The handing over of Pérez Becerra and the strategy of the Venezuelan revolution

The arrest in Venezuela of Colombian political refugee Joaquín Pérez Becerra and his hand over to the Colombian authorities by the government of president Chávez has raised deeper questions about the strategy of the Venezuelan revolution.

Pérez 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”.

Colombia accuses Pérez Becerra of being a leading figure of the FARC guerrillas in Europe. 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.

Despite the fact that the official statement from the Venezuelan Justice and Home Affairs Ministry described him as a Colombian national, 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.

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 argument of the Venezuelan government is that 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”. This is a poor argument even from a legal/technical point of view, as 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 stated in his defence that the whole affair is a trap that was set for him. He has queried as 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 report 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?

The Colombian state wanted to get Pérez Becerra, who, through the ANNCOL website has been a thorn in their side for a long time, denouncing state collusion with paramilitary organizations, abuses of human rights and publishing FARC statements. But it is also clear that Santos wanted to use this opportunity to test Chavez’s commitment to collaboration with the Colombian state in the struggle against the FARC, and possibly use the opportunity to create an incident and accuse the Venezuelan government of “aiding terrorism” if he had refused to hand him over.

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 elespectador.com)

There is nothing really new about all this; it just confirms the fact that Colombia (and behind it Washington) views the Venezuelan revolution as a serious threat and was and is prepared to use all means at its disposal to undermine it and, if possible, bring it down. These methods include diplomatic pressure, media lies and slanders to prepare public opinion, as well as support for military coups, destabilization up to and including engineering a military conflict.

During the whole period of the Uribe presidency, the current Colombian president Santos was a close ally and collaborator, serving as minister of foreign trade, of finance and then of defence. As a minister of defence he was directly responsible for the illegal incursion of the Colombian army 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. And this is just a small sample of what Santos was involved in before becoming the successor to Uribe in the presidency in August 2010.

So, when Santos started a rapprochement with Venezuela, it is clear and transparent what his aim was. The strategy is the same as that used by Uribe, so transparently explained by the Wikileaks cables: to use 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 covert and illegal means of undermining the Venezuelan revolution, to be used as and when required.

It is true that revolutionary Venezuela is under siege and the threat cannot be understated or dismissed. In the last 12 years since Chávez was elected as president, imperialism and the reactionary Venezuelan oligarchy have tried to put an end to the Bolivarian revolution by any means necessary: military coups, assassination attempts, bosses’ lock-out, paramilitary infiltration, economic sabotage, diplomatic pressure, international isolation, media demonization, etc.

It is legitimate to try to break the attempt to isolate the Venezuelan revolution by looking for trade and diplomatic relations with any governments around the world. However, diplomatic manoeuvring and dealing has its limits. The only real defence for the Venezuelan revolution is the one that comes from the support it gathers amongst workers and peasants around the world and in Venezuela itself. Anything that weakens that is counter-revolutionary; anything that strengthens it serves the revolution.

The reformists and bureaucrats within the Bolivarian movement will argue, and have argued for the last decade, that the revolution should proceed cautiously and respect bourgeois legality so as “not to provoke the enemy”. The problem with this argument is that imperialism and the oligarchy are already “provoked”. They cannot tolerate a situation where the masses are aroused, politicised and are taking direct action to solve their problems. They cannot compromise with a president who calls on the workers to take over the factories, who renationalises privatised companies and who promotes workers’ control in state owned companies. They cannot accept a president who encourages the peasants to take over the big landed states. They cannot stomach a country that stands up to imperialism and denounces the farcical character of the United Nations.

And they cannot do so, because all of these things threaten their fundamental interests, power and privileges. It is precisely all of these things that strengthen and solidify the support for the Venezuelan revolution in Venezuela and internationally. The masses want more of this, not less.

However, when the revolution vacillates, makes appeals to the capitalists and backs this with concessions, when it compromises, when it gets enmeshed in a web of bureaucracy, corruption and theft which blocks and stifles the revolutionary initiative of the people, then the revolution is weakened. This applies both to domestic and to foreign policy, which at the end of the day is just a continuation of the former.

