Friday, July 31, 2009
WHEN THE Colombian government last year unveiled extensive evidence that the government of Venezuela had collaborated with a Colombian rebel movement known for terrorism and drug trafficking, other Latin American governments and the United States mostly chose to look the other way. The evidence was contained on laptops captured in a controversial raid by the Colombian army on a guerrilla base in Ecuador. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez denounced the e-mails and documents as forgeries, and the potential consequences of concluding that Venezuela was supporting a terrorist organization against a democratic government -- which could include mandatory U.S. sanctions and referral to the U.N. Security Council -- were more than the Bush administration was prepared to contemplate.
Now Colombia has made public evidence that will be even more difficult to ignore. In a raid on a camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), a group officially designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, Colombian forces captured sophisticated, Swedish-produced antitank rockets. A Swedish investigation confirmed that they were originally sold to the Venezuelan army by the arms manufacturer Saab. What's more, FARC e-mails from the laptops captured in Ecuador appear to refer to the weapons; in one, a FARC operative in Caracas reports discussing delivery of the arms in a 2007 meeting with two top Venezuelan generals, including the director of military intelligence, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios.
Colombia privately asked Mr. Chávez's government for an explanation of the rockets several months ago; Sweden is now asking as well. But the only response has been public bluster by the Venezuelan caudillo, who on Tuesday withdrew his ambassador from Colombia and threatened to close the border to trade. If he follows through, U.S. drug authorities may well be pleased: A report released last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office said Venezuela had created a "permissive environment" for FARC that had allowed the group to massively increase its cocaine smuggling across that border. "By allowing illegal armed groups to elude capture and by providing material support, Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups, and their continued existence endangers Colombian security gains achieved with U.S. assistance," the GAO reported.
This all sounds an awful lot like material support for terrorism -- which raises the question of whether the State Department will look again at whether Mr. Chávez's government or its top officials belong on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Bush administration's Treasury Department last year imposed sanctions on Gen. Carvajal and several other officials for supporting the FARC's drug trafficking. But that hardly covers the supply of antitank rockets to a designated terrorist organization. At the moment, the State Department is busy applying sanctions to members of Honduras's de facto government, which is guilty of deposing one of Mr. Chávez's clients and would-be emulators. Perhaps soon it can turn its attention to those in the hemisphere who have been caught trying to overturn a democratic government by supplying terrorists with advanced weapons.