Spain-Venezuela ties strained as Hugo Chávez stonewalls ETA investigation
Venezuela has said it will not extradite Arturo Cubillas, an alleged top militant of the separatist group ETA. Spanish authorities today moved toward an official request, which Hugo Chávez is unlikely to support.
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"The ties between the FARC and ETA in Venezuela are increasingly evident. But for Chavez it’s a question of image,” says Mr. Elía. “He has taken over Cuba’s role as the main exporter of revolutions and he wants to uphold that, but this is serious because it involves aiding international terrorism.”Skip to next paragraph
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Venezuela security official trained ETA
The investigation resurfaced this month with the testimony of two recently captured militants of ETA’s international branch, who said they trained in Venezuela as part of regular sessions organized by Cubillas, a security official in the Agriculture Ministry who took refuge in Venezuela in 1989.
Spanish police also collected testimony of former FARC guerrillas that incriminate Cubillas and other members of Venezuela’s intelligence agency and armed forces. Spain’s Interior Ministry, courts, and prosecutors say they find the testimonies credible and the country’s prosecutor general, Cándido Conde Pumpido, has demanded that Venezuela either “hand over or prosecute” Cubillas.
While Mr. Pumpido’s office today asked the court to formally request the extradition of Cubillas, his international arrest warrant was issued in March.
In response, Cubillas himself filed a complaint last week with Venezuelan Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega that alleges that ETA militants who incriminated him testified under torture. Venezuela has also issued an international arrest warrant through Interpol for a former Army general who is due to testify in the Spanish case, which some point to Chávez’s maneuvers to derail the case.
Spain under pressure from Venezuela
Spanish companies have a big presence in Venezuela and the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero enjoys friendly ties with Chávez. Indeed, Vice President Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega has said the government doesn’t believe Chavez was aware of Cubilla’s activities.
Diplomacy aside, though, analysts say the Spanish government is increasingly under pressure to act more forcefully against Chávez.
“It was timid at first, but this could be politically costly internally and with other allies like Colombia and the US,” says Vicente Palacio, the vice director of the Spanish Foreign Affairs Observatory, part of the Fundación Alternativas think tank that has close relations to the government.
“This is a critical moment, and this could put Chávez in the eye of the hurricane in terms of international terrorism. Venezuela could be considered a refuge and nest of international terrorists and that is serious,” says Mr. Palacio. “The Spanish government will try to solve this discreetly if Venezuela is more helpful. But Chávez has made this into a state affair.”
The problem, according to Elía of the Strategic Studies Group, is that Chávez feels Spain and the US, the traditional power brokers in Latin America, are preoccupied with internal affairs. “Chávez is taking advantage of a perceived weakness," he says. "And I doubt they’ll confront him forcefully on this.”