Venezuelan Government: Separatist Opposition Uses Paramilitaries for Destabilization

Source: Venezuela Analysis

Venezuelan Minister for Justice and Internal Affairs, Tarek El-Aissami, accused the governors of opposition-controlled states along the Colombian border of permitting bands of Colombian paramilitary troops to destabilize the region and carry out a wave of "social cleansing" murders in recent months.

Speaking from the southwestern border state of Táchira last weekend, El-Aissami said the paramilitaries include members of state police forces and have contributed to a more than 43% increase in Táchira’s crime rate. Governor Cesar Perez, his chief of staff, and the regional director of Perez’s political party COPEI, plan to use the paramilitaries to launch a violent separatist movement, said El-Aissami.

"We are not going to permit the fascist right wing, headed by a fascist governor, to pretend to separate Táchira from the national territory," El Aissami declared. "We alert the country to this secessionist plan of the state governor and his veiled intention to create paramilitary groups."

In the past two months, pamphlets were distributed in dozens of communities across western Venezuela threatening to assassinate sex workers, transvestites, homeless people, drug consumers and traffickers, gang members and alleged thieves. Local newspapers in the states of Táchira, Mérida, and Zulia reprinted the pamphlets, which advised parents to keep their children in their homes after dark to avoid being killed during "the hour of social cleansing."

Many of the pamphlets were signed by the paramilitary group known as the Black Eagles (Aguilas Negras). The Black Eagles are presumed to be a splinter group of the now dissolved United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC), a conglomeration of paramilitary groups formed in the 1990s to fight Colombian guerrilla rebels on behalf of large estate owners, cattle ranchers, and right-wing politicians using cash earned mostly from drug trafficking.

In three municipalities in Zulia state, local residents attribute a dozen murders over the past two months to paramilitary groups, according to the regional Panorama newspaper.

"They arrived armed to the teeth commando-style and they put us up against the wall to search us. They said that if they saw us talking on the corner again, they were going to kill us," a teenager in Zulia state recounted of his experience with the paramilitaries last month.

In late April, pamphlets also circulated in three municipalities in Mérida, and shortly afterward a transvestite sex worker was brutally murdered. Friends of the victim reported that men approached them on the street and attributed the crime to paramilitaries and threatened to kill more transvestites working on the streets at night.

Venezuela’s national Criminal, Scientific, and Penal Investigations Unit (CICPC) and national intelligence officials have opened investigations into the pamphlets and the murders.  

On Sunday President Hugo Chávez called on ordinary Venezuelans to employ "popular intelligence" to assist in the fight against paramilitary infiltration. "We must organize the people, it’s not only a job for our comrades in the armed forces," he said.

Chávez threatened to bring Governor Perez to trial for treason, citing alleged intelligence documents that reveal a burgeoning "nest of paramilitaries" that plan to assassinate Chávez and promote secession in the opposition-controlled border region.

Last year, Zulia state legislators approved a feasibility study for autonomy and compared their efforts to the violent, U.S.-backed secessionist movement in eastern Bolivia. Earlier this year, the secessionist rhetoric of opposition officials in Táchira and Zulia intensified after the National Assembly approved the transfer of authority over transportation hubs from the states to the national government.

Chávez also said the paramilitary activity in Venezuela is an attempt to "re-create the phenomenon of the Colombian paramilitaries." Members of Venezuela’s substantial Colombian immigrant community report that the language of the pamphlets is identical to the pamphlets distributed in urban and rural Colombia last year.

Chávez had previously denounced the presence of Colombian paramilitary groups operating in Venezuela with United States government support in early 2008. Venezuelan authorities have captured more than 160 paramilitaries in the outskirts of Caracas on separate occasions in 2004 and early 2009. Investigations revealed the armed groups were engaged in the infiltration of poor neighborhoods and planning a coup d’etat. Since an agrarian land reform law was passed by the Chávez administration in 2001, paramilitaries have murdered as many as 214 rural community activists, according to the Ezequiel Zamora National Farmers Front.