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Neglect, however, is not the only explanation for the country’s increasing role in the international drug trade. Venezuela has provided direct military support and safe havens to FARC, the Marxist guerrilla group that controls the cocaine supply in U.S. ally, and Venezuelan neighbor, Colombia. Over the last several years, as Colombia’s U.S.-backed war effort against the FARC narco-terrorists has paid dividends, FARC has not only received advanced weapons from Venezuela, but has also relocated some of its leadership to camps just inside Venezuelan territory.
In 2009, Colombia sent troops into Venezuela to raid FARC camps and captured several high-value FARC targets. Venezuela responded by mobilizing troops and threatening regional war if its territory was violated again. The Chavez regime has also been linked to assassination plots against the Colombian president, whose successes against the drug trade and close relationship with America are a constant irritant to Venezuela. Clearly, no matter how many drug smugglers Venezuela might deport to face trial in America, it cannot seriously claim to be a force for law and order so long as it continues to support FARC, one of the world’s largest drug-smuggling organizations and a recognized terrorist entity.
Alas, Chavez, while happy to boast of his country’s contributions to the war on drugs, would no doubt object to the term “terrorist” being applied to his FARC allies — and allies is not too strong a term. In a fascinating piece published by the British newspaper The Guardian in 2008, a former FARC fighter, who had defected to the Colombian government, described his experiences inside Venezuela, as a FARC soldier, in great detail (though under his new, assumed identity, of course). The former member of FARC described how the Venezuelan military offered FARC protection, weapons and training, but also how members of the Chavez administration gave them travel documents, ID cards and even issued high-ranking FARC leaders clean Venezuelan passports.
Many of the accounts given were confirmed by diplomats, speaking off the record so as to avoid provoking an incident with Chavez, who is notoriously touchy about international criticism. Chavez and FARC, both driven by socialist ideology and a loathing for American influence in Latin America, are natural allies, concluded the former FARC fighter, and few experts seem inclined to disagree. So while Venezuela’s recent cooperation and successes against drug smuggling operations taking place on their soil are to be commended, their self-congratulatory praise should be taken with a grain of salt. Venezuela cannot serve both the law enforcement needs of the international community and its FARC allies at once. Given Chavez’s enhanced powers and anti-American agenda, it’s doubtful that he will choose correctly.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on . Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.
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