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Interpol: Colombia did not doctor FARC files

Colombia says the files show Venezuela supports the leftist rebels, a claim Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calls 'ridiculous.'

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No documents released so far indicate that either operation actually took place. José Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), told US lawmakers at a hearing last month that there was "no evidence" that Venezuela supports terrorist groups. "No member country, including this one [the US] has offered the OAS such proof."

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John Womack, a professor of Latin American history and economics at Harvard University, warned that the Interpol findings do not necessarily prove any links between Chávez and the FARC. "But the US and Colombia will try to use this as part of an ongoing propaganda war about Chávez," he says.

Colombia had initially threatened to take the case against Chávez before the OAS or the United Nations Security Council to seek sanctions but Mr. Womack says he doesn't think such efforts would get very far. "I don't think most of the other Latin American countries want the confrontation," he says. Womack was one of 21 academics who released an open letter warning that Colombia was misrepresenting the documents on the computers as proof of collaboration between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.

Venezuela a 'state sponsor of terrorism'?

Still, an intense debate is under way in Washington on whether to declare Venezuela a "state sponsor of terrorism," a list that currently includes Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, according to Riordan Roett, director of Western Hemisphere Studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Pragmatists argue that such a move could endanger US oil imports from Venezuela, the fifth-largest foreign source oil to the US, at a time when prices are already sky-high. Hard-liners say they've lost their patience and that Venezuelan action is jeopardizing a close US ally in Colombia, which receives about $500 million a year in mostly military aid from Washington to fight drug trafficking and the leftist insurgency.

"The hard-liners are not going to win this one unless Chávez does something really blatant," predicts Mr. Roett. Washington and Caracas can "yell back and forth to each other, but the oil keeps flowing."

The Colombian government is also debating its reaction. A hard-line stance against Chávez could endanger $6.5 billion in annual trade with Venezuela.