On Monday, the Venezuelan government announced it had arrested nine Colombian citizens, allegedly members of neo-paramilitary groups. According to Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, some of the suspects were members of the Rastrojos drug gang, and others worked for a former paramilitary leader known as “Chepe Barrera.” Rodriguez said the men had been instructed to meet up in Caracas to receive orders for a mission that had not been explained to them. While he gave no evidence to support this, the interior minister said he “would not be surprised” if the mission had been to assassinate President Maduro.
Maduro accused former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of plotting with paramilitary groups to kill him in May. While he has not linked Uribe to the arrests, the Venezuelan president took to his Twitter account to denounce a “dirty campaign” against the country “based on fascist violence and bringing paramilitaries from Colombia.”
Adding to the tension is the fact that former Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel accused opposition groups in the country of 18 war planes in the United States, to be positioned at a U.S. air base in Colombia later this year. On his weekly political talk show on Sunday, Rangel accused the opposition of “preparing an armed attack on Venezuela with the participation of mercenaries,” and gave coordinates for the supposed air base. As Colombia Reports points out, a Google Maps search of the coordinates points to an apparently undeveloped river bank about five miles west of the Venezuelan border.
The administration Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, for its part, seems to have handled Maduro’s statements with restraint. Santos has so far not publicly addressed the spat with Maduro, caused by his decision to meet with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles last month. Yesterday, Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon suggested that the United Nations be asked to investigate the warplane allegations.
Meanwhile, the tension continues to affect Colombia’s negotiations with FARC guerrillas. On Sunday the rebel group released a statement saying it was caught in “limbo” as a result of the deteriorated relations between Colombia and Venezuela. “The matter of Venezuela, as an accompanying country and facilitator of the process, is very sensitive for the FARC…if it was not for Venezuela there would not be a peace process in Havana,” the communique reads.
Former Brazilian Presdent Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has allegedly been attempting to serve as mediator between the two countries, for which Maduro publicly thanked him on June 7, but these recent incidents suggest the odds of both countries coming to terms soon are slim.
- The Colombia Land Rights Monitor has released a new report on the armed conflict in the country and its impact on land distribution and restitution, entitled “Elusive Justice: The Struggle for Land and Life in Curvarado and Jiguamiando.” The publication provides a look at the struggle of displaced victims in the Afro-Colombian communities of Curvarado and Jiguamiando to regain their land. The Santos administration has recognized the area as a kind of pilot case for land restitution in Colombia, and the lack of progress there suggests there “may be little hope for other communities that do not have the same profile or level of attention,” according to the report’s authors.
- The FARC and Colombian government have begun a new phase in peace talks in Havana, and are expected to discuss democratic political participation this week, Semana magazine reports.
- The New York Times takes a critical look at the U.S. Border Patrol, noting that 15 people have been killed by U.S. agents on the southwest border since January 2010. Many of these shootings involved suspicious circumstances, such as the victim being unarmed or shot in the back, factors which have raised tension between Mexican and American authorities. According to the NYT, the immigration bill in Congress would would require the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department’s civil rights division to “develop new policies on how and when to report use-of-force actions, investigate complaints and discipline agents, an effort to clarify and tighten regulations.”
- Nicaragua is moving forward with a plan to dig a rival to the Panama Canal with Chinese funds, to be completed in 11 years’ time. The National Assembly’s infrastructure committee approved the project last night, and La Prensa reports that the bill could be approved in the full house on Thursday. Meanwhile, Nicaragua Dispatch talks with the president of a U.S. company which had been in discussion with the Ortega administration about completing the project, who claims he is “shocked” by the development.
- The L.A. Times has a report on “self-defense” groups emerging in Mexico, which highlights their success in pockets of the violent southwest region of Tierra Caliente. Despite minor victories in small towns there, however, Tierra Caliente remains largely under the control of drug trafficking groups.
- The Wall Street Journal has an extremely flattering profile of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, ahead of a meeting between Humala and U.S. President Barack Obama scheduled today in Washington. The WSJ praises Humala for having “aligned the economy with free-market stalwarts like Chile, even as some neighbors like Bolivia and Ecuador tilt toward socialism.”
- The United Nations has issued a condemnation of a forced eviction of around 150 Haitian refugees from a camp they had set up on private land in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. According to Sophie de Caen of the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on June 4 a tractor was used to demolish shelters and force residents to leave.
- In a recent interview with CNN, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange offered some interesting advice to U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden: “Go to Latin America.” Assange, who is still holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, praised the region for its “long tradition of asylum,” and noted that “Latin America has shown in the past 10 years that it is really pushing forward in human rights.” British and Ecuadorean diplomats are expected to meet this month to discuss Assange’s status , though Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Richard Patiño has publicly guaranteed that his asylum will continue.