|Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco, left|
I want to begin by posting an acknowledgement to Venezuelan blogger Pedro Burelli, who has brought together seven "exhibits" that are all currently in the news regarding Hugo Chavez and his numerous connections to international terrorist and narcotics smuggling operations in a post published Tuesday in both English and Spanish, Exposing Hugo Chavez. Pedro's compilation of these issues presents a remarkably compelling accumulation of seven related controversial news items now at hand, three of which were developed in an indictment issued by Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) Judge Eloy Velasco of six ETA (Basque Terrorist) and seven Colombian FARC members for a variety of offenses, including the planning of two separate attempts to assassinate two Colombian presidents, a third plot to assassinate Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar, weapons and bomb-making support for terrorist attacks, and large scale drug smuggling operations. The indictment also specifically cited Hugo Chavez's government for facilitating much of this nefarious activity and the Spanish government has requested an explanation from Venezuela. And even beyond all this there is also a developing international effort in which the U.S. government is now involved to bring Venezuela into the limelight for human rights violations following the recent release of the OAS's joint Inter-American Committee on Human Rights (IACHR) Report on Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela.
There is a lot to cover here, but since so much of it derives from the Spanish court's actions, I want to provide some additional commentary on the legal proceeding from the American perspective, because I think the court case brings together several matters which deserve rather close examination.
Background to the Indictment: The Veracity of the Documents from the Reyes Laptops
It has now been two years since the Colombian Army's raid on the FARC encampment just across the Ecuadoran border which netted one of the great intelligence finds of recent years, the laptops of FARC leader Raul Reyes, whose authenticity was verified by an Interpol investigation. The Interpol examination of the contents of the laptops that immediately followed was, in and of itself, the topic of some rather muddled, and at times inane, attacks from leftist apologists and propagandists who sought to discount their validity as evidence, perhaps guessing correctly that the international ties to Hugo Chavez and the terror and narcotics trafficking of the FARC would not serve the Bolivarian leader very well. Indeed! Just ask the Spanish National Court what they think of Hugo.
But let us set aside the noise surrounding the Reyes laptops for the moment, the fact of the matter is that the National Court of Spain has reviewed Interpol's work and understands that the facticity of the Reyes documents has been proved, and that there is now substantial reason to move on and address the meaning of their content within legal proceedings. This leaves those of us in the western hemisphere to hang our heads in shame as we realize that it took a Spanish court to bring the terrifying implications of Hugo Chavez's misconduct into the light of day. And for anyone who was as angry as me that OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza refused to investigate the documentary content of those laptops; well, just read Eloy Velasco's decision and you will understand. If only George Bush had a pair, we would have pressed an issue that truly would have made the War on Terror something more than a largely cultural conflict played out in the Middle and Near East. Sigh!
Velasco's Case: An Opportunity to Demonstrate the Fair Use of the Rome Treaty?
From the American perspective, there is one additional thing to grasp about the Spanish National Court's actions; they have met the test of "Legal Standing" (Locus Standi) as defined within American jurisprudence that is, in the view of most American critics, absent from the Rome Treaty's provisions for taking a case to the international criminal court, and which forms the basis for the greater part of U.S. objections to its ratification. No matter what may come of the legal proceeding Judge Velasco's court has proferred, its foundation in law is rooted in the fact that, not only are many of the ETA suspects Spanish citizens, but several of the crimes mentioned in the indictment occurred on Spanish soil. Others, while planned or plotted in South America, were nonetheless intended for execution in Spain. These crimes include the unrealized plot of 2003 to assassinate then Colombian President Andres Pastrana and Colombia's Ambassador to Spain Noemi Sanin on Spanish territory, a 2004 plot to assassinate then Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar with surface to air missiles, and more. In both of the aforementioned plots the ETA had the cooperation of FARC leaders Raul Reyes and Ivan Marquez; the latter has resided openly in Venezuela for several years and has enjoyed the company of Hugo Chavez himself publicly.
|Ivan Marquez of the FARC with Hugo Chavez|
If supporters of the Rome Treaty who are critical of the U.S. for its failure to ratify it wanted a test case to demonstrate the utility of the pact while also adhering to the American standard of legal standing, this would be it. But unfortunately, in my opinion, those supporters are not likely to rally to this particular judicial proceeding because they are much more interested in its polemical use in matters such as the Guantanamo Bay prisoners controversy. The Velasco case presents a unique opportunity to establish the basis for amending the Rome Treaty to accommodate American reservations, using the example of sound jurisprudential practice as instructive of a proper use of international criminal proceedings, but which will likely go unsupported. And that is a pure shame, because I believe that if the governments of Europe, who are common signatories to the Rome Treaty, were to support the Spanish Indictment diplomatically, the basis for a common understanding between the U.S. and the international community could be developed to amend the pact and bring in the Americans. But I personally doubt that the governments of Europe and Latin America have the stomach for meaningful action here or elsewhere.
