Trump Ponders Putting Venezuela on Terrorism Blacklist

No evidence has been provided, and any inclusion on the list would be based on “hearsay” and “questionable sources,” analysts suggest.

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The US State Department is allegedly evaluating including Venezuela on the list (Alex Wong  / Getty Images)
The US State Department is allegedly evaluating including Venezuela on the list (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
By Paul Dobson
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Merida, November 21, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The White House is considering including Venezuela in its list of countries which sponsor terrorism, the Washington Post revealed Monday. The prospect has been described as “absurd” by Venezuelan authorities.

The list ─ which currently includes Iran, Sudan, North Korea and Syria ─ brings together countries which US authorities claim “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” according to White House criteria.

The Washington Post report quotes anonymous US State Department sources and internal emails which indicate that no final decision has been made on the issue, and that the State Department has requested feedback on the proposal from various government agencies such as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, and USAID.

Allegedly, a phone conference took place last week with such agencies, in which State Department Officer Elizabeth Williams said that “they expect to make a decision soon.”

If enacted, the move could signal further sanctions or even a “military option” against Caracas, as recently proposed by President Trump.

The prospect of blacklisting comes after pressure from Senators Marco Rubio, John Cornyn and Cory Gardner, who in September lobbied State Secretary Mike Pompeo to include Venezuela on the exclusive list. In a letter, the senators claimed that “Venezuela is not fully cooperating with US anti terrorism efforts,” and that “Maduro has helped and backed terrorists (…) cooperating for many years with the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] FARC and the [National Liberation Army of the same country] ELN, as well as other narco terrorists.” The letter also alleges links to Lebanon’s military grouping Hezbollah. This allegation has been floated several times in the past, but no evidence of these links has been provided.

The US State Department also recently included Venezuela in its report of 2017’s terrorist activities, to which Caracas issued a firm rebuttal.

“We do not recognise such a unilateral and arbitrary practice which simulates an evaluation and qualification of other countries, especially when the intended evaluator is no less than the principal leader of state terrorism in the world through its fabrication of unjustifiable dividing wars, the illegal detention and torture centres, and the open financing of terrorist groups which defend its economic and geopolitical interests,” stated the September rebuttal.

“The threats of military force against Venezuela (…) as well as the imposition of coercive unilateral measures and illegal economic blockades constitute undeniable forms which bring about terror and generate suffering in peaceful societies,” the statement goes on to argue.

Finally, it commits the Venezuelan government to “continue to tirelessly struggle against international terrorism by cooperating with civilised countries which look to maintain world peace and security.”

Reaction to the latest threat

At the time of writing, no direct response to the recent threats has been registered from President Maduro and the Venezuelan government. Response to the leaked threat did, however, come from National Constituent Assembly Deputy Pedro Carreno, who classed it as “absurd” on Tuesday.

Venezuela “has always pointed out that it does not accept paramilitary organisations nor irregular forces,” he stressed.

Venezuela's opposition were more ambiguous in their analysis of the threat.

“The Maduro government has decided to connect itself and even offer belligerent status to organisations which have been classed as terrorists across the world,” claimed the Second Vice-President of the defunct National Assembly and leading member of First Justice party Alfonso Marquina.

Popular Will Deputy Sergio Vergara, also a member of the Defence Committee of the same National Assembly, stated that “whatever happens, the only ones responsible are the government.”

“The government has converted the country into a failed and rogue state that funds terrorism and the drug trade. There are guerrillas, paramilitaries, and organised crime present here and they act in defence of the revolution,” he went on to state.

Internationally, only the Secretary-General of the US-backed Organisation of American States Luis Almagro seemed to support the move, alleging that the Maduro government has “proven links to transnational crime organisations” and “backs terrorist acts” in a recent interview.

“Based on hearsay and sources of questionable integrity”

Despite repeated efforts from the Venezuelan opposition, the US State Department, and Senator Rubio to charge the Venezuelan government with support for terrorism, no evidence for such claims has been provided.

According to an unnamed State Department official quoted by the Washington Post, “It would be a challenge for the Trump administration to provide concrete proof linking the Maduro government to terrorism if it decides to put Venezuela on the list.”

David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, agrees with this evaluation, stating that “I suspect this will be based on hearsay and sources of questionable integrity.”

Even former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield questioned the potential inclusion, saying that “There are several other governments you could say are involved in more forms of terrorism.”

Smilde also indicated that the move could prove to be politically counter-productive for the Trump administration, whom Maduro describe as imperialist, and “contribute to the unity and coherence of the Maduro government.”

Likewise, he indicates that Trump’s aggressive stance has exasperated internal divisions between the democratic and the non-democratic tendencies in Venezuela’s opposition. “Since President Trump first suggested a military option in August 2017 the Venezuelan opposition has fallen apart,” he told the Washington Post.

Anti-chavista terrorism

Amidst the flurry of allegations, pro-government groups made repeated public denouncements of what they describe as paramilitary or terrorist violence in Venezuela in recent years, particularly in rural areas.

From the assassination of socialist Deputy Robert Serra to the more recent murder of Communist leader Luis Fajardo, these groups claim that ultra-right paramilitaries, often financed by anti-government landowners or with ties to Colombian groups, are increasing their presence in the country. But, contrary to White House claims of government support, it is government members and supporters that are being targeted.

In August, President Maduro himself was the target of a terrorist attack when two bomb-carrying drones exploded close to his presidential stage. Ultra right groups took responsibility for the attack, and a number of citizens and former military officials have been arrested since.

Government troops were also the subject of a recent attack on the Colombo-Venezuela border, when three died in an armed confrontation. Venezuela’s opposition blamed the attack on Colombia's leftist ELN, but the government claim that it was carried out by gold-smuggling mafias.

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