Colombia to Chavez: See You in the Hague

Last week, amidst a tense standoff in the Andes, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe hastily called together a press conference and made an audacious claim. The Colombians had turned up evidence, he said, that the Venezuelan government was funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC. The announcement was a bombshell. The FARC is designated as a terrorist organization, so evidence of financial support from a foreign government would have serious repercussions.

Uribe even took it a step further, pledging before his countrymen on national television that he would bring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez before the International Criminal Court on charges -- not of violence, not even of terrorism, but of genocide. Like in Rwanda, only … not. It was high theater, albeit theater of the deranged, but then a funny thing happened. People started to look at the documents he was referring to, and they didn't seem to say what he said they said.

The evidence, such as it was, came from a laptop computer that had apparently survived a bombing campaign that left 22 rebels dead days earlier. Investigators like Greg Palast translated and posted them, dismissing the Colombians' interpretations of their contents. Even the U.S. government -- Colombia's No. 1, and sometimes only, ally in the region -- expressed "extreme skepticism" over at least one aspect of the charges, the notion that the FARC were attempting to create a dirty bomb. By the end of the week, Uribe had backed off his statements about Venezuela and the ICC. Nobody would be going to The Hague.

All of this is a shame because it would be sort of neat to see Uribe stand before the ICC. I wonder what it would make of his government, with its lethal campaign against trade unionists, those mass graves that keep turning up or, yes, its state support of terrorism. Because unlike the allegations he's thrown around, President Uribe's terror links don't just stem from cryptic messages left on miraculous jungle laptops. In fact, they're astonishingly well-documented.

Back in the early '90s, then Sen. Uribe was already well-known to U.S. intelligence officials. A now-declassified 1991 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency listed Uribe among "important Colombian narco-traffickers," noting that he was "a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar" and "dedicated to collaborating with the Medellin [drug] cartel at high government levels."

If they only knew! Today, of course, Uribe runs the show, and his organized crime connections no longer simply "collaborate" with the highest levels of government -- they sit in Colombia's most powerful posts. Consider:

  • Just last year, Uribe's foreign minister was forced to resign after her brother, a senator, was jailed for colluding with right-wing paramilitary groups in a series of murders and kidnappings. Like the FARC, Colombia's paramilitaries are designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe.

  • That same month, the head of Colombia's secret police, who also served as Uribe's campaign manager, was arrested for "giving a hit list of trade unionists and activists to paramilitaries, who then killed them."

  • Last March the Los Angeles Times turned up CIA documents alleging that Uribe's amy chief "collaborated extensively" with death squads, back in 2002, [and] colluded in the massacre of 14 people for their perceived leftist politics.

  • In May, the trial of a paramilitary leader revealed that Uribe's defense minister had plotted with the terrorist group to destabilize past presidential administrations.

  • Currently 14 of Uribe's closest congressional allies sit behind bars for their own terror links. Their trials have uncovered untold horrors, including mass graves in the southern province of Putumayo, where at least 211 bodies were discovered last spring.

Outside the Middle East, there is no government on earth with as many direct links to known terrorist organizations as Colombia. And this listing, as jaw-dropping as it seems, may just scratch the surface. Colombia is a tough place to investigate corruption. For two full years, Uribe's police intelligence unit illegally tapped the phones of journalists looking into these unfolding scandals. They also surveilled the homes of opposition politicians, and in last fall's elections, a whopping 30 major candidates turned up dead. Taking on the Uribe regime comes with enormous risks.

Which brings us to The Hague. Perhaps only an international tribunal can provide the transparency, media scrutiny and, indeed, protection for a thorough investigation of Colombian politics to be possible. So please President Uribe, I urge you to reconsider your position. Go ahead and file those charges against Venezuela. But if you're heading off to the Netherlands to testify, be sure and bring a change of underwear. You may find a number of your own countrymen waiting for you there. With laptops.

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