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Guerrilla Nation

The arrest of FARC terrorist Ricardo Granda sheds new light on Hugo Chavez's ongoing support of terrorism.

11:00 PM, Jan 25, 2005 • By THOR HALVORSSEN
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Caracas

SIMON TRINIDAD is the nom de guerre of Ricardo Palmera, a high-ranking terrorist of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the deadliest and largest terrorist organization in the world. Thanks to Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, Trinidad was extradited to the United States last month. He now awaits trial for a lengthy list of crimes involving the recent kidnapping and murder of American citizens in Colombia. Trinidad's capture was a victory in the fight against global terror (see Note, below), but it is unlikely that the FARC terrorists will be defeated as long as Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez continues to use his government to harbor, equip, and protect them.

Since assuming the presidency of Venezuela in 1999, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez has often sympathized with global terrorism. Not only has he proclaimed his "brotherhood" with Saddam Hussein and bestowed kind words on the Taliban, but he also maintains close economic and diplomatic ties with the leaders of Iran and Libya. Moreover, President Chavez is increasingly identified with the FARC terrorists. Although the full extent of Chavez's involvement with FARC is unknown, he has been accused of everything from sympathizing with the group to providing it with weapons and monetary support. The allegations against Chavez are numerous and it is likely that some of them are either exaggerated or untrue. Even so, President Chavez's activities reveal a consistent pattern of sympathy for terrorists.

The FARC terrorist group has been fighting the democratic government of Colombia for almost 40 years. Founded as the armed wing of the Colombian Communist party, this 16,000-strong terrorist force recruits children and funds its activities with billions of dollars collected as taxes on the cocaine trade. The group's explicit objective is to take Colombia by force. In pursuing its mission, FARC terrorists have kidnapped, extorted, and executed thousands of innocent civilians, bombed buildings, assassinated hundreds of political leaders, and, with two other local terrorist organizations, have turned Colombia into one of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world. All in all, FARC has caused the deaths of more than 100,000 people.

The U.S. Department of State has designated FARC a Foreign Terrorist Organization--yet FARC leaders are welcomed in Venezuela and treated as heads of state. The prominent FARC leader Olga Marin, for example, spoke on the floor of Venezuela's National Assembly in the summer of 2000, praising Hugo Chavez as a hero of the rebel movement and thanking the Venezuelan government for its "support." Weeks later, the Colombian government announced that it had confiscated from terrorists more than 400 rifles and machine guns bearing the insignia of the Venezuelan armed forces. Although President Chavez claimed this was a smear campaign against him and that many of those weapons could have come into terrorist hands as a result of border skirmishes with Venezuelan armed forces, his explanation was less than plausible, since some of the guns had sequential serial numbers and were therefore likely part of a unified arms shipment.

In February 2001, months after the Chavez government denied supporting FARC, the capture of a Colombian terrorist revived the debate. Jose Maria Ballestas, a leader of Colombia's other left-wing terrorist organization, the National Liberation Army (ELN), was captured in Venezuela's capital by Interpol operatives working in conjunction with the Colombian police. Although Ballestas was wanted for a 1999 commercial airliner hijacking, he was immediately released from custody by order of the Chavez government. As the Colombian media cried foul, Chavez officials denied that Ballestas had ever been arrested and claimed that "news" of his arrest was actually a story concocted by enemies of the Chavez government. When Colombian officials responded by releasing a video of the arrest, the Chavez government tried to claim that Ballestas was seeking asylum from political persecution in Colombia. As diplomatic tension reached a fever-pitch, Venezuela re-arrested Ballestas and grudgingly extradited him to Colombia.