By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Vice President Ramón Carrizález announced that “several” Venezuelan army soldiers were in custody and would have to “assume their responsibilities” in connection with the death of Colombian fisherman at a river on the border between the two countries.
First news of the killing had come with reports Friday from the Colombian capital, Bogotá, saying that the fisherman had been shot dead by presumed members of the National Guard near the River Arauca on Thursday afternoon. The reports cited unidentified sources at the Colombian Foreign Ministry.
The fisherman, named as Amadeo Téllez Lozad, was said to have tried to cross the border when a squad of Venezuelan soldiers patrolling the frontier zone came upon him. On being told to approach them, Téllez Lozad tried to run away and he was shot, the reports said.
His body was recovered by local residents and taken to a local municipal clinic. There, he was pronounced dead.
The reaction of the Colombian media to this was almost immediate. Radio Caracol described the incident as a “clear aggression by the Venezuelan Guard against the civilian population” and there was speculation about the likely impact of the incident on the already tense relationship between Bogotá and Caracas.
President Hugo Chávez has announced a trade boycott by Venezuela against Colombia, prompting warnings from business leaders about the likely impact of the measure on bilateral trade and jobs on both sides of the border. However, while his rhetoric has been bellicose, the Venezuelan leader has publicly eschewed military action against Colombia.
Carrizález confirmed that it appeared that the soldiers had opened fire and that a man had “unfortunately” died. He said the soldiers had come across a launch carrying a group of people and had ordered them to halt, and then fired.
The soldiers had been identified and were at the disposition of prosecutors, Carrizález continued. The evidence indicated that a crime had been committed, in the sense not only of murder but also of unlawful use of firearms, he added.
The vice president then turned on the media in both countries for the way in which they had covered the news in a manner which he claimed was intended to “inflame the frontier” with reports of what had in fact been “an isolated incident.”
The authorities were taking the necessary measures, he insisted. “We’re not going to protect people who carry out this sort of act. The Attorney General’s Office will determine the responsibilities and surely these people will be judged and condemned for what they did.”