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Should Chavez Be on the List Of Terrorism Sponsors?

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady | The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal - January 21, 2005; Page A9 | In the war on terror no Latin American leader has been a better ally to George W. Bush than Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. It has not been without cost.

In circumstances similar to those former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar had to endure for his support of the Iraq invasion, the Colombian president has faced anti-Yanqui grandstanders who want to blame America first. Yet Mr. Uribe has remained true to the anti-terror cause and a good friend to the U.S. Now, Mr. Bush has a chance to return the favor.

In the last month, evidence has surfaced that Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez is harboring Colombian terrorists. Although the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá is supporting Mr. Uribe, Mr. Bush owes the Colombian leader an even stronger effort towards containing the Venezuelan tyrant.

Another good reason to take Chávez seriously is that there are alarming reports that suggest he may be bent on arming his revolutionary cadres all over South America. That could threaten regimes friendly toward the U.S. throughout the region.

Mr. Uribe's troubles with Chávez came to a head in December with the capture by bounty hunters, inside Venezuela, of a key leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), which has for years waged war on Colombians. Rodrigo Granda, known as the "foreign minister" of the FARC, was delivered to Colombian officials in the border state of Cúcata.

It turns out that Granda had been living in Venezuela since 2002, in a comfortable mountain residence just south of Caracas, coming and going as he pleased. Just before the August recall referendum that challenged the Chávez presidency, Granda was granted Venezuelan citizenship.

Chávez's denials that he knew about Granda are implausible, given the man's political importance and the Chávez network of domestic spies. Reliable sources say that Interpol advised Venezuela a year ago that Granda was a wanted man.

But why arrest a friend of the family? Venezuelan Foreign Minister Alí Rodríguez is on the editorial board of the hard-left Argentine-based magazine "America Libre;" so are the FARC's Comandante Manuel Marulanda, and the leader of Colombia's other main terror group known as the ELN. This is a strange association considering the fact that the FARC, heartily supported by Fidel Castro, has murdered, maimed and kidnapped thousands of Colombians and terrorized society over its 40-year history. The Financial Times reported yesterday that "according to Granda's diary, excerpts of which were seen by the FT, the top FARC representative kept the telephone numbers of several people in the Chávez government and other FARC members in Venezuela."

All of this raises the likelihood that Venezuela is a safe haven for FARC terrorists, just as Colombia has claimed over the past few years. Officials in Bogotá maintain that at least seven guerrilla bigwigs are enjoying Chávez's protections. The Colombian government also says that FARC members have attended conferences hosted by the Venezuelan government in Caracas and it further alleges that there are various FARC encampments on the Venezuelan side of the border.

Chávez is bent out of shape about the Granda capture. He, like Granda, protests that Venezuelan sovereignty was violated, even though it was not Colombian law enforcement agents that brought Granda in but Venezuelans who wanted the reward. Chávez can't very well object to the use of reward money, since he has offered just such compensation for the capture of his own enemies, inside or outside Venezuela.

Granda's complaints give a good picture of just how safe the Colombian terrorist thought he was in Venezuela. "There has to be a minimum of good manners toward another government, for sure," he told Colombian authorities. Otherwise, if captures like his are allowed, "we return to the law of jungle." Venezuela's vice president is telling the Colombian government that Bogotá must pinpoint the whereabouts of the guerrillas it alleges are inside Venezuela or stand accused of lying.

President Bush has made it clear that any government that gives safe haven to terrorists is a U.S. enemy. That would seem to require a more serious approach to whether Venezuela is supporting terrorism in Colombia.

Special attention might be profitably directed at FARC's role in South American arms smuggling and why that might tie in nicely with ambitions of Chávez and Castro to expand their influence throughout the region. Russian press reports say that Chávez has recently ordered 100,000 Kalashnikov automatic weapons from Moscow. His national guard and police are already well armed so it is reasonable to worry that these guns are meant for clandestine distribution on the continent. Former Colombian Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londońo wrote in Bogotá's El Tiempo on Monday that, "Chávez and Castro know that there is no dictatorship without arms." That could be why the Granda seizure has caused such uproar in the Chávez government: The FARC's arms and narcotics trading network is key to spreading the Chávez revolution throughout South America.

The State Department has badly bungled its handling of Chávez. In August it endorsed his victory in a recall referendum even though voters faced government intimidation and no serious investigation was ever allowed of plausible charges that voting machines were rigged. State's ill-considered action, granting Chávez a legitimacy that he doesn't deserve, will be used in his defense for years to come. Only this week, Rhode Island Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee used it during Senate hearings on Condoleezza Rice's nomination to head up State. Complaining about Ms. Rice's criticisms of Chávez, he said "It seems disrespectful to the Venezuelan people. They have spoken." Mr. Chafee is not one of Washington's brighter bulbs, but the initial problem was State's blessing of Chávez's tainted "victory."

It can be hoped that Ms. Rice will give serious attention to the slippage in Latin America and set about to build a team that will address the problems of the region in a more knowledgeable and active way. The U.S. cannot ignore Venezuela's alliance with the worst criminal organizations on the continent or its support of aggression against a neighboring government. All those tender souls who worry that Chávez will "cut off the oil" need to be told that he would do himself far more harm than the U.S. if he ever attempted such a power play.

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