Pablo Bachelet
McClatchy Newspapers
March 12, 2008

The Bush administration has launched a preliminary legal inquiry that could land Venezuela on the U.S. list of nations that support terrorism, following reports of close Venezuelan links with Colombian rebels, a senior government official has confirmed.

The investigation is the first step in a process that could see Venezuela join North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Iran as countries designated by the State Department as supporters of terrorism.

U.S. laws give some leeway on what economic activity is subject to such sanctions, but experts say adding Venezuela to the list would force U.S. and even foreign firms to sever or curtail links with one of the world’s largest oil producers.

The legal review comes after Colombia captured four computers belonging to a guerrilla leader in a March 1 raid into Ecuador. The documents suggest the Venezuelan government was in the process of providing $300 million to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The U.S. and Colombian governments and the European Union have officially designated FARC as a terrorist organization, but Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said publicly that he considers it a legitimate insurgency.

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the subject, said government lawyers had been asked to clarify “what goes into effect in terms of prohibitions, or prohibited activities,” with the state sponsor designation.

The official was reluctant to predict if the FARC computer discoveries will lead to sanctions, noting U.S. investigators first must corroborate their veracity. The lawyers have not yet returned their opinions, the official added.

But if the captured documents are shown to be true, the official said, “I think it will beg the question of whether or not Venezuela, given Chavez’s interactions with the FARC, has … crossed the threshold of state sponsor of terror.”

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