Chávez only until recently had become the most popular world leader in the Arab world. How was that possible? Venezuela is not part of the Arab world, and Chavez is not even a Muslim leader. What appealed to the Arab masses was the sight of an oil rich country using its wealth to the benefit of the majority instead of the enrichment of a corrupt elite, but above all, the strong anti-imperialist stance which Chávez took against Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the raping of Gaza. If, on the other hand, he is seen handing over revolutionary activists to a reactionary government and supporting the dictatorial regimes of Gaddafi, Assad and Ahmadinejad, all that support for the Bolivarian revolution will be squandered.

The compromising, half-way policies of the reformists weaken the support for the revolution amongst the workers and peasants. And they do not even serve to appease the imperialists and the oligarchy. On the contrary, weakness invites aggression. Santos now has seen that he can call Chavez and get him to arrest a Colombian political exile on a plane to Caracas, “without hesitation”. He will therefore demand more. Santos and Obama will not draw the conclusion from all this that Chavez is now “safe”, no longer a revolutionary threat and that the plotting against him should cease. On the contrary, they will interpret this as a sign of weakness and will increase the pressure (by legal and illegal means) against the revolution. The only effect of the handing over of Perez Becerra to Colombia will have been to drive a wedge between Chavez and the revolutionary activists who are the very backbone of the Bolivarian movement.

The “clever” reformist advisors of the revolution are incapable of learning any lessons from history. Chilean president Salvador Allende respected bourgeois legality right until the end, did not go too far for fear of “provoking reaction” and the Chilean revolution was thus drowned in blood. On April 13, 2002, after the revolutionary masses and revolutionary sections of the armed forces had defeated the coup in Venezuela and restored president Chávez to power, he came out on the peoples’ victory balcony and appealed for national reconciliation. He even opened negotiations with the reactionary opposition which had just staged a coup. Did that serve to demobilise the oligarchy and imperialism? It did not. A few months later a new conspiracy took place in the form of the oil lock out.

The September 26, 2010 elections, where the Bolivarian candidates lost one million votes, were already a serious warning. In 2012 crucial presidential elections will take place. The revolution must move forward in a decisive way. The expropriation of the big monopolies, the banks and the large landed estates, under democratic workers’ control, is the only way of solving the most pressing problems of housing, jobs, inflation and crime which affect the Venezuelan masses. Such measures would rekindle the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses not only in Venezuela, but beyond, throughout Latin America and the whole world. At a time of crisis of capitalism and revolutionary upheaval in the Arab world, the abolition of capitalism in Venezuela would provide inspiration to workers and youth everywhere.

Under those conditions, any attempt at imperialist intervention against Venezuela, from Colombia or anywhere else would swiftly be met with a mass movement of opposition within those countries.

Such a revolutionary policy at home should be accompanied by a clear revolutionary policy abroad. Chávez’s appeals to struggle for socialism worldwide have been met with enthusiasm everywhere. The plans to set up a Fifth International to struggle against capitalism and imperialism aroused similar interested and support. But once again, they were watered down, delayed and finally abandoned. Reformists and Stalinists argued that all this was unnecessary, an uncalled for provocation, that the government should not adopt an anti-capitalist position, that they already have the Sao Paulo Forum, etc. And what has this kind of thinking led us to? We are now presented with a policy in which the Ministry of Home Affairs and Justice justifies the handing over of revolutionary activists to the reactionary Colombian oligarchy in the name of an “unbreakable commitment to the struggle against terrorism and organised crime” and a “strict fulfilment of international commitments and cooperation”.

This is a serious mistake and it does not serve to defend the Venezuelan revolution, on the contrary. The Bolivarian revolution can only be defended if it takes a sharp turn to the left and fulfils its tasks by overthrowing capitalism. That is only possible through the organisation of a strong Marxist tendency within the Bolivarian movement giving a lead to the unorganised aspirations of the revolutionary masses. We remain committed to the defence of the revolution against all its enemies, but we also consider it our duty as friends of the revolution and comrades to warn about the dangers it is facing from within.