Venezuela linked to terror groups

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Accusations by Spanish authorities that Venezuela aided an alliance between Basque and Colombian terror groups that plotted joint attacks in Colombia and Spain have revived a debate over Venezuela’s possible role as a state sponsor of terrorism.

A Feb. 24 indictment issued by Judge Eloy Velasco of Spain’s anti-terrorism court specifically cites “Venezuelan governmental cooperation” with 12 members of the Basque separatist group ETA and guerrillas of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The groups have been accused of training together to make sophisticated bombs and of plotting to assassinate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe with the support of Venezuelan officials.

ETA, whose acronym stands for Basque Homeland and Liberty, is considered responsible for the deaths of more than 800 people in its struggle for Basque independence from Spain, waged since the 1960s. FARC has similarly fought a half-century-old insurgency against the Colombian government.

Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez has reacted angrily to the latest charges.

“I have nothing to explain to [Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero or anyone else on this planet,” he told reporters after the judge’s indictment. He called the court findings “daring accusations without the slightest proof.”

Mr. Chavez did not deny, however, that indicted ETA militant Arturo Cubillas Fontan has been on the Venezuelan government payroll. He said he would not be surprised if Spain was seeking his extradition and explained that Mr. Fontan had been given asylum in Venezuela by a previous government.

In statements released last weekend, the Venezuelan and Spanish governments said they had “surpassed difference,” and vowed to cooperate against terrorism.

The statements followed calls from Spain’s main opposition party to break relations with Venezuela. Earlier in the week, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos had called Mr. Chavez to assure him that his socialist government had nothing to do with the indictment.

Mr. Chavez publicly called on Spain to keep a “closer eye on its court system.”

Mr. Fontan has been employed as a deputy director for administration and services in Venezuela’s Ministry for Land and Agriculture since 2005. His Venezuelan wife, Goizeder Odriozola, also works for the government as director of institutional relations in the Ministry of Popular Power.

Spanish authorities describe Mr. Fontan as a murder suspect who is “responsible for the ETA collective in this zone of Latin America since 1999, in charge of coordinating relations with FARC.”

The 26-page indictment presented by Judge Velasco is based on intercepted electronic messages between FARC commanders, corroborated by police interrogations of FARC defectors and testimonies from captured members of ETA. The report also draws on past intelligence reports about contacts between ETA and FARC representatives in Cuba.

Venezuela is accused of providing protection for joint training programs arranged by Mr. Fontan. The report describes a 20-day course on weapons and explosives handling given at a jungle hide-out inside Venezuela, based on testimonies from FARC defectors who say they participated in the training at the time.

“The Caribbean bloc of FARC arrived by land accompanied by a person wearing [Venezuelan] Military Intelligence Directorate insignia and a Venezuelan military escort vehicle organized by Mr. Fontan,” the Spanish court document states.

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