Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, released the Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 this week and cited Venezuela as “not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts” for the sixth consecutive year. The report is the U.S.’s annual evaluation of terrorism activities in countries around the world.
This year’s report highlighted Iran’s increasing influence and activities in the hemisphere: “The most disturbing manifestation of this was the Iranian plot against the Saudi Ambassador to the United States; the plot involved enlisting criminal elements from a transnational criminal organization [the Mexican Zeta cartel] to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador by bombing a restaurant in Washington DC.” Disturbing indeed.
Benjamin, speaking at a press briefing, flagged increasing concern for “Iran’s support for terrorism and Hezbollah’s activities” worldwide. Hezbollah is the Iranian-backed, Lebanon-based militant group designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
“They’ve both stepped up their level of terrorist plotting over the past year and are engaging in their most active and aggressive campaigns since the 1990s,” Benjamin told reporters.
Amid this most “aggressive” campaign, the report finds, Hezbollah sympathizers and supporters are also reportedly engaged in fundraising and support activity in Venezuela. All the while, Venezuela and Iran continue to strengthen their alliance through “economic, financial, and diplomatic cooperation […] as well as limited military related agreements.”
In May 2011, the U.S. levied sanctions against Venezuela’s national oil company for violating the Iran Sanctions Act, and then re-imposed sanctions against the Venezuela Military Industries Company for violating the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Non-Proliferation Act.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ coziness with dictators goes beyond Iran. He provides both material and moral support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who currently may be responsible for the deaths of 20,000 people. Then there’s that storied “bromance” between Chávez and the Castro brothers, who continue to rule the Cuban island with an iron fist.
Beyond the rogue relations, the report mentions that a number of Venezuelans, including senior officials, have been designated for their connections to terrorist organizations, like Spain’s Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom—ETA) separatist group and Colombia’s Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) guerrilla organization, and various drug cartels.
For example, in September 2011, the U.S. designated four senior Venezuelan officials—including Defense Minister Henry Rangel—as “acting for or on behalf of the [FARC], in direct support of the group’s narcotics and arms trafficking activities.”
How does this all add up? Venezuela is a country that provides support to foreign terrorist organizations; it violates non-proliferation agreements; its senior officials are designated drug traffickers; it actively fosters relations with other state sponsors of terrorism (e.g., Iran, Syria and Cuba); it sneers at international norms such as freedom of the press and hemispheric institutions like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The sum of these parts equals that Venezuela isn’t just “not cooperating” on antiterrorism, but it is active in supporting terrorism. It is a player in worldwide terrorism. Beyond this State Department report there have been many other, more chilling examples of Venezuela’s nefarious activities—some potentially posing harm to U.S. interests. This prompts the next logical question: Why isn’t Venezuela designated as a state sponsor of terrorism?
Otherwise, how many more years will the U.S. chide Venezuela for failing to cooperate on antiterrorism efforts? Perhaps it is waiting for some cataclysmic event, like a deadly attack by terrorists trained in Venezuela, to rationalize such a bold move.
There’s also the thinking that if the U.S. waits long enough, an ill Chávez—whose disease remains shrouded in secrecy—may perish, and that his death may usher in friendly relations again between Venezuela and the U.S. But this approach relies too heavily on a naïve hope that the U.S. can just bide its time for the Chávez regime’s inevitable collapse. Because what would happen next?
Liz Harper is a contributing blogger to AQ Online based in Washington DC.