Wednesday, May 04, 2005


But who will handle the coverup? (updated)

Rumsfeld has been eager to see the Pentagon take over the role of the CIA in "special operations." Could this be one of their first bungled attempts? Kim Housego of the AP reports
Colombian police have detained two U.S. Army soldiers near a huge military base southwest of the capital in an alleged arms smuggling plot, Colombian and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The soldiers, whose identities or ranks were not disclosed, were arrested during a raid Tuesday on a house in Carmen de Apicala, located southwest of the capital and near Colombia's sprawling Tolemaida air base, where U.S. soldiers have been stationed.

[National Police Chief] Castro said police in the village 50 miles southwest of Bogota stopped a suspicious man, who under the threat of arrest led officers to the nearby house where the arms were stashed.

Shortly afterward, the two American soldiers apparently unaware of the police operation entered the house but could not justify their presence.

"In the course of the investigation, two Americans arrived, they did not give a satisfactory explanation and were put at the disposal of the prosecutors' office," Castro said.

The arrests mark the latest U.S. embarrassment in this South American nation. On March 29, five American soldiers were arrested after 35 pounds of cocaine were found aboard a U.S. military plane that flew to El Paso, Texas, from the Apiay air base east of Bogota. One suspect has been released, but the rest are being held in the United States.

Now if you can't guess what this is about, maybe Reuters can help

The two unidentified soldiers were found with 32,000 9-mm bullets ..., police said, adding they suspected the two might have planned to sell the ammunition to illegal far-right paramilitaries.

"It's a lot of ammunition and it's a very suspicious case," Colombian Police commander Gen. Jorge Castro told local radio.

Well, not to worry—

Under a treaty, U.S. personnel serving here come under U.S. jurisdiction and Colombia does not have the right to sentence them in its courts.

But all this ammunition is not likely intended for its usual victims—Colombian villagers. In one of those wonderful coincidences the AFP reports today on Rumsfeld's assurances of the benign intentions of the U.S. toward Venezuela—

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that the United States would not intervene to remove the government of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and suggested to an audience it could eventually lose power on its own.

Rumsfeld’s frank comments during a question-and-answer session at the Council of the Americas came in response to an audience member’s assertion that Venezuelans appeared incapable of removing the Chavez government themselves and that the United States would have to step in “to bring some sanity there.”

“You indicated you don’t think anything can happen unless the United States does something,” Rumsfeld replied. “I don’t know that I agree with that.”

I could find no photo of the event. I would have liked to see if I could spot Rumsfeld's crossed fingers. Well, no matter. What Rumsfeld did not say was that the U.S. would not be arming proxies—specifically, right-wing Colombian paramilitaries—to destabilize Venezuela.

Meanwhile, back at the State Department... Reuters reported on Monday that

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has discarded her failing tactic of confronting Venezuela publicly in favor of working behind the scenes in Latin America against a country she says threatens the region's stability.

The shift, evident in a Latin American trip last week, came after Rice's tough talk earlier this year against the "negative force" of President Hugo Chavez backfired by burnishing the populist's anti-American credentials and irking governments in a region wary of US interference.

Mark Weisbrot of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank predicted the new reluctance to challenge Chavez publicly meant Washington would only seek to intensify international pressure on Venezuela in other ways.

Noting Washington has already imposed sanctions on Venezuela by blocking World Bank loans, he said, "They lost when they attacked head-on but now they'll focus on using multilateral forums against Chavez."

And anything else they can think of.


The Colombians have dutifully handed over the soldiers to the Americans, as the treaty granting immunity to American soldiers, American contractors and American household pets requires. But after the U.S. exercised those same rights only a month ago in the case of the soldiers exporting cocaine, elements of the Colombian government are hopping mad over their loss of sovereignty. It went so far that, as the BBC reported,

A senior Colombian official, Inspector General Edgardo Jose Maya, tried to have their deportation delayed, and asked for further examination of a treaty granting them immunity in Colombia.
According to the AP,
[Ambassador] Wood ruled out lifting the diplomatic immunity given to the soldiers under a 1974 treaty between the two nations. However, he said: "If Colombia wants to change our accord, we are always prepared to receive its proposal."

While the U.S. government dangles a 3.3 billion-dollar military-aid carrot over their heads, it is unlikely that the Colombians will require a change in arrangements any time soon. It is equally unlikely that the U.S. would acquiesce even if they tried.

But the U.S. has decided to offer a small sop to the Colombians—

The United States on Friday said Colombian prosecutors could question two U.S. soldiers accused of selling arms to far-right death squads.

The U.S. concession came amid growing anger in Colombia over Washington's refusal to allow the suspects to be tried in Colombia. But U.S. Ambassador William Wood said the soldiers will be severely punished if found guilty by a U.S. military court.

"Immunity does not mean impunity," he said.

Wood made the comments during a visit to western Tolima state where Warrant Officer Allan N. Tanquary and Sgt. Jesus Hernandez were arrested Tuesday at a luxury estate and accused of plotting to deliver 40,000 rounds of ammunition to a paramilitary militia.

But here's what the story's about—

Tanquary's father, who said he had not spoken to his son since his arrest, defended the soldier.

"I've got great faith in my son, but I don't know anything about it other than what I've read in the papers," Jim Tanquary said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his home in Hendersonville, N.C. "Whatever has transpired down there (in Colombia), it's not something he's done for his own personal gain."

The United States has denied secretly helping the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, which has been blamed for countless atrocities in its two-decade dirty war against Marxist rebels. Washington has labeled the AUC a terrorist organization.

You may count on it that most Latin American governments are viewing this incident with a great deal more interest than is demonstrated by the American media.

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