Táchira governor César Pérez with a charge of treason. He highlighted Pérez’ call from Bogota last month for “help in the fight against the tyrant Chávez.” Perez was warned he “would end up in Lima playing dominoes there with the other one.” Former Zulia governor and mayor of Maracaibo Manuel Rosales found asylum in Peru earlier this year after fleeing prosecution for corruption.
Rosales ran as the main opposition candidate in Venezuela’s 2006 presidential election campaign. Zulia state legislators recently approved a study inquiring into the feasibility of autonomy.
Intelligence data associate the paramilitary incursions with assassination plans against President Chávez, mine laying, drug dealing and movement of contraband. Paramilitary groups are allegedly responsible for a dozen murders recently in three Zulia municipalities. Táchira’s crime rate is up 43 percent.
President Chávez called upon Venezuelans to carry out “popular intelligence” against paramilitary infiltration. “We must organize the people, it’s not only a job for our comrades in the armed forces,” he said.
In an interview last week with television talk show host and former education minister Aristóbulo Istúriz, Interior Minister El Aissami told how the Táchira governor had colluded with landowning and business groups to form a “Council of Human Security.” Its purpose is to organize paramilitary “shock groups to undertake social extermination.”
Thus the specter of “social cleansing” was raised, reminiscent of killings of marginalized people in Colombia to provide corpses that could be passed off as guerrilla insurgent casualties. In Venezuela, paramilitaries have handed out flyers threatening death to prostitutes, homeless people, drug dependent persons, gang members and thieves. Parents received warnings to keep children home at night during “the hour of social cleansing.”
Infiltration by Colombian paramilitaries is not new. Authorities arrested 31 of them in Caracas in January under charges of stealing weapons and explosives in Maracay. Some 130 paramilitaries detained in 2004 near the capital were reportedly training to carry out assassinations and assist in a military uprising. The murders in Venezuela of over 200 proponents of land reform are attributed to paramilitaries.
Marcelo Colussi interviewed author Dario Azzellini last year on the aporrea.org web site. The analyst described how Colombian paramilitaries find cover in Venezuela by working in the informal economy and joining a large Colombian migrant population already in place. He claimed the insertion of Colombian paramilitaries into Venezuela, especially in poor urban neighborhoods, follows patterns set in Colombia.
There, the armed forces and state agencies, backed by the U.S. government, serve under orders from the elite to utilize paramilitaries to destabilize popular forces. Azzellini sees a similar process underway in Venezuela where paramilitaries carry out economic sabotage, engineer shortages, obstruct elections and create an atmosphere of fear. The object, he suggests, is “to mount an operation similar to that of the Contras in Nicaragua, but updated.” [In the 1980s, the U.S.-funded armed opposition to Nicaragua’s Sandinista government were called “Contras.”]
Azzellini sees Táchira, close to the Colombian paramilitary epicenter Cucuta, as a way station for paramilitaries heading for central parts of Venezuela. Zulia serves a similar function, according to Aristóbulo Istúriz,
The Merida newspaper Diario de los Andes interviewed Governor César Pérez. The self-described patriot and defender of the constitution rejected suggestions he was dividing the nation. He only wants “a separation from communism,” adding that “Treason is sending our resources to the dictator in Havana.”