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Will the U.S. Hand Chávez a License to Kill?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez’s record of providing money, arms, political support, and, yes, safe haven to groups waging a murderous war against a sovereign state openly violates international law.

The proxy war being waged by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez against neighboring Colombia was denounced formally at the Organization of American States (OAS) this week, prompting Chávez to break diplomatic relations with Bogotá. By challenging the OAS to investigate the presence of narco-guerrilla camps in Venezuela, outgoing Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has assured that Chávez’s support for terrorism can no longer be ignored by the international community.

Narrating freshly captured videotapes for an audience of regional diplomats and media at the OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., on July 22, Colombian Ambassador Luis Alfonso Hoyos presented compelling evidence of 39 encampments of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the National Liberation Army ensconced in the Venezuelan countryside. (Both of these armed groups have been designated foreign terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, and both have been deeply involved in cocaine smuggling.)

Hoyos described recent attacks mounted by guerrillas operating from those clandestine camps, and he showed captured images of notorious FARC kingpin Luciano Marin Arango, alias "Ivan Marquez," lounging comfortably in Venezuela. The Colombian diplomat said that eyewitness testimony as well as photos and videos in the possession of two FARC leaders killed recently by Colombian security forces traced them back to guerrilla bases in Venezuela. Some videotaped images played during the 90-minute presentation denoted the geographic location, date, and time of the scenes, and Hoyos revealed commercial satellite images that show simple but well-established structures at those same remote coordinates.

The Colombian ambassador presented compelling evidence of 39 encampments of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces and the National Liberation Army ensconced in the Venezuelan countryside.

The Colombian representative said that the Venezuelan government, at the very least, has failed to deny safe haven to these illegal groups, which have perpetrated military operations, terrorist bombings, kidnappings, and murders against Colombian citizens and security forces. After describing the substantial progress that Colombians have made to reduce criminality, improve quality of life, and defeat these illegal guerrilla groups, Hoyos exclaimed, “We will not go back to that nightmare!”

Hoyos formally asked the Venezuelan government to comply with its international obligations to “destroy” the camps and to prosecute the terrorists. He also called on the OAS to form an international commission to urgently inspect the sites in Venezuela before they can be dismantled. And he pledged Colombian cooperation to bring terrorists to justice.

Venezuelan Ambassador Roy Chadderton responded to the accusations with equal parts scorn and sarcasm—referring repeatedly to “trick photographs” and even saying that he recognized the distinct color of the leaves and sand in several images as Colombian rather than Venezuelan. He insisted that Colombia’s civil strife is a product of that country’s decades-old class struggle, not international intervention. Chadderton suggested that Uribe’s “eleventh hour” denunciations were a result of his frustration at failing to vanquish the leftist guerrillas or to oust his rival, Chávez. Remarkably, although the career Venezuelan diplomat spoke for 50 minutes, he did not deny that Venezuela is harboring terrorists in violation of international law.

Hugo Chávez’s decision to break relations may strengthen Colombia’s argument for a multilateral response, because the two governments can hardly be expected to resolve matters without outside help.

Although Venezuela clearly hopes to stonewall any inquiry, several Latin American delegations offered to mediate the dispute. Chávez’s decision to break relations may strengthen Colombia’s argument for a multilateral response, because the two governments can hardly be expected to resolve matters without outside help.

Peru’s ambassador and OAS veteran Hugo de Zela cited one of the Organization’s “essential” mandates to help resolve problems that arise among the member states. Mexico’s representative noted that nations cannot duck the “shared responsibility” of fighting terrorism and narcotrafficking. U.S. Ambassador Carmen Lomellin read a perfunctory statement that—far from supporting our Colombian allies as the aggrieved party—awkwardly encouraged the feuding parties “to seek acceptable solutions” and suggested no role for the OAS.

Ironically, one of the governments that Uribe’s diplomatic gambit puts on the spot is that of his own successor, Juan Manuel Santos, who takes office on August 7. Some observers say that Uribe is miffed at Santos’s rush to show his independence by making appointments and taking initiatives that benefit Uribe’s bitterest rivals. Another view is that Uribe wanted to ensure that his successor could not seek accommodations with the dangerous Chávez.

One thing is clear: Chávez’s record of providing money, arms, political support, and, yes, safe haven to groups waging a murderous war against a sovereign state openly violates international law. If the United States and our neighbors fail to muster a meaningful response to Colombia’s latest evidence and formal appeal for help, they will share the blame for giving Chávez’s bandit regime a license to kill.

Roger F. Noriega was ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001 to 2003 and assistant secretary of State from 2003 to 2005. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and managing director of Vision Americas LLC, which represents U.S. and foreign clients.

FURTHER READING: Noriega earlier insisted on “Calling a State Sponsor a State Sponsor” of terrorism, explained how “Hondurans, Not Zelaya, Will Decide Their Future,” and reviewed the Obama administration’s policies in South America in “Cuba Si, Honduras No?” Elsewhere, he urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “Be Straight with Correa” and discusses how “Colombians Opt for Strong U.S. Ties.”

Image by Rob Green/Bergman Group.

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