New Calls for Obama Administration to Add Venezuela to Terror-Sponsor List

By Patrick Goodenough | March 3, 2010 | 4:57 AM EST

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks at a press conference at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

( – Accusations about links between the Venezuelan government and terrorists in Colombia and Spain add weight to calls to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism, a Latin American specialist said Tuesday.
Heritage Foundation scholar Ray Walser was commenting on claims by a Spanish prosecuting judge that President Hugo Chavez’s government had assisted two terror groups that plotted to assassinate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Chavez reviles Uribe, who angered him by signing a military base access agreement with the U.S. last year. Ironically, the leftist leader just last week accused Uribe, at a Latin American summit in Mexico, of planning his assassination.
In response to the Spanish allegations, Chavez said this week they were part of a campaign organized by “the Yankee empire,” Venezuela’s officially ABN news agency reported.
Spanish judge Eloy Velasco made the allegations while issuing indictments against 12 men accused of plotting to kill Uribe and other senior Colombian officials during visits to Spain.
The 12, who are all at large, are suspected of being members of the Basque separatist group ETA and the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). International warrants were issued for their arrest.
They include one Arturo Cubillas Fontan, who Velasco said has coordinated ETA’s activities in Latin America for a decade while serving as its link with FARC.
The indictment cited the provision of “military training for ETA members in the Colombian jungle, in exchange for ETA’s help in Spain, locating terrorist targets sought by FARC,” including Uribe.
The judge said that Cubillas Fontan, who lives in Venezuela, at one time held a job in Chavez’s government and may still do so. The indictment said Velasco’s investigation has unearthed evidence “that demonstrates Venezuelan governmental co-operation in the illicit collaboration between FARC and ETA.”
Velasco’s charges prompted the Spanish government to demand an explanation from Venezuela.
ETA, whose acronym stands for Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque fatherland and freedom), has killed hundreds of people in bombings, kidnappings and assassinations since the late 1960s in its campaign for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain.
FARC’s deadly four decade-long campaign against Colombian governments has been financed in part by drug money and kidnapping ransom payments.
Both groups are designated foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. government.
Information about FARC-Venezuela links were found on a laptop computer seized by Colombian forces during a cross-border raid on a FARC base inside neighboring Ecuador in 2008. The laptop belonged to FARC number two, Raul Reyes, who was killed during the attack. Chavez charged that the files had been tampered with to implicate him, but a subsequent Interpol investigation into the material found no evidence of this.
Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported Tuesday that Cubillas Fontan serves as security chief for a Venezuelan government agency called the National Land Institute.
The agency, known by the acronym INTI, was set up to drive a controversial land redistribution program introduced by Chavez in 2001 as a centerpiece of his
“Bolivarian revolution.”
Venezuela’s ambassador in Madrid, Isaias Rodriguez, denied Velasco’s allegations and once again charged that the data on the seized FARC laptop had been fabricated while in the hands of the Colombian government.
In a statement in response to the allegations, the foreign ministry in Caracas also ridiculed the reliance on the FARC laptop, calling it a “farce … which is already a part of Colombia’s political folklore.”
The statement said that Cubillas Fontan had been living in Venezuela since May 1989, as a result of an agreement between the then Venezuelan and Spanish governments. It did not respond to allegations of continued involvement in ETA activities, or of links to FARC.
According to news reports from the time, then Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez struck deals with Venezuela, Ecuador and several other Latin American countries to grant asylum to ETA members who agreed to surrender their weapons.
‘Chavez poses clear threat’
The U.S. government currently lists Cuba, Syria, Iran and Sudan as state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that carries sanctions including a ban on arms-related exports and sales, controls over exports of dual-use items, prohibitions on economic assistance, and various financial restrictions.
In its most recent annual report on international terrorism, the State Department in its section on Cuba refers to the presence in that country of members of ETA and FARC, in the context of “safe haven” for terrorists. (The report does note that some of those in Cuba had arrived there “in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Spain and Colombia.”)
Some lawmakers and others have been pushing for Venezuela to be added to the terror-sponsor list, pointing to its close relationships with Iran and Cuba, as well as its links to Hezbollah and FARC.
Last October, Florida Rep. Connie Mack, the ranking Republican in the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, introduced a bill calling on the administration to add Venezuela to the list because of its support for Iran, Hezbollah and FARC.
“United States law clearly states that a state sponsor of terrorism is one that repeatedly provides support to acts of international terrorism,” Mack argued at the time. “Hugo Chavez has done so and is a clear threat to our hemisphere.”
Walser of the Heritage Foundation said Tuesday the latest claims reinforced the case for the Obama administration to act.
In a detailed report on the subject last January, Walser called President Obama’s view that Venezuela is not a threat to U.S. national security “dangerous.”
“Placing Venezuela where it belongs, on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, will not resolve every challenge the U.S. faces with regard to Venezuela, but it will send a powerful signal that the American people understand that oil, extremism, terror, and anti-Americanism make a dangerous mixture, whether in the Middle East or the Americas,” he wrote.
In May 2008, Venezuela was re-certified as a country “not cooperating fully” with American antiterrorism efforts under U.S. arms export legislation.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow