It is time for the Obama administration to put Venezuela on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism, right along the current rogues gallery of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
With regularity, new evidence emerges showing how the government of firebrand socialist Hugo Chavez aids one of the most insidious terror groups in the world: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
FARC, as it is known, dabbles in murder, outright assassinations, bombings, cocaine and heroin. The U.S. has designated it a terror group. Cuba is on the state-sponsor list principally for supporting FARC. Now, Venezuela should be, too.
Here is what the State Department said in April: "FARC has carried out bombings, murder, mortar attacks, kidnapping, extortion, and hijacking, as well as guerrilla and conventional military action against Colombian political, military, and economic targets. Foreign citizens were often targets of abductions that the FARC carried out to obtain ransom and political leverage. The FARC has well-documented ties to the full range of narcotics trafficking activities, including taxation, cultivation, and distribution."
Just this month, Colombia, whose democratic government is FARC's prime target, found Swedish-made, anti-tank rockets in the hands of the terrorists. Sweden had sold the weapons to the Venezuelan military. The launchers are among a long list of Venezuelan arms found in the bloody hands of FARC.
One of FARC's biggest fans is Chavez. He not only provides them with arms, but intelligence reports say he also supplies money and safe havens.
And he gives moral support. He has called on Washington to remove FARC from the terror list, likening the band of cut-throat drug-dealers to romantic revolutionaries.
When Colombian forces raided a FARC stronghold and killed Raul Reyes, a particularly nasty narco-terrorist suspected in 57 homicides, Chavez eulogized him as a "good revolutionary."
President Obama greeted Chavez with a warm handshake when the two leaders met for the first time. He has sided with Chavez in calls for Honduras to reinstate its ousted leftist president, whom the courts ordered arrested.
While there is a nascent move in Washington to at least begin a debate inside the administration on designating Chavez as a terror sponsor, foreign police experts doubt it will happen.
"It's certainly time to raise that issue," Ray Walser, a Latin America analyst at the Heritage Foundation, told HUMAN EVENTS. "It's something I don't think the Obama administration wants to do but I think they should look at it. Here you have weapons that are coming out of identifiable military stock and particular since Chavez is denying it. 'It's all a lie.' But the Swedes are confirming it ..... He sees FARC as a liberating force."
Walser said the Bush administration also was not keen on adding Chavez to the state-sponsor list. "There is a desire to strike out at Chavez," but there is a fear of "lifting one too many rocks," such as a cut off of Venezuelan oil, the analyst said.
"At this point I'm recommending that they call the ambassador back and say, look we need a major policy review," Walser said. "Nothing is working with Mr. Chavez. We have to stand up and say something about it."
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Connie Mack, (R-Fla.), is the most vocal advocate of terror-list status for Chavez. He issued a statement last week after the Swedish arms revelation.
“The solid evidence linking Hugo Chavez to the FARC calls for immediate action by the Obama Administration and Congress to investigate this dangerous relationship and name Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism," Mack said.
“The evidence is real: Hugo Chavez not only provided the FARC with money, equipment, tactical support and a safe haven, evidence has now emerged proving that he funneled sophisticated anti-tank rockets to the FARC.
“Instead of applying sanctions to Honduras and pulling visas of Honduran officials, the Obama Administration and Congress must work together to enact tough sanctions against the Chavez regime, and the Administration should immediately start the process of naming the Chavez-led Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Venezuela is one step away from the terror list. It is the only South American country designed as "not cooperating fully" with the U.S. anti-terrorist programs, such as freezing financial assets.
Released in April, the State Department's latest annual report on worldwide terrorism makes a good case for Venezuela as a state sponsor. Here are some highlights:
- "President Chavez's ideological sympathy for the FARC ..... limited Venezuelan cooperation with Colombia in combating terrorism."
- "In June, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr al Din and travel impresario Fawzi Kan'an as Venezuelan Hezbollah supporters." [Hezbollan is backed by Iran and is a U.S.-deemed terror group.]
- "The Venezuelan government did not systematically police the 1,400-mile Venezuelan-Colombian border to prevent the movement of groups of armed terrorists or to interdict arms or the flow of narcotics. The FARC [and other terror groups] regularly crossed into Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup as well as to extort protection money and kidnap Venezuelans to finance their operations."
- "Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain, making Venezuela a potentially attractive way station for terrorists. International authorities remained suspicious of the integrity of Venezuelan documents and their issuance process."
The State Department report did not contain other facts, such as information on Reyes’ computer -- seized by Columbian forces -- revealed that Chavez had offered FARC $300 million to continue its war on Colombia and to funnel money to other Marxist terrorists in Central and South America.
And, the State Department itself reported earlier this year that Venezuela is a "major transit route" for cocaine going from FARC to the U.S.
Last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' auditor, went to Caracas and interviewed U.S. and Colombia officials.
The GAO concluded: "Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups by providing significant support and safe haven along the border. As a result, these groups, which traffic in illicit drugs, remain viable threats to Colombian security. A high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military, and other law enforcement and security forces contributes to the permissive environment, according to U.S. officials. The United States and Venezuela cooperated closely on counternarcotics between 2002 and 2005, but this cooperation has since declined."
Chavez supports the arms and drugs of FARC as a way to combat the U.S. "He sees a very weak, non-interventionist, isolationist America as very much in his interest," says Walser.
Putting Caracas on the list would probably not hurt the country economically. The law restricts arms and economic aid to the designated country and can discourage American business relationships.
The real benefit would be a public stand against an increasingly belligerent leader who is trying to destabilize Latin American democracies and using FARC as his proxy.
The State Department's criteria for adding a country to the list reads: "State sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to non-state terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have greater difficulty obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations."
The evidence is mounting. Just look at recent Venezuela-FARC discoveries in Colombia, the GAO report on the cocaine-Venezuela connection and State's own terror report.
It all adds up to a strong case for anointing Venezuela and its leader Chavez as the fifth state sponsor of terrorism alongside Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.