Thursday, May 05, 2011

Why Was Becerra Betrayed?

So the shock has come all the harder to those looking to Venezuela for inspiration, when President Chavez's government arrested a left-wing Colombian political refugee, Joaquín Pérez Becerra, and handed him over to the Colombian authorities.

Demonstration in defence of Jaquin Pérez Becerra. Photo: Luigino BracciDemonstration in defence of Jaquin Pérez Becerra. Photo: Luigino BracciPérez Becerra was arrested by Venezuelan security on April 23 as he arrived at Maiquetia airport. Colombian president Santos reported that he had personally contacted Venezuelan president Chávez to let him know that Pérez Becerra was on a commercial flight to Venezuela, having left from Sweden and changing planes in Frankfurt: “I gave him the name and asked if he would collaborate in capturing him. He didn’t hesitate”.

The Colombian regime accuses Pérez Becerra of being a leading representative in Europe of Colombia's FARC guerrillas. Perez Becerra was a local councillor of the Patriotic Union (UP) in the Valle del Cauca region in the 1990s. The UP was subject to a campaign of systematic killings by paramilitaries linked to the Colombian state. Two UP presidential candidates, eight UP congressmen, 11 UP mayors, 13 UP deputies, 70 UP councilmen, and up to 5,000 UP activists were killed.

Perez Becerra then fled to Sweden where he was given political asylum. He is the editor of the online New Colombia News Agency (ANNCOL) and had visited Venezuela in the past. An official statement from the Venezuelan Justice and Home Affairs Ministry described him as a Colombian national.

But according to Jorge Martin, on the International Marxist Tendency (IMT)'s website 'In Defence of Marxism', "he is in fact a Swedish national after having renounced his Colombian citizenship in 2000, and was travelling on his Swedish passport. After being detained by the Venezuelan authorities, he was held incommunicado. The Swedish consulate was not informed about his arrest and within 48 hours he had been handed over to the Colombian authorities and taken across the border. The Swedish authorities have sent a protest note to Venezuelan foreign affairs minister Nicolás Maduro and provided Pérez Becerra with legal representation in Colombia".

Martin notes that "This case has created uproar amongst revolutionary activists and Bolivarian organizations (including the UNETE trade union, the Venezuelan Communist Party, the Coordinadora Simón Bolivar, the Bolivar and Zamora Current, etc) in Venezuela and internationally. The details of the case are particularly scandalous. Protests were first directed at foreign affairs minister Nicolás Maduro and communication and information minister Andrés Izarra, but a week after the arrest of Perez Becerra, president Chávez himself assumed full responsibility".

The Venezuelan government says there was an Interpol “red notice” on Perez Becerra and that they could do nothing else but to arrest him and hand him over “in full compliance with international law”. But Jorge Martin points out that Interpol red notices “are not arrest warrants”, but just a request “that the wanted person be arrested with a view to extradition,” according to the Interpol website.

"For Perez Becerra to be extradited he would have had to go through a legal process which could become lengthy. Instead he was just handed over to the Colombian authorities. Even if one accepts the argument that the Venezuelan authorities had to respect Interpol’s red notice and arrest him, Perez Becerra is a Swedish national, travelling on a Swedish passport. Surely the thing to do would be to hand him over to the Swedish authorities. And why should the Venezuelan government respect an Interpol red notice when the Interpol has removed red notices for Venezuelan bankers in the US who are sought for corruption by the Venezuelan justice system? And why should the Venezuelan revolution collaborate with the Colombian judiciary when the 2002 coup leader Pedro Carmona is protected from Venezuelan justice in Bogotá?"

Chávez has also claimed the affair was a trap set for him. He has queried why Perez Becerra was allowed to leave Sweden and board a plane in Frankfurt if there was an Interpol red alert on him. He says he was put in an impossible position of “damned if I arrest him and damned if I don’t”. It is clear that the whole situation is very dubious. Why did the Colombian authorities only reported the presence of Perez Becerra on the plane two hours before it was due to land? When was the Interpol red notice issued? Was it when Perez Becerra was already on the plane? If not, how was he allowed to board a plane in Frankfurt, one of the most secure airports in the world? Was there really a red notice on him, since none can be found on the Interpol site?

