Venezuela: Colombian journo deportation sparks outrage

A number of left groups in Venezuela and solidarity groups internationally have expressed concern over the April 23 decision by Venezuelan authorities to arrest well-known Colombian journalist and supporter of the Venezuelan revolution, Joaquin Perez Becerra.

Perez Becerra was arrested when he tried to enter the country through Caracas Airport. He was deported two days later to neighbouring Colombia to face trial for supposed “terrorism” charges in Colombia.

The Venezuelan Communist Party newspaper Tribuna Popular said Perez Becerra had come to Venezuela to learn about the revolutionary process. Pro-revolution National Union of Workers (UNT) federation noted in a statement that Perez Becerra was a “revolutionary journalist” and opposed the arrest and deportation of a “revolutionary journalist”.

As director of the Colombia news agency ANNCOL, Perez Becerra was one of the most important voices in defence of human rights in Colombia. He was forced to abandon Colombia in the early 1990s due to constant death threats against him and after his wife was assassinated.

Perez Becerra was forced to seek exile in Sweden to avoid the fate that befell more than 4000 members of the left-wing Patriotic Union — of which he was a member and elected councillor — who were killed in the violent bloodbath that wiped out that democratic and legal organisation.

He was never and is not a member of any illegal organisation.

Since moving to Sweden, where he became a citizen and has raised his family, Perez Becerra has never returned to Colombia.

Despite this, in January 2010, together with a number of other Colombian exiles, Perez Becerra was forced to seek Swedish government protection following threats made by then-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

Uribe accused the exiles of aiding “terrorism” and warned “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 threats are part of the broader international campaign being continued by Colombian President Juan Manual Santos to criminalise solidarity with Colombia’s social movements through accusing those opposed to the crimes of the Colombian government of “aiding terrorism”.

In November, the Colombian government attempted to extradite Chilean journalist and Colombia solidarity activist Manuel Olate for supposed links to the Colombian guerrilla organisation, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

As in the case against Perez Becerra, the “evidence” cited against Olate was supposedly obtained from laptops recovered after the illegal bombing of a FARC camp in Ecuador in 2008.

Many military, police and international authorities have said the laptops were clearly tampered with and that any information obtained from them lacks credibility.

Chilean authorities eventually dismissed the extradition charges against Olate.

Santos has publicly said Perez Becerra’s deportation was the result of a special request made directly by him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Perez Becerra now awaits an uncertain future, placed into the hands of a government that is internationally renowned for locking up and torturing political prisoners.

There are more than 7500 political prisoners in Colombia. Many of them are denied the right to a fair trial and due process.

Swedish lawyers have raised concerns that the decision to deport the journalist contravened a number of international conventions. They have also raised alarm at the fact that Venezuelan authorities did not inform the Swedish consulate of the arrest and deportation of one of their own nationals.

Suspicion has also been raised regarding the supposed “red alert” put out by Interpol, given that the Swedish embassy in Bogota had no knowledge of it. This explains why Perez Becerra was able to freely leave Sweden, and go in and out of Frankfurt airport, without any attempt to detain or question him.

Ramiro Orjuela, a lawyer contracted by the Swedish government, said the red alert may have been issued by the Interpol office in Bogota only after Perez Becerra had boarded the plane in Frankfurt to Caracas.

This raised questions as to whether this may have been part of a plan to create a delicate diplomatic situation for Venezuelan officials.

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela have being improving in recent times, following moments of extreme tension and potential armed conflict.

Venezuela’s policy towards Colombia is based on the need to maintain peace in the region and defend Venezuela’s national sovereignty.

US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks showed the willingness of the Uribe government, in which Santos was defence minister, to invade Venezuela under the guise of hunting down Colombia guerrillas.

Such a scenario could trigger a war between the two countries.

This is a threat that Chavez has warned about on many occasions. It is made more dangerous by the decision of the US government — which views Venezuela as a major threat — to establish seven new military bases on Colombian territory.

Venezuela has made clear that it believes the Colombian guerrilla forces are not terrorists but instead a belligerent force. At the same time, 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.

Venezuelan authorities recently handed over to Colombia two alleged members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) captured in Venezuelan territory.

However, many supporters of Venezuela believe that in this case, both the law and justice are on the side of Perez Becerra, and that he should never have been deported.

An international campaign has begun calling on Colombian authorities to immediately release Perez Becerra and ensure that he is not harmed in any way.

Similarly, many are asking that Venezuela publicly clarify its position regarding Perez Becerra’s deportation in order to dispel some of the uncertainties surrounding the event.

Foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said in an April 29 statement: “No one can deny that Venezuela has complied with international law, we will not be blackmailed by anyone, no matter where they come from, because we are acting in a transparent manner according to the law and the responsibilities that the Venezuelan state has.”

[Federico Fuentes is a member of the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network.]

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