Of all the nonsense that we hear regularly about Venezuela, the idea that the country is a "security threat" is probably the most ridiculous. For six years now, since the Bush Administration supported a failed coup attempt against the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez, Washington has been sporadically accusing Venezuela of links to "terrorism."
During those six years, the charges have been made by anonymous officials, and the U.S. government never produced any supporting evidence. Now the Colombian government claims it has proof of the Chavez government's support for the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a guerrilla group that has been active for four decades. The evidence comes from documents alleged to have been found on laptops captured by the Colombian military in a cross-border bombing and incursion into neighboring Ecuador on March 1.
As with the allegations that led us into the Iraq war, there is less here than meets the eye. First, as the New York Times recently acknowledged, it is "impossible to authenticate the files independently."
Second, even if some of the documents are real, there is so far nothing showing that Venezuela provided material aid to the FARC. For example, a claim that made headlines all over the world about Chavez supposedly providing $300 million to the FARC turned out to be based on a far-fetched interpretation of one alleged document.
Nonetheless, the Bush Administration is now investigating whether it should place Venezuela on a special list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” which would imply at least some kind of economic sanctions. Some right-wing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have come up with a similar effort in the form of a proposed resolution.
There will be more of this posturing, combined with wild accusations, since this is an election year. The last two presidential elections were determined by the votes of a few hundred thousand right-wing Cuban Americans (by no means all of them) in Florida. These voters hate Venezuela and we can expect that many politicians will pander to them. On the other hand, Venezuela is our fourth largest oil supplier and a major importer of U.S. goods, and saner heads will take that into account.
The cheap political points scored by politicians here come at a cost in the rest of the hemisphere. The Bush Administration, which is attempting to isolate Venezuela, has actually accomplished the opposite – Washington is more isolated than ever before in Latin America. When Colombia invaded Ecuador, almost every country south of the Rio Grande condemned this violation of Ecuador's sovereignty, which was also widely seen as carried out with U.S. help or at least approval. When the ensuing political and diplomatic fight was settled – with no help from Washington – President Lula da Silva of Brazil declared Chavez to be "the great peacemaker" in the conflict.
The same is true for the hostage problem in Colombia, where Chavez's efforts to mediate received widespread praise from Europe, Latin America, and even the families of the U.S. military contractors held by the FARC. Everyone but Washington appears to be interested in a negotiated solution to release the hostages held by the FARC. When Venezuela mediated a release of hostages last December 31, representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, France, and Switzerland were there. Washington was noticeably absent.
Washington has alienated Latin America: through its economic policy prescriptions, which are widely associated with Latin America's unprecedented long-term economic failure; through its proposed "Free Trade Agreements," which grow more unpopular every year; and through its militaristic and failed "war on drugs." The Bush Administration thinks it can turn this around by scapegoating Venezuela and hurling accusations of support for terrorism. It won't work; nobody in the region is buying it.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. This op-ed was distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services on April 8, 2008, and it was published by the San Diego Union-Tribune and other papers.