Controversy in Venezuela over Arrest of Alternative Journalist
by Tamara Pearson, 25 April 2011.
At the request of the Colombian government, the Venezuelan government has arrested and says it will soon deport a supposed ex-FARC leader and alternative journalist, Joaquin Perez Becerra, despite opposition to the deportation from many groups on the Venezuelan left.
The Venezuelan government said in a statement that it detained Perez, a presumed leader of the guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) when he tried to enter the country through the Caracas international airport on Saturday, and will deport him to Colombia today, following a request by the Colombian government.
According to Venezuelan government press, a commission of the Colombian National Police will travel to Caracas to assist with the deportation process.
Perez is wanted by the Colombian legal system, and the Venezuelan and Colombian governments say there is a red alert for him with Interpol, for supposedly financing terrorism and administering resources related to terrorist activities. He is said to be part of the international commission of the FARC and coordinator of the news agency, Anncol (in English: http://anncol.eu/english/23). The site, the New Colombia News Agency, is an alternative news site based in Sweden, and was founded in 1996 by Latin American and European journalists, with its stated aim of “being a voice for the voiceless sectors of Colombia”. It is said to politically support the FARC.
Colombian President Juan Santos thanked the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador yesterday in a press conference, saying, “This collaboration with our neighbours is very important... It’s further demonstration that this cooperation is increasing, it’s effective.”
He also explained that on Saturday he talked with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez by telephone to request the arrest of Perez, as Perez had taken a flight from Germany that was headed to Venezuela.
He included Ecuador in his thanks because the country’s government had helped to capture a supposed head of a criminal gang last week.
According to Santos, Perez was responsible, for many years “for all this bad propaganda that the FARC has put out about Colombia from Europe”.
The Venezuelan government’s press release stated the details of the arrest and that “The Bolivarian government ratifies its unshakeable commitment in the struggle against terrorism, crime, and organised crime, in strict compliance with ...international cooperation, under the principles of peace, solidarity, and respect of human rights.”
Venezuelan left objections
Many groups in the organised Venezuelan left, all of which support the Bolivarian revolution, have criticised the government’s handling of the situation, and have called for Perez’s freedom.
According to Venezuelan movement site, Aporrea, Perez has political asylum in Sweden. The Coordinadora Simon Bolivar (CSB), a pro-government organisation that is based in the well-organised Caracas barrio 23 de Enero and aims for grassroots organisation, called on the government to “comply with its international agreements, which include respecting political refugee status”. The CSB called for Perez to be freed “immediately” and to not be extradited.
The Venezuelan-based alternative website Patria Grande questioned if there was an Interpol red alert, given that Perez was not detained in Sweden, where he was living, or in Germany, where he changed flights.
Further, an editor of pro-government newspaper Ciudad Caracas, Ernesto Villegas, wrote that Perez survived during the mass murder of leaders of the Patriotic Union (UP), which was the legal political party for a range of social actors, including the FARC and the Colombian Communist Party, and for this, he was able to get political asylum in Sweden.
Some 5,000 members of the UP have been killed since 1984, including Perez’s first wife. Perez was a leader of the group during the 1990s.
Villegas questioned if Perez was a “terrorist” and expressed his concern that “tomorrow or the day after this label could be applied to anyone”. He also pointed out how the international press have automatically labelled Perez a “terrorist” but other confessed terrorists, such as Luis Posada Carriles, the mastermind behind the bombing of a Cuban plane, are labelled as “anti-Castro” rather than terrorist.
Villegas called on the Venezuelan president to “not fall into Santos’ trap”.
The Venezuelan Communist Party’s newspaper, Tribuna Popular, reported that a delegation consisting of some of its own members, United Socialist Party of Venezuela leader Amilca Figuerora, leaders of the Bolivarian Continental Movement, and a representative of the International Solidarity Committee visited the office of the Venezuelan intelligence agency, SEBIN, to try to talk to Perez. They were unable to.
Also, according to Tribuna Popular, Perez came to Venezuela to learn about the Bolivarian revolution and to combat the misinformation about it that is common in the mainstream press.
Left-wing Swedish journalist Dick Emanuelsson also criticised the capture of Perez in an article published by Kaos en la Red. Emanuelsson wrote about Perez’s “intense political activity in Europe in favour of peace and the struggle of the Colombian people”.
Kaos en la Red also said that the Swedish consul in Caracas and Swedish ambassador Lena Nordstrom in Bogota, had carried out procedures to try to prevent the extradition of Perez.
Finally, the pro-Chavez union federation UNETE wrote in a statement that it too rejected “the arbitrary detention by Venezuelan government authorities, against the revolutionary journalist of Colombian origin and Swedish nationality, Joaquin Perez Becerra”. UNETE also opposed Perez’s extradition and demanded his freedom.
“We make a fraternal but energetic call to President Chavez to correct the situation, so that our Bolivarian process can continue being, without any doubt, the hope of the peoples of the world”.
“Those who fight against the pro-Yankee and criminal oligarchy of Colombia aren’t our enemies but rather brothers of the Bolivarian, freedom, and anti-imperialist struggle,” the UNETE statement concluded.
The stakes: part of changing Venezuela-Colombia relations
Recently, Santos also promised to extradite Venezuelan wanted drug trafficker Walid Makled to Venezuela, even though Colombia’s close ally, the United States, had requested Makled be extradited there.
And last month the Venezuelan government deported two supposed guerrillas of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), Carlos Tirado and Carlos Perez, who were captured in Apure state along the border with Colombia.
Santos and Chavez met earlier this month in Colombia, and among the range of bilateral agreements discussed and made, they agreed to better coordinate confronting drug smuggling groups that operate along the borders of both countries, and to exchange intelligence information.
Following Santos’ swearing-in in August last year, Chavez met with him for the first time and the two countries agreed to restore diplomatic relations. Venezuela ended relations with Colombia under President Alvaro Uribe after Uribe accused Chavez of protecting illegal Colombian guerrillas at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) a month before.
See also: Sweden asks Venezuela to explain FARC suspect arrest, AFP, 27 April 2011.