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The Kidnapping of a Revolutionary

A major political row is raging in the mass media of Colombia and Venezuela, left-wing websites and elsewhere over the kidnapping of FARC leader Rodrigo Granda. Each day brings more pronouncements and revelations from ministers, military and police officials, as well as Congress-people and leaders of social movements. Intellectuals have written and signed petitions, some seeing the kidnapping as a CIA plot to destabilize Chavez, others looking at the emerging facts and finding a complex picture of Colombian strategic moves and Venezuelan internal security lapses.

On December 13, 2004, Rodrigo Granda, the principle international spokesperson for the most powerful revolutionary guerrilla group in Latin America, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was kidnapped in broad daylight , 4pm, in the center of Caracas. His kidnappers subsequently turned him over to Colombian authorities who falsely claimed he was captured in Colombia. For almost two weeks, the Venezuelan authorities, including the Ministers of Defense, Interior and Foreign Relations were practically mute, even as leading Colombian journalists and Venezuelan activists protested the kidnapping of the prominent revolutionary. Following local and international appeals from writers, journalists, intellectuals and activists, many of whom had attended the same international conferences in Venezuela as Granda, the Minister of Interior, Jessie Chacon, called a press conference and announced an investigation into the presumed kidnapping of Granda. Two weeks is a long time, by any standard, to begin an investigation of one of Latin America’s most important revolutionary leaders, especially in a country which claims to be pursuing an revolutionary course.

The kidnapping of Granda and the response to that act raises a number of fundamental issues for revolutionaries, progressives and democrats throughout the world. First and foremost is the question of who was responsible, materially and intellectually for the deed and what was its purpose. Equally important is the question of what rights do revolutionary spokespeople have in the contemporary world. Thirdly, what was the response to the kidnapping from the left, self-described supporters of the Chavista revolution especially from US, European and Latin American intellectuals. Fourthly how should intellectuals express solidarity with progressive or revolutionary movements and regimes? Should they cover up internal differences, shortcomings and even egregious mistakes within the movements and regimes or should they provide constructive but pointed criticism which will help the revolutionary process to continue.

What was the purpose of the kidnapping and incarceration of the FARC leader? The perpetrators of the crime, the Uribe regime in Colombia, has long claimed its central goal is to capture, kill or jail the leaders and militants of the FARC and destroy the popularly based rural guerrilla army. This has been the regime’s highest political and economic priority, as it has been the top US priority in its Latin American strategy. The purpose in kidnapping Grando was to weaken the FARC’s capacity to interact with governments, movements, political parties and to present its views on a negotiated settlement of the 40 year-old civil war. In capturing Granda the Uribe regime hoped through pressures, torture and interrogation to break Granda and secure information in the location of the FARC leaders and their internal movements.

To claim, as did many writers who signed a letter directed “To International Public Opinion”, that Granda’s kidnapping was intended “to create difficulties between both countries (Venezuela and Colombia) and to weaken the Bolivarian movementto lessen President Chavez ‘ international prestige by creating doubts about a possible Venezuelan involvement in the kidnapping” has no substance and goes contrary to the most elementary facts about the kidnapping. The purpose of the Uribe government was not to create difficulties for Venezuela’s government but to smash the FARC. The signatories make no mention whatsoever of the clear and direct purpose and efforts of those who directed and paid for the operation. Secondly, the Colombian and Venezuelan Ministers of Defense signed a major bilateral military cooperation agreement several days after the kidnapping, in which intelligence operations are to be shared as well as joint training operations. Clearly neither the Venezuelan nor Colombian Defense Ministers were affected by the kidnapping. Furthermore, shortly before the kidnapping, the Foreign Ministers of Venezuela and Colombia signed off on a series of economic, trade and oil pipeline agreements which, we are told by the Venezuelan Vice President Jose Rangel, will not be affected in anyway by the kidnapping.

Subsequent investigations by the Venezuelan Ministry of Interior in fact have proved that indeed five medium ranked officers of the Venezuelan National Guard and three officials from the Criminal Investigation Division are also under arrest for their involvement in the kidnapping of Granda.

The signatories’ wrong-headed attempt to bolster Chavez’ prestige by denying any Venezuelan complicity has been demonstrated as patently false by the very Venezuelan ministries involved in the investigation. The failure and /or unwillingness of these overseas “Friends of Venezuela” to see that the Venezuelan State contains officials who are willing to collaborate with the Colombian regime is part of a deeper and continuing problem of the Left: their tendency to give a blank check to any progressive regime, to overlook important divisions within the regime and to understand that among the military and civilian officials there are some who value close cooperation with the Uribe regime over and above respect for the rights of a revolutionary not to be deported (or kidnapped) to a bloody paramilitary state where there are no judicial protections.

