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Narco News 2001

From the daily El País of Spain:

U.S. Targets Chávez

State Dept.'s Romero Involved

Assistant Sec. of State Peter Romero

"Always citing information from espionage services, that conveniently are not made public... Chávez and his revolution are in the sights and priorities of the CIA"

- the national daily El País of Spain

"US Suspects that Chávez intends to export his Bolivarian project"

"Washington believes that Venezuela supports rebel groups in Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia"

By JUAN JESÚS AZNAREZ, Special Correspondent, Bogotá, Colombia

February 11, 2001, El País, Madrid, Spain

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States scrutinizes the Bolivarian intentions of the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, fearing that is proclamations for a Latin American Union transcend the political level and are carried out through economic aid that can be used by rebel, indigenous, and Creole movements of the region.

The firing, last January, of the Venezuela Foreign Ministry's director of information and opinion, Miguel Quintero, seems related to these suspicions, as well as the imprudent closeness of the official with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The appearance made in the Caracas hall of the National Assembly (Venezuelan Congress) by Olga Lucía Marín, daughter of the historic leader of this guerrilla movement Manuel Marulanda Tirofijo ("Sureshot"), and of Hernán Martínez, also a member of the militia that declares itself to be Bolivarian, caused a behind-the-scenes collision within the breast of the government alliance.

The Speaker of the House, the official partisan William Lara, according to sources within the Foreign Ministry, filed a complaint with the president's office for not having been consulted over the invitation to the two insurrectionists. Quintero was the person in charge of receiving and hosting them.

Exhibiting truths, lies, angry sounds and probably with intentions to dissuade such activity, a high US official recently declared that the Bolivarian propaganda of the commander of the paratroopers - that on February 4, 1992 rose up in arms against the government of Social Democrat Carlos Andrés Pérez - is not only verbal.

"There are indications that the government of Chávez has supported violent indigenous movements in Bolivia, and in the case of Ecuador, military coup members," according to the Assistant Secretary of State of Hemispheric Affairs, Peter Romero. He described the president himself, and his foreign minister, José Vicente Rangel, named last week as Defense Secretary, as "professional agitators."

The most concrete accusation was thrown by the daily Miami Herald: That Venezuela had delivered more than $500,000 dollars to Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, who headed indigenous demonstrations that in 2000 ended with the fall of the government of Jamil Mahuad, accused of committing a serious banking corruption. The slogan of Gutierrez was the same that Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez held nine years ago: the corruption and immorality of the traditional political class. Gutiérrez was imprisoned and released months later. The North American newspaper said that the CIA has film and photographs of Miguel Quintero with this ex-colonel and coup member.

Always citing information from espionage services - that conveniently are not made public - the leak over graphic documentation demonstrates, without a doubt, that Chávez and his revolution are in the sights and priorities of the CIA.

Another of the charges made is that during the Ibero-American Summit last year in Panamá, the Bolivian president, the right-winger Hugo Banzer, attacked his Venezuelan colleague for the supposed support given to one of the messengers of the indigenous leader Felipe Quisque Huanca, active leader of the coca growers against the President.

Sources consulted in Caracas recommended caution in believing the North American imputations because, obviously, Chávez has never hidden his dream of a united and Bolivarian Latin America. Something very distinct would be to act logistically by using government funds.

"So far it's all conjecture, interpretations of meetings that in fact never happened. There are no convincing proofs that Venezuela has supported subversion," said diplomatic sources. The "respectful" position that Caracas has toward the Colombian guerrilla, however, and the statements made, have caused frequent disputes with Colombia, whose government demands solidarity from its neighbor and a rotund belligerence against the violence carried out by the FARC.

Journalist Gioconda Soto, of the daily El Nacional, sustains that in the cited document of the CIA against the administration of Chávez, the retired general Milton Abreu, who until recently was military chief in the Venezuelan Embassy in Quito, Ecuador, had participated. Abreu, with contacts between the old guard of the Military Intelligence Directorship (DIM, in its Spanish acronym), was connected to Peter Romero, while both were representatives of their nations in that Andean country.

Romero was Washington's Ambassador to Ecuador from November 1993 to July 1996, after having served in diplomatic posts in El Salvador. Supposedly, the Venezuelan ex-chief accompanied Quintero during a meeting with Gutiérrez, and with the mayor of Quito, retired general Paco Moncayo, who led the Condor War of 1995 against Perú, over an old territorial dispute.

"In official circles there is concern," says Soto, "over the supposed present-day mechanisms of collaboration between certain figures from the old militarism (that which existed during the 40 years of the two-party system in Venezuela) and the US intelligence agency."

Quintero was a type of "specialist" for the government who established contects with opposition circles in Latin America, be they civil or military, and who possibly had lost his convincingness that any initiative of his had counted with the good will of Chávez and Rangel. General Santiago Ramírez, another man who is close to the president, replaced him.

Analyst Nelson Bocaranda adds that the fired foreign ministry official spoke, in his Caracas office, with a messenger of Vladamiro Montesinos, the de facto chief of the Peruvian spy agency until the disgraceful fall of ex-president Alberto Fujimori. His telephone contacts with Cuba were constant. "He played the role of the Creole 007 and he liked it. His first report was sent to the Venezuelan Defense Secretary (then, General Eliécer Hurtado) who delivered it to President Chávez. He was immediately, ipso facto, fired from his post."

The doubts reside in knowing whether he maneuvered with the consent of his superiors, or effectively adventured alone in high-voltage affairs that ended up creating a problem for his government.

An Old Suspect of the CIA

The inclusion of Hugo Chávez in the list of suspects by the US intelligence services began in 1994, a short time after he was released from jail where he served two years for the failed uprising of 1992. One of his first moves was to travel to Havana, where he was received, with honor, by Fidel Castro, in a moment when nobody believed in his political future. The paratroop commander returned from Cuba, once praised, and prepared a warm welcome for Fidel in Caracas when he visited there.

Later, a Venezuelan opposition magazine, Zeta, accused Chávez of having alerted the Cuban revolution, until 1998, about the rise of petroleum prices. He advised them, according to this publication, to buy all the petroleum that they could because then it was a little more than seven dollars a barrel and it rose as high as $30. The Venezuelan leader has demonstrated his willingness to help Cuba in its chronic oil shortage. Previous trips by the Venezuelan leader to Iraq and Libya, challenging the United States, were made not to coordinate petroleum policies, but to accelerate the creation political following that predictably would generate talk.

To read the original El País story in Spanish:

Para leer el reportaje original de El País en Español:

As Romero Watches América, We Watch Romero