The statement below was released by the Socialist Alliance in Australia on May 14.
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The Socialist Alliance calls on the Colombian government to immediately release independent media activist Joaquin Perez Becerra, who is now facing charges of “terrorism”.
Perez Becerra, a refugee from Colombia, is a Swedish citizen. We also call on the Swedish government to do its upmost to defend the rights of one of its citizens.
Under Article 33(1) of the Geneva Convention, no refugee shall be returned “in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
We also call on the Venezuelan government, which complied with Colombia’s request to deport Perez Becerra to Colombia, to demand that Colombia respect the rights due to Perez Becerra under international conventions.
Perez Becerra, a strong voice in defence of human rights in Colombia, was forced to leave Colombia in 1993 following the murder of his wife and constant death threats against him due to his membership in the Union Patriotica (UP).
As a member of this democratic and legally registered party, Perez Becerra was elected city councillor in Corinto, Valle del Cauca. However, a state sponsored campaign of violence and terror against the UP resulted in the assassination of more than 4000 UP members.
Seeking refuge in Sweden, Perez Becerra became a citizen in 2000 and renounced his Colombian citizenship. In Sweden, he helped to establish and became the director of the New Colombia News Agency (ANNCOL). With 800,000 daily visits, it was Colombia’s fourth most widely read website until it was shut down days after his arrest.
ANNCOL published statements and information sourced from numerous organisations in Colombia, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), exposing and denouncing human rights violations by the Colombian state and paramilitary organisations.
For this work, the Colombian government has accused Perez Becerra of being the “FARC’s ambassador in Europe” and “conspiring in and helping finance terrorism”.
Perez Becerra has repeatedly denied ever being a member of the FARC or any illegal organisation in Colombia or elsewhere. After fleeing to Sweden he never returned to Colombia.
Colombia’s former president, Alvaro Uribe, has charged that Perez Becerra and other human rights activists in exile aid “terrorism”. Uribe has said: “Those criminals … and other bandits, who are Colombian professionals living over there in Sweden and other countries … all of them have to be finished off.”
These public accusations and threats are ominous indications that there is more at stake here than Perez Becerra’s right to a fair trial.
We also note that these recent events are part of an ongoing campaign to criminalise solidarity with Colombia’s social movements. The Colombian government is internationally renowned for locking up and torturing political prisoners.
There are more than 7500 political prisoners in Colombia, many of them denied the right to a fair trial and due process.
We also note that many Venezuela solidarity organisations within Venezuela and internationally have expressed concern over the April 23 decision by Venezuelan authorities to arrest and deport Perez Becerra.
Perez Becerra’s deportation was the result of a request made directly by President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia to his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, following the issuing by Interpol in Bogota of a “red alert” for Perez Becerra’s arrest. The request was made while Perez Becerra was aloft on a flight from Frankfurt to Caracas.
Reports indicate that during the flight Santos was informed of every move made by Perez Becerra, even to the exact seat he was in, due to the presence of Colombian intelligence officers aboard the same plane.
In response to Swedish authorities’ questions as to why the Venezuelan government did not notify them about the arrest and deportation of one of Sweden’s own citizens, Venezuela has asked why, if he was the subject of an Interpol warrant, Perez Becerra was not detained in Sweden, or Germany while he was travelling to Venezuela.
Ramiro Orejuela, a lawyer acting for the Swedish government, has suggested that the red alert may have been issued only after Perez Becerra had boarded the plane in Frankfurt to Caracas, possibly as part of a plan to create a delicate diplomatic situation for Venezuelan officials.
These and many other mysteries surrounding Perez Becerra’s case strengthen Chavez’s argument, made at the May Day march in Caracas, that “they set a trap for him in order to get at me”.
All of this has to be placed in the context of Venezuelan-Colombian relations, which in recent years have reached the point of extreme tension and potential armed conflict. The background to this is the profound revolutionary change under way in Venezuela, led by Chavez, and the ever escalating counterrevolutionary aggression of the United States.
Venezuela’s policy towards Colombia has always been based on the real need to maintain peace in the region and defend Venezuela’s national sovereignty. Uribe repeatedly accused Chavez of supporting the FARC.
In 2007, Uribe provoked a diplomatic clash with Chavez that led to the withdrawal of ambassadors when he accused Venezuela of harbouring FARC bases inside its territory ― an accusation he repeated in 2010 only days before handing power over to Santos, and once again in April of this year.
United States embassy cables recently released by WikiLeaks have demonstrated the willingness of the Uribe government to send troops into Venezuelan territory under the guise of hunting down Colombian guerrillas.
Such a scenario, which became a reality in regard to Ecuador when Colombian troops, under then- defence minister Santos, invaded Ecuadorian territory to bomb a FARC camp, could easily be the pretext for triggering an armed conflict between the two countries.
This is a threat that Chavez has warned about on numerous occasions. The threat is underscored by the moves by the US government ― which views Venezuela as a major threat ― to establish a major US military presence at seven Colombian military bases.
Venezuela has clearly stated that it believes Colombia’s guerrilla forces, which Chavez has characterized as “belligerent” forces, are not terrorists. Chavez has called on these organisations to lay down their arms and seek a political resolution to the more than 40-year-old civil war.
Chavez has rightly pointed out that any active support for the FARC on the part of Venezuela “is the perfect excuse for imperialism to attack the people of Venezuela”.
Chavez has also clarified that he has never accused Perez Becerra of being a terrorist and that he hopes “the Colombian government respects his human rights and his right to a defence”.
The Socialist Alliance supports ― and urges all Venezuela solidarity and human rights organisations to join ― the international campaign calling on the Colombian government to release Perez Becerra forthwith and ensure that he is unharmed.
We also call for the release of all other political prisoners in Colombia. The Australian government must apply diplomatic pressure on the Colombian government in favour of Perez Becerra’s release, and that of all other political prisoners in Colombia
We urge the Swedish government to pursue a vigorous campaign to secure the repatriation of Perez Becerra to his home country.
As strong and active supporters of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, we also urge the Venezuelan government to do all it can to ensure that Perez Becerra’s human rights and the right to a defence are protected.