In the initial phase of the official Venezuelan investigation, the Minister of Interior Chacon and the Minister of Defense emphasized that Granda was “illegally” in the country, that he had “false papers” and that “he was not officially invited to the international conferences”. Instead of viewing the Colombian revolutionary as a victim of a heinous crime (a victim of international class warfare as we would have said in the old days), he was criminalized on the basis of immigration technicalities, which any low-level immigration functionary would appreciate. What was the purpose of distracting attention from a major political crime ­ kidnapping ­ to the trivial matter of an outdated visa? Was there an intention to say that he should have been expelled to Colombia and the Colombian kidnappers just went about it in the wrong way? Wasn’t Venezuela’s prestige tarnished more by its belated investigation and subsequent questioning of Granda’s right to participate in an International Conference in Defense of Humanity than by a forthright denunciation of the Uribe regime’s violation of its sovereignty and the complicity of some of its police and military officials? Worse, are not the signatories of a statement exonerating Venezuelan accomplices weakening the security of the Chavez regime? Does one defend a revolution by denying its internal weaknesses and enemies? After what happened in the past, especially with the former socialist countries, do we have to repeat the same errors, charging critics of sectors of the Chavez regime with preparing “the ground for armed US intervention” in order to silence them?

US armed intervention is a real possibility any place in the world, but it will not happen because a few Venezuelan police and National Guard officers are exposed as kidnappers in the pay of the Colombian state. It is now public knowledge in all the major Colombian media (Tiempo) that the Venezuelan officials received $1.5 million dollars for kidnapping and turning over Granda. Whether the kidnappers were also on the payroll of the CIA is not known, but their interrogations and admissions reveal no such connection. They had dollar signs, not stars and stripes, in their eyes. The real threat to Venezuelan security and to the Chavez regime, is from Venezuela’s new defense agreements with Colombia ­ where we can be absolutely certain the US Special Forces, CIA and DIA working with the Colombian military will make every effort to recruit officials, gain intelligence and foment anti-Chavez sentiment among the less committed Defense officials.

Over the past 40 plus years I have attended hundreds of international meeting and have been involved with scores of left movements throughout the five continents. Revolutionaries pursued by dictators and repressive regimes have participated, entering host countries without visas, with false passports and occasionally with their papers in order. The Colombian revolutionaries, specifically the FARC and more directly Rodrigo Granda, have spoken at public forums throughout Europe and Latin America. Granda was barred from speaking at the World Social Forum (WSF) in 2001 because the FARC is engaged in violent struggles but the French Socialists with a centur of involvement in colonial wars were welcomed ­ but that is the cant we expect from NGOs. The fact of the matter is that even under the bourgeois neo-liberal regimes of Europe and Latin America, officials recognized tacitly or overtly the presence of revolutionaries, including the FARC. There was none of this rather unseemly, hasty review of invitation lists by the organizers of the international conferences, disqualifying and dissociating from a kidnapping revolutionary leader. That is certainly not an expression of international solidarity. Better for the health and future of a Venezuelan revolution to state clearly and forthrightly the obvious – that Granda was there and he had a right to be there where we could discuss and debate our principles, our differences, just as other bourgeois leaders and regimes have done at other times and in other countries.

President Chavez has decided to take a personal hand in the matter. Uribe has stated that he financed the kidnapping of Granda in Venezuela. Chavez has always said that Venezuela’s national sovereignty will be defended whatever the costs in diplomatic, economic or military terms.

The Granda affair is not simply a provocation by the US and Colombia which may undermine bilateral relations, but a reflection of the internal division between the millions who wand to deepen the social transformation and those officials who want to reconcile with the US, Colombia and local elites.

As a afterthought in this regard, when Chavez declared a radical agrarian reform three years ago, not a single private latifundio was expropriated ­ the 100,000 land reform beneficiaries received only public land and then without adequate credit or technical assistance due to bureaucratic incompetence or political sabotage. In December 2004, Chavez renewed his call to the Governors and landless farmers to radicalize the land reform process. The governors responded by interviewing several landowners to study whether their land is productive or idle. In the meantime, thousands of landless squatters have been taking Chavez at his word and improvising their own land distribution program despite the violence of the unpunished private militias who are defending the latifundistas. Western intellectuals, indeed anyone who has doubts that the national revolution is turning social , had best pay more attention to the emerging internal class struggles than to signing such ill-informed petitions.

I call upon all people of good will to join in condemning the Uribe regime for the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda and express our support for him as a political prisoner of conscience.

JAMES PETRAS, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). He can be reached at:


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