Venezuela Urges U.S. to Reconsider Release of Terrorism Suspects

Venezuela’s Embassy in the U.S. condemned the release of two officers suspected of terror bombings in Venezuela, who Venezuela is seeking to extradite from the U.S.

Caracas, Venezuela,May 6, 2006—Thursday, the Venezuelan embassy in Caracas condemned the U.S.’srelease of two Venezuelan officers accused of bombings in the South Americannation and urged the reconsider its decision and either prosecute them for the bombings orextradite them.

“Venezuela once again calls uponthe United States Government not to shelter their terrorists of choice. Allterrorists are criminals and ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of thelaw,” the embassy said in a statement.

The two officers standaccused of the bombings of the Colombian and Spanish consulates in February2003. The bombings, wounded at least four people, and, according to the International Herald Tribune, destroyedtwo of the Colombian consulate’s four floors, twisting the steel entry gate andblasted a hole in the wall of the Spanish consulate. The Spanish embassy islocated in a residential area.

The bombings appearedto be aimed at inciting further political instability in a country that was inthe midst of an oil industry shutdown meant to topple Venezuelan President HugoChávez. Chávez had previously spoken out against Spainand Colombia for criticizingthe arrest of a union leader who had been involved in the oil industry shutdownand the failure of Venezuelato effectively fight the guerilla group FARC, respectively.

Renewed talks with theopposition were due to begin the day after the bombings, and, at the time, theclimate the embassy bombings had caused was widely viewed as likely to maketalks more difficult. “These cowardly acts ofviolence not only have produced human suffering, but also make more difficultthe search for a peaceful, democratic, electoral solution to the problems facedby the people of Venezuela,”the U.S.embassy said in a 2003 statement.

The United Stateshad also asked Venezuelato investigate the attacks. “The U.S. Embassy … callson the appropriate Venezuelan authorities to conduct a thorough investigationto determine who perpetrated these attacks” the U.S. embassy said.

However, the U.S. has not been willing to extradite two mensuspected in the bombings to Venezuela.Lieutenant José AntonioColina and Lieutenant Germán Rodolfo Varela, the two suspects,were arrested in the U.S.on immigration charges, and spent years in detention. Last Friday, they werereleased from detention, under the supervision of the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency. According totheir lawyers, the conditions of their release require that they speak toimmigration officials once a week by phone, and meet with them once a month.

Upon hearing of theirrelease, Chávez criticized the U.S.move, saying the U.S.had paid and manipulated them into committing the attacks.

Jose Pertierra, thelawyer representing the Venezuelan government in the case, told the AP that thetwo were not yet in the clear, but that a U.S.federal district court still must consider the extradition demands, or try themin the U.S.

This is the latest in a series ofextradition requests between the two countries that have not yet been granted.In this case, and one involving Luis Posada Carriles, suspected of bombing aCuban airliner that killed over 70 people, U.S. officials have said that thereis evidence the suspects will be tortured after being returned to Venezuela,which relieves them from their extradition obligations. The most recent StateDepartment Report on Human Rights said, “Although the law prohibits suchpractices, NGOs, media, and opposition groups accused security forces ofcontinuing to torture and abuse detainees. Abuse most commonly consisted ofbeatings during arrest or interrogation, but there also were incidents in whichthe security forces used near-suffocation and other forms of torture.”

The report noted that the Venezuelangovernment had not authorized independent investigations, and that familymembers of General Felipe Rodriguez, also accused in the embassy bombings, hadsaid he “was subjected to sensory deprivation and psychological torture” andwas sent to a civilian prison despite a court order that he be sent to amilitary prison.

According to human rights groups, the U.S. has apolicy of extraordinary rendition—deportation to countries known for torture—ofterrorist suspects. In some cases, it appears that the suspects are tortured inU.S.custody.

In late March, less than a week after the U.S.had refused a request to extradite Posada Carriles, Venezuelarefused to extradite Mateo Holguin Ovalle, a Dominican wanted by the U.S. for drug trafficking, on the grounds thatthe U.S. could not guaranteehis sentence would be shorter than 30 years, which is the maximum sentence in Venezuela.