The government backpedaled Monday on a sensational claim made by the defense minister that Marxist rebels wanted to assassinate President Bush during a recent state visit.
Defense Minister Jorge Uribe told reporters Friday that informants said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, instructed followers to “assassinate President Bush” during his visit in the seaside city of Cartagena Nov. 22, where he met with President Alvaro Uribe.
The defense minister, who is no relation to the president, did not say where the information came from, and there was no indication Bush’s life was ever in any danger: He was protected by 15,000 Colombian troops and police, U.S. troops and Secret Service agents during his 3 ½-hour visit to Colombia.
Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt played down the comments Monday, saying he had no information about any assassination plot against Bush.
“There is nothing specific,” Pretelt told The Associated Press. “What these terrorists organizations normally try to do is disturb the visits of any head of state ... like President Bush. But we took all (security) measures, and there was no disturbance.”
Misspoken or misunderstoodThe defense minister told reporters Monday he did not want to elaborate on his earlier comments, but his spokeswoman indicated he had either misspoken or been misunderstood.
“The FARC wanted to make a noise because of Bush’s visit, that’s to say to place a bomb in Cartagena or something like that,” spokeswoman Daisy Canon told the AP. “But a structured plan, with details to attack Bush — that we don’t know about.”
The FARC has not commented on Uribe’s statement.
Carlos Lozano, managing editor of Colombia’s Communist Party newspaper, who has had contact with rebel leaders in the past, dismissed the claim as outlandish.
“This is just another clownish statement from the minister,” Lozano said. “He launches these rumors which lack seriousness. I think it is his way of trying to get the United States more involved in the war here.”
Washington has provided $3 billion in mostly military aid to help Colombia battle the rebels, who have waged guerrilla warfare in Colombia for 40 years and finance themselves through drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.
Up to 800 U.S. troops and 600 U.S. contractors provide training, planning and logistics support to Colombia’s armed forces.