Venezuela's implicit or explicit harboring of terrorists and its importation of so many Kalashnikov rifles is worrying the chief of the Southern Command, Gen. Bantz Craddock. Gen. Craddock's statements give greater credence to widespread concerns about terrorist safe havens and Venezuela's motives for bolstering its arsenal.
In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Gen. Craddock said, "I am also concerned with Venezuela's influence ... The capture of senior FARC member Rodrigo Granda in Venezuela, carrying a valid Venezuelan passport and his possible connection to the kidnapping and killing of the daughter of Paraguay's former president is of concern." The FARC is one of Colombia's largest terrorist groups, and Granda's capture highlighted the presence of Colombian militants in Venezuela. Colombia coordinated the capture of Granda on Venezuelan soil, an operation which caused a major but brief diplomatic rift between the two countries. Colombia has reportedly sent proof to Venezuela that other terrorists are living freely in the country.
The general also pointed out that while Colombia, Brazil and Peru signed a pact to improve border coordination in February of last year, "Venezuela's record of cooperation" with Colombia's security efforts "remains mixed." He added, "We remain concerned that Colombia's [terrorist organizations] consider the areas of the Venezuelan border with Colombia a safe area to rest, trans-ship drugs and arms, and procure logistical supplies."
The United States has given Colombia billions in aid since 2000 as part of an effort to bolster that country's security and halt the flow of drugs that make their way onto U.S. streets. That costly initiative would be undermined by the existence of terrorist camps across the Venezuelan border.
Gen. Craddock also signalled his concern about the possibility that Venezuela's arms imports could make their way to other countries, fueling conflict in the Southern Hemisphere. Venezuela is reportedly importing 50 latest-generation Mig-29 warplanes, dozens of helicopter gunships, a fleet of naval vessels and 100,000 Kalashnikov automatic rifles. "We are wondering just what the intent here is," Gen. Craddock told the Financial Times.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has always jealously guarded Venezuela's sovereignty, using that defense to ward off criticism of his repressive policies. But Mr. Chavez has failed to recognize that he is in effect violating Colombian sovereignty by allowing, or encouraging, the presence of terrorist encampments. The export of arms to Colombian and other terrorist groups would constitute another grave transgression against national sovereignties.
The Bush administration is beginning to fashion a policy to contain Mr. Chavez's potential harmful effects on the region. This is a welcome and necessary step. The administration should take pains, though, to cooperate closely with other regional leaders who have reason to be concerned about Mr. Chavez's latest maneuvers. Any policy that appears glaringly made in America could backfire and empower Mr. Chavez.