The Spanish Indictment
There are three relevant items that stem from the Spanish court's decision, as Pedro Burelli listed them, and which are worth repeating here:
Taken from the Bogota newspaper El Tiempo, in which former President Andres Pastrana declares that Chavez owes the explanation, while sitting President Alvaro Uribe counsels "prudence," though the Spanish Ambassador to Colombia has been called in for a "followup" to the affair.
From the Spanish newspaper El Pais, we have Judge Velasco's own words in the decision, there was "Venezuelan governmental cooperation in the illicit collaboration between the ETA and the FARC." (Underline emphasis mine).
Confirmation of the official request came from Spanish Prime Minister Jorge Luis Zapatero in Germany, as reported in Spain's El Mundo newspaper. "We are awaiting clarification from Venezuela and, according to that explanation, so will the government of Spain act."
The above three items, which include the expressed statements of two national governments in matters of foreign affairs and the conclusion of the Spanish National Court, all directly implicate Hugo Chavez's government as both a facilitator and sponsor of terrorist conspiracies against two other nations.
But returning to Pedro Burelli's post, there has been other news from the U.S. government over the past nine months which supports the Spanish Indictment, some of which is now worth reviewing.
Relevant U.S. Government Complaints About Chavez's Misconduct: July, 2009 - March, 2010
American government complaints center upon narcotics, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses.
The State Department's International Narcotics Strategy Control, Vol I publication of March 1 states that "There is strong evidence that some elements of Venezuela’s security forces directly assist these FTOs (foreign terrorist organizations)." (p. 16).
The GAO Report to the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations states that "Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups by providing significant support and safe haven along the border. As a result, these groups, which traffic in illicit drugs, remain viable threats to Colombian security. A high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military, and other law enforcement and security forces contributes to the permissive environment, according to U.S. officials." (p. 2) These conclusions from last year are given new weight by the Spanish Indictment.
In a joint bi-partisan statement Senators Lugar and Dodd asked the U.S. Mission at the OAS to have the report openly discussed at its Permanent Council stating they (Lugar and Dodd) were "deeply disturbed by some of the [IACHR] report’s observations" especially with respect to its findings on the erosion of an independent judiciary, which has led to "the use of the State’s punitive power in Venezuela to criminalize human rights defenders, judicialize peaceful social protest, and persecute political dissidents through the criminal system."
To wrap up the remainder of Pedro Burelli's post, he also mentions the IACHR report itself, cited in paragraph one above, and the Annual Report of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board for 2009, which notes that cocaine seized in Africa has in many cases been smuggled through Brazil and Venezuela.
As to what will come of all this, my guess is not very much in the short term, because Chavez can still count upon the international support of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador to protect him. Over the past several years this has also included Jose Miguel Insulza, but his stock appears to be falling currently in light of his pursuit of re-election to the OAS Secretary General's job and, thankfully in my opinion, it now appears that he probably will not succeed in this regard, owing primarily to the opposition of the U.S., for numerous reasons which are now evident. But the international calculus in the region is clearly against Chavez, who is becoming a true pariah more and more with each day. That is a process which is likely to continue unabated, since Hugo does not appear likely to reform his conduct anytime soon.
Of perhaps greater import is how this is all playing within Venezuela itself. All the indicators are that its people are turning against Chavez, including many of his former supporters. This news must certainly hasten that trend. The big test for this year will be the parliamentary elections and, if the Venezuelan people show enough activism in opposition to Chavez's hand-picked candidates, Venezuela's internal political climate may begin to experience a sea change that reverses the deterioration of democratic freedoms and human rights abuses of the last eleven years.
But the world must continue to pay attention. Chavez must be kept in the spotlight.
P.S. -- Good work Pedro!