May 19, 2006
THIS WEEK, the State Department announced that it was banning all sales of weapons to Venezuela, alleging that the government of President Hugo Chavez was not cooperating in the worldwide war on terror. Though the sanctions are mostly symbolic — Washington sells few weapons to Caracas as it is — the extreme nature of these false allegations indicates that Washington is continuing its long campaign to delegitimize and undermine my country's democratic government.
As the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, I was not surprised. In January, we received word that the Bush administration was considering designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism — politicizing the war on terror. Bush administration officials feebly attempted to link Chavez to terrorist groups and acts, though they have failed to provide any evidence to substantiate such claims. They also claim that Venezuela's friendly relations with Iran and Cuba constitute an "intelligence-sharing relationship" that threatens U.S. security. This is nonsense. Venezuela, like many other countries, maintains relations with Iran and Cuba based on specific interests — oil with Iran, social programs with Cuba. This poses no threat to the United States.
The administration also has accused us of working with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Army of National Liberation, or ELN, both of which have been engaged in a five-decade-long conflict with the Colombian government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe maintain close and cordial ties, cooperating on everything from law enforcement to commerce. We have extradited a number of irregular fighters to Colombia, including leading figures from the ELN and FARC. And Venezuela has started a process of military modernization to shore up defenses along the country's shared border with Colombia, a process that the Bush administration has attempted to derail through unfounded criticisms and the recent blocking of the sale of Spanish patrol boats and Brazilian transport planes that would help secure the border. And at the request of Uribe, Venezuela has been assisting the Colombian government in its peace negotiations with the ELN.
Just as the Bush administration is ignoring our efforts in the war on terror, it is also thwarting attempts to bring notorious terrorists to justice, and it is doing so for political reasons. The State Department has ignored repeated requests from the Venezuelan government to either try or extradite three known Venezuelan terrorists currently taking refuge on U.S. soil. The most infamous of these, Luis Posada Carriles, is known as the "Osama bin Laden of Latin America" and is widely believed to have masterminded the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that left 73 innocent civilians dead. Despite repeated requests, the Bush administration has refused to honor the extradition treaty it signed with Venezuela in 1922.
If the U.S. will not extradite Posada to Venezuela, then it is obliged under international law to prosecute him here or send him to a third country for trial. Yet it has not done so. Why has the Bush administration dragged its feet on Posada? He was once a CIA operative and has long been shielded by extremist sectors of the powerful Cuban American community in Florida. Ironically, it is the Bush administration that is not cooperating with our fight against terror.
Venezuela and the United States are natural allies, sharing long-standing ties in oil, commerce and culture. It is unfortunate that those ties were broken when the Bush administration tacitly endorsed a military coup against Chavez in 2002. The decision to accuse us of not cooperating in the war on terror is another means by which the Bush administration is trying to isolate, antagonize and destabilize Venezuela. Such political decisions erode the legitimacy of the Bush administration's mission to fight terror and alienate allies.
The war on terror cannot be fought a la carte. Nor can it be fought by resorting to methods that contradict the very values and motivations the Bush administration professes to spread around the globe. If it is serious about fighting the war on terror, it must put politics aside. Allies in the war on terror do not have to agree on domestic issues or political ideology; they must be united only in their dedication to protecting the lives of their citizens, Venezuelans and Americans alike.
BERNARDO ALVAREZ HERRERA is the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington.