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COUNTRY REPORTS ON TERRORISM - VENEZUELA

Released 27 April 2005 | US Embassy in Caracas

In 2004, Venezuelan-US counterterrorism cooperation continued to be inconsistent at best. Public recriminations against US counterterrorism policies by President Chavez and his close supporters overshadowed and detracted from the limited cooperation that exists among specialists and technicians of the two nations.

Venezuela continued in 2004 to be unwilling or unable to assert control over its 1,400-mile border with Colombia. Consequently, Colombia’s three US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) — continued to regard Venezuelan territory near the border as a safe area to conduct crossborder incursions, transship arms and drugs, rest, and secure logistical supplies, as well as to commit kidnappings and extortion for profit. Weapons and ammunition — some from official Venezuelan stocks and facilities — continued flowing from Venezuelan suppliers and intermediaries into the hands of Colombia’s FTOs. It is unclear to what extent and at what level the Venezuelan Government approves of or condones material support to Colombian terrorists. President Chavez’s close ties to Cuba, a US-designated state sponsor of terrorism, continue to concern the US Government.

Current Venezuelan law does not specifically mention crimes of terrorism, although the UN Convention on Terrorist Bombings of 1997 and the UN Convention on Terrorism Financing of 1999 became law in Venezuela in July 2003. Venezuela neither maintains a foreign terrorist list nor designates groups as such. Venezuela signed the OAS Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism in June 2002 and ratified it in January 2004. Legislation considered throughout 2004 — including the organized crime bill, anti-terrorism bill, and proposed changes to the penal code — defined terrorist activities, established punishments, facilitated investigation and prosecution, and froze the assets of terrorism financiers. However, other proposed changes to the penal code would undercut political freedoms. The law modifying the penal code passed in the Assembly on January 6, 2005, and is awaiting Chavez’s signature.

President Chavez’s stated ideological affinity with FARC and ELN — both US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) — further limited Venezuelan counterterrorism cooperation with Colombia, which in 2004 continued to receive less cooperation from Venezuela than from its other neighbors. Venezuelan and Colombian military and police cooperated on some terrorism and drug-related cases. Moreover, the September 17 murder of at least six Venezuelan National Guard members and a civilian engineer near the border with Colombia, reportedly by FARC forces, publicly upset Chavez and raised expectations that border policing would be stepped up with additional resources and political will. However, President Chavez’s and the Venezuelan Government’s acerbic reaction to the December 13 detention of Rodrigo Granda Escobar, a reported FARC General Staff member who is considered the FARC’s “foreign minister,” complicated efforts to enhance Venezuelan-Colombian counterterrorism cooperation. Granda had reportedly been captured in Venezuela by bounty hunters, and then brought to Cucuta, Colombia (near the Venezuelan border), where he was detained by Colombian officials. President Chavez and the Venezuelan Government publicly accused the Colombian Government of infringing on Venezuela’s sovereignty, suspended trade and business accords with Colombia, and recalled Venezuela’s Ambassador to Colombia. President Chavez rejected Colombian President Uribe’s offer to meet face-to-face to resolve the impasse and conditioned any meeting with Uribe — as well as the resumption of trade relations and return of Venezuela’s Ambassador to Colombia — on Uribe’s apologizing to Chavez and accepting responsibility for violating Venezuela’s sovereignty. In early 2005, Chavez and Uribe resolved to move past this incident. However, future counterterrorism cooperation between Venezuela and Colombia remains uncertain. Following the killing of prosecutor Danilo Anderson on November 18, 2004, President Chavez ordered Venezuela’s National Defense Council to define an antiterrorism strategy to include tighter border and 87 communications security. At President Chavez’s instruction, the National Assembly formed a committee to develop an antiterrorism law, and the Supreme Court designated a group of judges to handle terrorism cases. Nevertheless, there are concerns within Venezuela, based on preliminary details of the antiterrorism law, that Chavez’s recent attention to “terrorism” may be intended to target domestic opponents of his Government. An increasingly politicized judiciary and the recent appointment of Venezuelan Government supporters to fill the 12 new seats added to the Supreme Court (plus five vacancies) cast serious doubts on the judges’ independence and impartiality.

Terrorist tactics were employed throughout 2004 by unidentified domestic groups attempting to influence the tenuous political situation, particularly in Caracas. A series of small bombs and threats throughout the year were in some cases blamed on supporters of President Chavez or on the Government’s political opponents. The Venezuelan Government alleged in 2004 that exile groups and the US Government sought to overthrow or assassinate President Chavez, but offered no proof to support its claims. The Government claimed on May 8 that some 100 Colombian paramilitaries were training secretly near Caracas; those detained turned out to be unarmed Colombian agricultural workers.

Venezuela’s limited document security, especially for citizenship, identity, and travel documents, makes it an attractive venue for persons involved in criminal activities, including terrorism. Venezuela could serve as a transit point for those seeking illegal entry into the United States, Europe, or other destinations. Most examples of positive counterterrorism cooperation with the United States pre-date 2004. In the wake of 9/ 11, Venezuela supported the invocation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (“The Rio Treaty”), which calls for the collective self-defense of OAS member states in response to an attack on any member. Venezuela had provided limited cooperation to the US Government on counterterrorism and counterterrorist finance efforts, as well as US Government counternarcotics initiatives. In November 2002, a US Financial Systems Assessment Team (FSAT) visited Venezuela and met with Venezuelan Government officials to assess Venezuela’s counterterrorism finance regime. Venezuelan officials have participated in various US Government counterterrorism finance courses, identified by the FSAT. The Venezuelan military has received anti-kidnapping training from the US military. Venezuela helped provide evidence that led to the indictment of FARC members for the 1999 murder of three American indigenous activists. Future counterterrorism cooperation with the United States remains uncertain, especially given President Chavez’s and the Venezuelan Government’s actions in 2004.



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