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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

HRW: Venezuela Should Clarify Relationship With Colombian Guerrillas

Recovered Emails Suggest Chávez Support for FARC

(Washington, DC, June 3, 2008) – The Venezuelan government should provide a full accounting of its relationship with Colombian guerrillas responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today.

In 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez served as a mediator, with the authorization of the Colombian government, in efforts to secure the release of prisoners held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC). Yet email messages found on laptop computers reportedly recovered from a FARC encampment by Colombian security forces in March 2008 describe meetings in which Venezuelan officials also appear to have offered assistance to the Colombian guerrillas, including safe havens, weapons procurement, and possibly even financial support.

Interpol announced on May 15 that its forensic experts had verified that the computer files were authentic and had not been modified in any way while in the custody of Colombian authorities, though they did not assess the accuracy or source of their contents. Chávez dismissed Interpol’s findings as a “clown show that doesn't deserve a serious response.”

“The emails raise serious questions about Venezuela’s relationship with the Colombian guerrillas that deserve serious answers,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “At the very least, they appear to show that the guerrilla commanders who were engaged in horrendous abuses believed they had the backing of the Venezuelan government.”

Human Rights Watch has not had direct access to the computer files. But according to excerpts released by the Colombian government and reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the files contain email correspondence in which FARC commanders recount multiple meetings with Venezuelan officials. These messages refer to a meeting in which President Chávez reportedly offered to provide the FARC with safe havens within Venezuelan territory. They also mention meetings in which two Venezuelan generals, Hugo Carvajal Barrios and Clíver Alcalá Cordones, appear to offer the guerrillas assistance in procuring weapons. The email message refers to another meeting in which Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín reportedly promised to facilitate the delivery of arms shipments to the guerrilla group. In addition, there are several email messages that allude to what appear to be offers of financial support to the FARC, including allocating to the guerrillas an oil ration which they could sell for profit. [...]

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