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| 3/10/2010 12:00:00 AM

A sore spot

A report from a Spanish judge links the Venezuelan government to the macabre alliance between Farc guerrilla and Basque separatist-terrorist group ETA. A huge diplomatic scandal has erupted but Uribe is being careful in order to reconstruct a relationship with Hugo Chávez.

Last week, Spanish judge Eloy Velasco unleashed a political storm when he announced that there was proof that Basque separatist-terrorist group ETA exchanged information and military training with Colombian Farc guerilla. He went as far as to say that this “illicit collaboration” included the “cooperation of the Venezuelan government.”

Reactions came quickly. Spanish president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero demanded an explanation from his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez. “I have nothing to explain to Zapatero or anybody else on this planet” Chavez responded. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos tried to subdue the matter and affirmed Spain was just asking for collaboration. But the controversy had already exploded. Mariano Rajoy and other opposition leaders from the Popular Party (PP) questioned the friendly relations between the government and the Bolivar-like caudillo and asked, if evidence confirmed these, to break diplomatic relationships with Venezuela.

Even though the scandal diminished as the week wore off because the judge did not publish a sentence, it is still a grave political problem that will prove difficult to manage for Zapatero. On one side, the majority of Spaniards condemn ETA and the simplest doubt about Chavez supporting the Basque terrorists could mobilize thousands of people against him. On the other side, Spain has a strong commercial relations with the south American country, from which it obtains 4 per cent of its oil and whom with it is currently involved in expensive oil-exploration in the Orinoco region.

In the heart of the matter is Arturo Cubillas, a Basque nationalized in Venezuela and who is now thought of as the ETA chief in South America and the one in charge of fostering relations with Farc guerrilla. Cubillas is a member of Chavez’s government—in the ministry of Agriculture— as is his wife, (also from Basque origins) and he is widely known in the leftist groups of Caracas. He lives in the Caribbean country since 1989 when he was received by president Carlos Andrés Pérez per request of the Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez, who was in the middle of a peace process with the Basque terrorists. And now, as nationalized Venezuelan, he cannot be extradited.

But there is more to it. The Spanish justice system has files that reveal that Farc and ETA have held a close friendship since 1993, sealed with the intention of working together. Friendship led to action. The Spaniards seized documents where they discussed the “Trench Coat Affair”, that dealt with experiments the etarras had being doing for several years with home-made projectiles and platforms.

It is believed that it was ETA that “taught” Farc the mortal technology of “cylinder bombs”, those which have created terror throughout Colombia. ETA used them for the first time in 1987 against civil guard barracks. There are also suspicions that in 1999 the relationship between the Farc chiefs and the Basque nationalists was formalized and that Venezuelan territory was used to try out explosive artifacts.

In the files, there is evidence that in 2000, during the peace-talks between the Colombian government and the Farc, various members of ETA received training in FARC camps and offered to gather information on high-profile Colombians living in Madrid or those who used to visit Spain like former president Andres Pastrana, the then candidate Alvaro Uribe, the former mayor of Bogotá Antanas Mockus, the Colombian ambassador in Spain, Noemí Sanín, and current Vice President Francisco Santos, who at the time was a journalist living in Spain.

So far there are not surprises, because Spanish and Colombian authorities, that have helped each other for many years, knew that both organizations were testing explosives and weapons, and had a smooth political relationship. However, on 2003 some signs showed that some experiments and military training were taking place in Venezuela.

That year, the Basque group offered a course on remote-controlled bomb by cell phones, urban warfare and specialized modules on rockets launching. These courses were also given to Farc on 2006, 2007 and 2008. There are testimonies of demobilized members as alias 'Camilo' and 'Carlos' who attended the courses. These trainings were done on a farm near Guadalito in the states of Apure and Zulia. The judge believed that Arturo Cubillas organized them. According to testimonies that are in the file: "They arrived with a person wearing a sweater with the DIM coat, Dirección de Inteligencia Militar (Venezuelan Military Intelligence Direction), and a escort vehicle with Venezuelan militaries”.

Part of this information was in the computers of ‘Raúl Reyes’, confiscated by the Colombian police after the bombing that killed him in Ecuador two years ago. Although the files are compelling evidence, the Spanish justice compared these data with records from the last 17 years to find new proofs. People appearing under a pseudonym in the archives of ‘Reyes’ were identified, such as Cubillas.

Based on all this evidence, the judge ordered the prosecution of seven members of the Farc, among which were Rodrigo Granda and Remedios García, who is already sub judice in Spain; and six members of ETA, including Cubillas.

Eloy Velasco is a renowned jurist as Baltasar Garzón, famous in Spain for being in charge of cases that cause strong media impact, and that directly affect terrorist organizations. For example, he leads a lawsuit against Arnaldo Otegi, the Batasuna leader indicted for advocating ETA, and also the case of six people linked to the attacks of March 11. So, although Miguel Ángel Moratinos spoke with Chávez several times by phone, to avoid a crisis, Venezuelan President himself accepted that "all I said was that the justice is independent”.

The issue is crucial in Spain because Venezuela is a very important trading partner for the European country. Indeed, in August 2008 both governments decided to end the feud that had left the famous "why don’t you shut up?" by King Juan Carlos, and as a gesture of reconciliation, Chávez announced he would sell 100,000 barrels of oil to Spain, at a good price, and that also he will ensure the supply for 100 years. But even more important was the signing of an agreement with the Spain state oil company, Repsol, to participate in an oil exploration in the Orinoco area where it is estimated there may be between 20 and 30 million barrels.

The order issued by Velasco judge is not a ruling sentence, and that’s why many of the events are considered only as traces. However, the Spanish justice contrasts with the efficiency of the Colombian. While in two years Iberians have confirmed and open files from ‘Reyes’ computers, Colombia has not have significant judicial developments. This despite the fact that authorities consider a real "bomb" the information in the hard disks.

The Colombian government has also decided not to get involved in the dispute between Spain and Venezuela, despite it is in the middle of the discussion, and former President Andrés Pastrana said he was surprised by the silence. President Uribe, who was also on the list of possible targets in Spain, said that "the fact that it is necessary to investigate an official of a certain government because of his participation in terrorism, doesn’t mean that the state is terrorist or that it is involved with terrorism".  

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are so important, that Uribe, aware of these revelations and of the undeniable links between Hugo Chávez and the Farc, has had to bite his lips and defend the Venezuelan President. This shows the importance of preventing to spoil the emerging approaches to rebuild diplomatic channels between both neighboring countries.

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