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Terror's Apologist in Caracas

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady | The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page April 7, 2006 | The scene was a Washington meeting of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, an agency of the Organization of American States. It was just days before the committee's March 24 Bogotá gathering, when it planned to issue a declaration on hemispheric cooperation to fight terrorism.

The room was filled with diplomats, working to hammer out the final text. But as it turned out, the meeting was anything but diplomatic. In fact, some who were present say things got downright ugly.

The source of the ugliness was Venezuela. It repeatedly insisted that references to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 -- which seeks to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- be stripped out of the Bogotá document. On three different occasions, one source told me, Venezuela stated its opposition to "non-proliferation" language.

This eventually provoked a heated exchange -- bordering on a shouting match, witnesses say -- when Colombia went mano-a-mano with its Andean neighbor, insisting that 1540 was essential. The rest of the room unanimously backed the Colombian stance. Venezuela was left to stew alone. (The Colombians present could not be reached for comment but others in attendance confirmed the confrontation.)

The American left is having a field day blaming anti-Americanism in Latin America on George W. Bush, the Iraq war and even the Cold War. But what has gone little noticed is the fear Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is engendering throughout the region. Latin governments are sobering up to the fact that if the Yanquis ever do go home, the vacuum left behind might well be filled by the Ugly Venezuelan. He currently is making news by grabbing foreign-owned oil fields and using his oil riches to buy fighter jets and thousands of AK-47s, which hardly suggests peaceful intentions. His close ties with dictators in Cuba, Iran and Syria are similarly disquieting.

At the Bogotá meeting, the "Declaration of San Carlos on Hemispheric Cooperation for Comprehensive Action to Fight Terrorism" was supposed to be a standard multilateral communiqué, a tiny first step to show regional solidarity against terrorism. But Venezuela behaved like a skunk at a garden party. "They made no sense," one participant told me. "It seemed like they were just trying to derail the whole thing."

Perhaps, though, there was method in the madness. Take for example the document's recognition "that the activities of transnational organized crime can be used by terrorist groups to finance and facilitate their criminal activities."

All countries signed onto that statement except for Venezuela. It filed the following largely unintelligible footnote: "The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela cannot support the wording . . . which is geared toward pointing out a direct and permanent connection between terrorism and transnational organized crime, as that entails a repudiation of the norms of due process and the presumption of innocence -- universally recognized principles in the area of human rights."

The relevance of this high-minded objection to what was actually proposed was not evident to the other delegates. As one participant described it, the Venezuelans were "very disruptive, very unhelpful in acknowledging the links between organized crime and terrorism."

But perhaps the proposed joint statement struck a nerve. A Venezuelan congressman close to the Chávez machine, Luis Velásquez Alvaray, has been accused in a massive corruption scandal and, according to the Economist magazine, has "retorted that drug traffickers are running Venezuelan military intelligence" and that Interior Minister Jesse Chacon "is a pawn of organized crime." Whatever truth might underlay all this intramural name-calling is hard to fathom, but it hints at why the Chávez regime might be allergic to a multilateral condemnation of organized crime.

Nor was that the only item that brought Venezuelan objections. The committee pledged to fight "emerging terrorist threats" such as cyber-crime and bioterrorism, assaults on tourism or critical infrastructure and the use of weapons of mass destruction and related materials. It proposed "developing and adopting cooperative programs" to fight these new terrorism potentials.

Venezuela raised its hand again. "There is no common definition of emerging threats," its delegation insisted, adding some other gobbledygook to complain of "elements that are not consistent with the realities of the hemisphere." Again, this seemed a baseless objection designed to disrupt the process. Other delegates pointed out that the hemispheric declaration on security signed in Mexico City in 2003 already defines "emerging threats."

Finally, the committee declared a commitment to 1540, which, it said, "seeks to prevent the possibility of access to, possession of, or use of materials and weapons of mass destruction and their means of transport by non-state agents." Venezuela rose to object again on the grounds that the OAS agency is not "the appropriate forum" to debate 1540. Could anyone in the room have ignored the fact that Colombia's FARC guerrillas, who Chávez has been caught supporting, are "non-state actors"?

Delegates were said to be privately aghast at the Venezuelan performance. And rightfully so. With oil prices continuing to climb and the Venezuelan government using every dollar to gain more power domestically and internationally, the guy who once looked like a useful tool to employ against the gringos is now recognized as a regional menace.

It was reported to me that governments as politically diverse as Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Colombia lined up together in opposition to the Venezuelan effort to disrupt the Bogotá conference. But a more critical test of Latin solidarity will come when the region decides which Latin nation gets to succeed Argentina as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. The two candidates are Venezuela and Guatemala. America's ambassador, John Bolton, has said that Venezuela is not acceptable, setting up a choice for Latin governments between reassuring the U.S. or appeasing Chávez.

In a further demonstration of U.S. concern, the Pentagon announced this week that a U.S. Navy carrier strike group will deploy to the Caribbean Sea. The U.S. is taking Chávez seriously. Maybe the region's other democracies, who are more at risk, are doing so as well.

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