Country Report on Terrorism 2009

In May, the United States re-certified Venezuela as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended. Pursuant to this certification, defense articles and services may not be sold or licensed for export to Venezuela from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010. This certification will lapse unless it is renewed by the Secretary of State by May 15, 2010.

President Hugo Chavez persisted in his public criticism of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. In October, he called the United States “the first state sponsor of terrorism” and has repeatedly referred to the United States as a “terrorist nation.” Since Colombia and the United States signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement, Venezuela’s cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism has been reduced to an absolute minimum. President Chavez continued to strengthen Venezuela’s relationship with state sponsor of terrorism Iran. Iran and Venezuela continued weekly Iran Airlines flights connecting Tehran and Damascus with Caracas.

It remained unclear to what extent the Venezuelan government provided support to Colombian groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The FARC and ELN reportedly regularly crossed into Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup as well as to extort protection money and kidnap Venezuelans to finance their operations. Colombia on various occasions has accused the Venezuelan Government of harboring and aiding top FARC leaders in Venezuelan territory.

Some weapons and ammunition from official Venezuelan stocks and facilities have turned up in the hands of these groups. In July, Colombia announced that it had recovered five Swedish AT-4 anti-tank missiles from the FARC that were originally sold to Venezuela. Chavez called the Colombian report “a dirty lie.” When Sweden confirmed the 1988 sale of the weapons, Venezuela then claimed the weapons had been stolen by the FARC from a Venezuelan base in 1995. When local journalists showed 1995 news reports that said the rival ELN had carried out the attack, the government claimed the ELN had sold the weapons to their rivals.

In mid-December, local newspapers cited the report of the Ecuadorian “Transparency and Truth Commission on the Angostura Case” that claimed that FARC Secretariat member Iván Márquez has offices in Caracas, where he directs the agenda of the FARC-linked organization, the Continental Bolivarian Coordinator.

On December 4, President Chavez promoted Hugo Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva to the rank of Venezuelan Major General, a three-star equivalent. Both Carvajal and Rangel had been designated Drug Kingpins by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in 2008 for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC. Carvajal remained in his position as head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Rangel Silva was named Commander of the Guayana Strategic Military Region in August.

There was some limited counterterrorism cooperation between Colombia and Venezuela, however. On April 23, Zulia State police arrested Yainer Esneider Acosta Peña, alleged to be the second in command of the FARC 45th Front. Local authorities transferred Acosta to the Colombian border where he was handed over to face charges of rebellion and terrorism.

Venezuela served as a safe haven for at least one alleged terrorist from a non-Colombian group. On August 5, the Venezuelan Supreme Court denied Spain’s extradition request of suspected ETA member Ignacio Echevarria Landazabal. In April 2008, Echevarria was arrested in Valencia, Venezuela, based on an INTERPOL warrant and was subsequently released.

Self-proclaimed Islamic extremists José Miguel Rojas Espinoza and Teodoro Rafael Darnott remained in prison after being sentenced to 10 years each in 2008 for placing a pair of pipe bombs outside the American Embassy in 2006.

Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain through fraudulent means; thereby making these documents a potentially viable way for terrorists to travel internationally. International authorities remained suspicious of the integrity of the Venezuelan document issuance process.

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