WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators John Ensign (R-NV) and George LeMieux (R-FL) on Wednesday called on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to review Venezuela’s growing ties with U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism. Ensign, LeMieux and ten other senators sent a letter to Secretary Clinton presenting a number of questions that should be addressed in the pending Department of State’s 2009 Country Report on Terrorism.
“It’s no secret to the American people that Venezuela wishes harm to the United States,” said Ensign. “What is a secret is how many more ties to terrorist organizations and State Sponsors of Terrorism does Venezuela need to be declared a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The letter I drafted with Senator LeMieux will ask that the State Department reassess their handling of this state to protect our national security.”
“Hugo Chavez’s relationships with Iran and other foreign terrorist organizations continue to grow and pose a serious threat to our hemisphere,” said LeMieux. “The question is how do we move forward with this information and the concrete examples of terrorist activities we have witnessed? I encourage the State Department to thoroughly evaluate Venezuela’s actions and determine if the country needs to be added to the official U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
U.S. law requires the Secretary of State to provide Congress, by April 30 of each year, with a full and complete report on the extent and status of the relations of countries and non-state groups with terrorist activities. Since 2006, the U.S. has designated Venezuela as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. antiterrorism efforts, which places a prohibition on American arms sales. A ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ designation would cause a prohibition on American arms sales, a prohibition of American economic assistance, and places several restrictions on bilateral trade with the designated country.
"Under President Chavez, the Venezuelan government has established a growing alliance with state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran and Cuba and provided support for terrorist organizations such as the FARC in Colombia. For at least 3 years, joint Venezuelan-Iranian factories have sprung up in remote areas of eastern Venezuela - areas that are believed to be rich in uranium. Since 2007, Venezuela has conducted weekly Tehran-Damascus-Caracas flights without proper controls and customs inspections. Recently, the Pentagon reported to Congress that Iran is increasing its paramilitary operations in Venezuela while covertly continuing to supply weapons and explosives to Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq," Ensign says.
The other senators signing the letter to Secretary Clinton are: Robert Bennett (R-UT), Scott Brown (R-MA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jim Bunning (R-KY), John Cornyn (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), James Risch (R-ID), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).