An indictment issued by Judge Eloy Velasco of Spain’s anti-terrorism court on February 24, specifically cites “Venezuelan governmental cooperation” with two terrorist groups: twelve members of the Basque separatist group ETA, and guerrillas of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which finances its activities through drug smuggling. Spain is the main foreign investor in Venezuela, particularly in the oil sector, and this is something that matters.

“There is evidence in this case which shows the Venezuelan government’s co-operation in the illegal association between FARC and ETA,” the magistrate said while issuing international arrest warrants for six alleged ETA members and seven Colombians believed to be members of FARC. According to Velasco, the first contacts between the two organizations took place in Cuba, but eventually Venezuelan intelligence services took over.

The Spanish judge is working on documents seized regarding ETA -- in which the Basque organization refers to Venezuela with the nickname of Andrés” and to Cuba as “José” – but Velasco is working above all on information contained in a computer belonging to Raúl Reyes, a member of FARC who was killed by the Columbian forces in 2008, while on Ecuadorian territory. At the time, Reyes’ death sparked a severe diplomatic crisis between Columbia on one side, and Venezuela and Ecuador on the other.

According to the evidence collected by Velasco, ETA and FARC have jointly participated, at least up until 2008, in a series of military training sessions on Venezuelan territory, under the protection of Chavez’ regime.

One of the main figures implicated in this affair is Arturo Cubillas Fontán, a prominent member of ETA. He was hired by the Venezuelan Ministry of Agriculture in 2005, and is now being indicted by the judge for being the ETA representative for that part of Latin America since 1999. Apparently, was Cubillas coordinated the joint military maneuvers of ETA and FARC, and that took place in the presence of Venezuelan army officials.

ETA has killed over a thousand Spanish citizens, making it the most dangerous terrorist organization in Europe. But while ETA has been driven into a corner in Spain, France and Portugal, it can find a safe haven in Venezuela under the auspices of Mr. Chavez. For example, the “International Week for the Solidarity with Euskal Herria (Basque Country),” marked with chants of “Long live socialism, freedom and Euskal Herria!” was organized last February in downtown Caracas.

Spain’s prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, immediately called for an explanation from Venezuela. “The government of Spain will decide what to do when it receives that explanation,” he said. Hugo Chavez reacted angrily to the charges: “I have nothing to explain to Zapatero or anyone else on this planet,” he told reporters after the judge’s indictment, and called the court findings “daring accusations without the slightest proof.”

The Secretary-General of the Spanish opposition party Partido Popular, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, promptly asked the government to take a firmer stance and even to “consider to severe diplomatic relations in case the accusations were confirmed.” But Zapatero and his minister for Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, instead started a series of political maneuvers meant to calm down the ebullient South American caudillo.

First Moratinos called Chavez to assure him that his socialist government had nothing to do with the indictment, then the Spanish government hurried to prepare a joint declaration with the Venezuelans that read: “Spain and Venezuela declare their firm intention to deepen their friendly and fruitful relation, based on the collaboration in every field including fighting terrorism.”

Out of the diplomatic language this means that there is a wish for concealment, trying to hide the dust under the carpet.

It is not easy to deal with a character such as Chavez. However PM Zapatero cannot have it both ways. Institutionally, he is supposed to give maximum support to the judiciary; it doesn’t take much to understand that Chavez, leader of the Bolivarian revolution, is indefensible.

Further, the Spanish people have always shown a bipartisan aversion to ETA and probably will not tolerate any waffling in this respect.

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