Chávez bid to mediate Libya conflict dims further with official's indictment

A Spanish court on Monday indicted a senior Venezuelan official as a leader of the terror organization ETA, further undercutting Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's credentials as a mediator for the Libyan conflict.

Miraflores Palace/Reuters
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez speaks during a meeting with representatives of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas on March 4.

In yet another setback to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s efforts to mediate a peaceful resolution to Libyan hostilities, a Spanish court on Monday indicted a high-ranking Venezuelan official, originally from Spain, as one of the leaders of the terrorist organization ETA.

While the court proceedings are unrelated to unrest in Libya, Mr. Chávez's credentials as a possible peace broker are sure to come more into question as evidence mounts that his government is harboring and protecting international terrorists. Indeed, Chávez has personally ruled out extradition of the alleged terrorist leader.

Oil prices last week dropped on news that Chávez’s plan to form an international commission to mediate between the government and the National Libyan Council was being seriously considered by Libyan government, Arab nations, and other developing countries. There were early American, French, and British objections to Chávez’s involvement.

But hostilities increased in Libya over the weekend, even after Chávez’s plan garnered more support from several of his Latin American allies, including Cuba, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The Arab League also joined a growing diplomatic chorus willing to support a United Nations-imposed no-fly zone, undermining the peace plan even further.

Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi also played down Chavez’s plan in an interview with French TV broadcast Sunday. “There is no problem here. This mediation does not exist for the moment. What we need is to get rid of these armed gangs.”

IN PICTURES: Qaddafi: A look back

Venezuelan officials, starting with Chávez, have pitched several names to lead the commission, from former President Jimmy Carter to former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, but the plan has had little traction. Officials and analysts alike suspect it’s another of Chávez's rhetorical calls for attention. Libyan rebels have also said they haven’t even been contacted about Chávez’s plan.

But the Spanish court indictment is potentially a more serious setback than the diplomatic challenges the Venezuelan leader would have to overcome to get his plan going.

Arturo Cubillas, a Basque militant who fled to Venezuela more than two decades ago, was naturalized in 2003 and has worked as head of security of the Agriculture Ministry since 2005.

The Spanish court indicted Mr. Cubillas for “collaborating” with a terrorist organization last year after a two-year investigation that traced his role as organizer of a series of seminars in Venezuelan jungles on explosives handling, kidnappings, and assassinations for ETA and guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is also designated a terrorist organization.

But on Monday the court added a series of charges and indicted several more ETA and FARC militants, after admitting new evidence and testimony into the investigations.

Nothing was as damaging, though, as Cubillas being indicted as an ETA leader. “Arturo Cubillas has sustained, at least between 2004 and 2008, permanent contact with the leadership of terrorist organization ETA … with whom he has coordinated and executed directive duties, which far from being sporadic … constitute a crime of integrating [ETA] as a leader in the American continent and from Venezuelan soil.”

How Chávez explains the abetting and harboring of Cubillas to an increasingly vocal international community seeking to end bloodshed in Libya remains unclear.

IN PICTURES: Qaddafi: A look back

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