Venezuela's relations with terrorism and FARC exposed

April 30, 2009 - President Hugo Chávez's ideological sympathy for the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) limited Venezuelan cooperation with Colombia in combating terrorism. In January, he called for, and the Venezuelan National Assembly approved, a resolution calling for international recognition of the FARC and ELN as belligerent forces, not terrorist groups. In March, he called FARC second-in-command Raúl Reyes, "a good revolutionary" and held a national moment of silence following the Colombian cross-border raid into Ecuador that killed Reyes. In March, Venezuelan authorities apprehended two FARC fighters seeking medical treatment in Venezuela. They took the injured man to a military hospital for treatment and his companion to a regional penitentiary. By May however, Venezuelan authorities declined to provide information on the whereabouts of either man. In June, President, Chávez publicly changed course, calling upon the FARC to unconditionally release all hostages, declaring that armed struggle is "out of place" in modern Latin America. In July, the Venezuelan National Guard detained FARC chief of borders and finance Gabriel Culma Ortiz and the Venezuelan government handed him over to Colombian authorities.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez brokered the unilateral release of six hostages from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in January and February 2008.

In December, a Venezuelan court sentenced two self-proclaimed Islamic extremists to 10 years each for placing a pair of pipe bombs outside the U.S. Embassy in 2006. The court convicted José Miguel Rojas Espinoza of constructing and placing the devices and found Teodoro Rafael Darnott guilty of planning the attack and instigating Rojas to conduct it.

In June, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr al Din and travel impresario Fawzi Kan'an as Venezuelan Hizballah supporters. In September, OFAC designated two senior Venezuelan government officials, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva, and the former Justice and Interior Minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC. Limited amounts of weapons and ammunition, some from official Venezuelan stocks and facilities, have turned up in the hands of Colombian terrorist organizations. 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, ELN, and remnants of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) regularly crossed into Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup as well as to extort protection money and kidnap Venezuelans to finance their operations.

Iran and Venezuela continued weekly flights connecting Tehran and Damascus with Caracas. Passengers on these flights were reportedly subject to only cursory immigration and customs controls at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas. Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain, making Venezuela a potentially attractive way station for terrorists [such as FARC leader Rodrigo Granda]. International authorities remained suspicious of the integrity of Venezuelan documents and their issuance process.

In May 2008, Venezuela was re-certified as "not cooperating fully" with U.S. antiterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended (the "Act"). Pursuant to this certification, defense articles and services may not be sold or licensed for export to Venezuela from October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2009.

By Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State