Contradictory Claims over Venezuelan Links to Terrorism Expose Rifts within Obama Administration

Recent contradictions in statements by senior U.S. officials on alleged links between Venezuela and terrorist groups have exposed rifts within the Obama administration and provide evidence of the politicization of intelligence regarding Venezuela.

“We’re extremely concerned with what we see as growing battle within the administration to politicize intelligence and falsely accuse Venezuela of having links to terrorism,” said Ambassador Bernardo Álvarez.

“We’ve seen in the past how ‘intelligence’ has been used for political ends, and we know how severe the consequences of that can be,” said Ambassador Álvarez.

In testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 10, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela claimed under persistent questioning from Florida Republican Rep. Connie Mack that links may exist between Venezuela and the Colombian group FARC. He provided no evidence to back up the claim.

The following day, March 11, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Douglas Fraser, Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, stated the opposite, responding to a question posed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“We have not seen any connections specifically that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection,” said Gen. Fraser, referring to allegations of links between the Venezuelan government and the FARC and Spanish group ETA.

The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Washington, D.C. published a press release on the afternoon of March 11 highlighting Gen. Fraser’s comments. In the release, Ambassador Álvarez stated: “We’re happy that at least one U.S. official was honest enough to admit the truth and put to rest any myths about Venezuela’s supposed links to terrorist groups.”

Also on March 11, in an interview with the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Gen. Fraser offered no comments on any links between Venezuela and any terrorist groups and specifically avowed any direct connections between foreign terrorist organizations and countries in Latin America. “I don’t see any evidence of terrorist activity within Latin America or the Caribbean from outside of the region,” he stated.

But on March 12, Gen. Fraser published a post on the blog of the U.S. Southern Command in which he seemed to disavow his own statements from the day prior and take the opposite position with regards to the supposed links between Venezuela and terrorist groups. “Assistant Secretary Valenzuela and I spoke this morning on the topic of linkages between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. There is zero daylight between our two positions and we are in complete agreement: There is indeed clear and documented historical and ongoing evidence of the linkages between the Government of Venezuela and the FARC,” he wrote.

“How can Gen. Fraser claim there is ‘zero daylight’ between what he said one day and the exact opposite he said the next? There’s a lot of daylight there,” said Ambassador Álvarez. “Where’s the pressure coming from for him to so suddenly change his opinion?”

In a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on March 18, Gen. Fraser hesitantly repeated his accusation that links between Venezuela and the FARC existed, citing only unverified and questionable documents taken from a FARC leader during a March 2008 raid by Colombian forces on an encampment in Ecuador.

Intelligence in the U.S. has long been shaped and distorted to meet political ends, as was the case with regards to Central America during the Cold War and in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Additionally, U.S. policy towards Latin America has regularly been filtered through South Florida, serving the domestic constituencies of elected officials more than U.S. national interests.

“It’s no secret that some in the U.S. see Venezuela as a threat to national security, and will do what it takes to build a case against Venezuela,” noted Ambassador Álvarez. “In the past, these spurious claims against us lead to the 2002 coup in which a democratically elected president was briefly overthrown, with U.S. approval.”

On the contradictions between Valenzuela and Gen. Fraser, Ambassador Álvarez stated: “It’s clear that officials within the administration are torn over what to do with regards to Venezuela. While dialogue was the word of the day early in President Obama’s tenure, it seems that right-wing hardliners have now hijacked U.S. policy and are desperately trying to make Venezuela seem like the next big threat to the U.S., even when no evidence exists to back up that claim.”