US diplomatic cables recently released by Wikileaks show that former Colombian president Uribe had considered an armed conflict against Venezuela which he saw as a threat: “The best counter to Chavez, in Uribe's view, remains action – including use of the military.” It has also been revealed that a military force of about 100 Colombian soldiers was sent into the Venezuelan border state of Zulia in 2005. Another cable, dated 2006, explains how Uribe was attempting “to maintain a positive bilateral atmosphere, using joint energy projects and trade to create incentives to moderate Chávez’s behavior,” while at the same time this would allow him “to create the political space to permit clandestine cross border operations” into Venezuela (16 de noviembre de 2006, Wikileaks en

Santos held ministerial office during the Uribe presidency. As a minister of defence he was responsible for the Colombian army's illegal incursion into Ecuador to kill FARC leader Raúl Reyes. He also organized the Operación Jaque to rescue FARC hostages, which was also designed to sabotage Venezuelan efforts at mediation with the guerrillas which were embarrassing the Uribe government. Under his watch the “false positives” scandal erupted, which proved that the military had been carrying out extrajudicial executions of innocent civilians and then presenting them as guerrillas in order to “show results”. It is estimated that more than 3000 people were killed in this way.

Santos appears to have twin track strategy for Venezuela, using diplomatic and trade relations to try to put pressure on Chavez to moderate his policies, to get him to collaborate in the “struggle against terrorism” by handing over FARC and ELN members based in or passing through Venezuela, while at the same time not abandoning plans to undermine Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution, to be used as and when required.

The response of the International Marxist Tendency to this episode is significant, because this Tendency (represented in Britain by the faction of former 'Militant Tendency' members who decided to cling on inside the Labour Party when others reformed outside as the Socialist Party) has attached special importance to Venezuela.

The tradition to which they adhere is what more "orthodox" Trotskyists used to call Pabloism. Viewing the state of the world after World War II, Michael Raptis (better known by his pen name Pablo) argued that objective conditions were tending towards a Third World War, and this would propel the Stalinist leaders towards revolutionary policies. (Some say there was a 'Left' turn in the Communist Parties from about 1947, expressed in strikes in France and guerrilla movements in the Far East). Trotskyists would have to get into the Communist Parties or at least the unions they led, in order to be part of this.

The wars in Vietnam and Algeria brought a further development. Raptis and the Dutch Trotskyist Sal Santen were both arrested for clandestine assistance to the Algerian FLN. Later Raptis/Pablo would enter the service of Ben Bella's Algerian government. Supporters here published a pamphlet -"Ben Bella on Workers Control". As various 'Third World' leaders rose up, attempting to develop their societies by measures of public ownership and planning, while resting on Soviet or Chinese support to resist Western imperialist pressure, the Pabloites and Ernest Mandel produced a new interpretation of Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution. Rather than the working class and Marxists moving on from the 'democratic' revolution to take the power, it was 'objective circumstances' again that would make what began as bourgeois revolutions 'go over' into the socialist revolution. The role of Marxists would be to assist and advise.

Fidel Castro's triumph in Cuba, the establishment of the first "socialist state" in the Western Hemisphere, persuaded the US Socialist Workers Party among others to try and sink their differences with the Pabloite "Fourth International". In some countries left-wingers tried to emulate Castro's guerrillaism, sometimes with tragic results. Fortunately perhaps, in Britain, while some tried to reproduce France's May-June 1968 by focussing on students, the other group continued Pablo's idea of "deep entry" - though since this is Britain, most eschewed the minority Communist Party and stuck with Labour instead.

If Castro and the martyred Che Guevera are still admired, the arrival of Chavez, who turned from the military to pursue his aims through election and the institutions, while turning to the labour movement as allies, is bound to have an appeal, much wider than this or that sect. In a period when we had been told socialism was finished, the Venezuelan leader has been in the forefront of Latin America's turn to the Left.

But a few things have blotted Hugo Chavez's escutcheon recently. Even if we accept his alignment with Castro in defence of Libya's Gaddafi as being necessitated by opposition to imperialism, it is a bit harder to justify apparent support for Iran's Ahmadinejad. Oil producers' solidarity may explain such alliances, but defending such states against US or other Western imperialism does not mean defending oppressor regimes against working people.

Another issue that has aroused concern is Chavez' seeming readiness to accept the military coup regime in Honduras, supporting its admission to the OAS.

In Venezuela itself, there is the question of working class independence. Workers' pressure has forced the release of Ruben Gonzales, a union leader who had been sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment for supporting an iron miners' strike.

Another twist to the Becerra saga is that Colombia is dangling the possibility of extraditing Walid Makled, a wanted drug trafficker, to Venezuela. Was this the quid pro quo?

Whatever the faults and wrong moves committed by the Chavez government they do not detract from Venezuela's right to pursue its own development, independent of US dominance. Equally the duty of socialists to support the Venezuelan people in this does not require us to pretend that everything is perfect. Indeed, the weakness of forever seeking some such 'model' to extoll the virtues of can both weaken us when clear-sighted, critical solidarity is needed, and cause longer term disorientation.



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