Venezuela has become a shelter for the Basque terrorist organization, ETA. A joint operation of the French police and Spain's Guardia Civil, led to the arrest, on January 10th, of two members of the group: Iraitz Guesalaga Fernandez, 27, accused of being the main responsible for ETA information technology, and his girlfriend Itsaso Urtiaga, who supported him in this operation. The two were arrested in Ciboure, on the French side of the border. According to the news, the Spanish police are sure that the couple traveled to Venezuela to give computer training to members of ETA and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).
The name of Guesalaga first appeared in the documents that were seized to the former head of ETA, Javier Lopez Pena, aka: Thierry, when he was arrested in 2008. These papers indicated that Guesalaga had made a trip to Venezuela in 2007, and that he had repeated that trip, accompanied by his fiancée, one year later between September 11 and October 11, 2008. Spanish investigators suspect that the scope of these trips was mainly to train the FARC in Venezuela to encode documents. There is evidence that Caracas is protecting an alliance between FARC and ETA.
Last February, an indictment issued by Judge Eloy Velasco of Spain's anti-terrorism court cited "Venezuelan governmental cooperation" with ETA and FARC, which finances its activities through drug smuggling. "There is evidence that the Venezuelan government is co-operating 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 the court ruling, in 2007 ETA rebels were given a Venezuelan military escort to a site in the jungle where they gave a course on handling explosives to visiting FARC guerrillas. Judge Velasco also asserted that FARC had asked for ETA's help to kill Colombian officials in Spain, including former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Caracas keeps denying the allegations. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo, however, published that meetings had taken place between Guesalaga and Arturo Cubillas, an ETA member not only wanted by Spanish police, but who also became the head of security at the National Lands Institute, an agency attached to the Venezuelan Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (Inti).
Cubillas, who became a Venezuelan national after marrying a Venezuelan woman, was deported to Caracas from Algeria in 1989. Spain suspects him of being responsible for the ETA branch South America since 1999, and in charge of coordinating relations with the FARC. According to the Venezuelan daily, El Universal, six other ETA members work for the government, three of them at the Inti. Further, the "20 minutos" website reports that "Counter-terrorism services handle a list of 180 ETA members who have fled to foreign countries over the past three decades; many of them have ended in Venezuela. Two of the heavyweights of the ETA political apparatus are suspected of being be there."
Venezuela is also one of the few states that do not consider the FARC a terrorist organization, although FARC can hardly be classified otherwise: It derives its funding from drug smuggling and kidnappings. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rejected the definition of "terrorists," however, back in 2008, arguing that FARC was instead a guerrilla movement and a "belligerent force." The protection that Venezuela offers to the FARC goes as far as providing a series of safe havens to the guerrilleros on the Venezuelan side of the border. Recently, the Columbian government revealed evidence of the exact locations of top FARC commanders hiding out in Venezuelan camps.
The US is apparently concerned about Chavez's support of the FARC. The ongoing diplomatic crisis between Caracas and Washington started when US ambassador Larry Palmer made comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about low morale in the Venezuelan military and his concerns regarding Colombian FARC rebels finding refuge on Venezuelan soil. That is the reason Chavez is refusing to accept Palmer's appointment in Caracas. In response, the State Department has cancelled the visa of Venezuela's ambassador to the U.S..
The recent arrest should be a wakeup call to Washington. Although President Obama seems to have started realizing that the soft approach does not work with dictators like Chavez, a clearer policy on how to deal with the threats coming from Venezuela seems not yet to have come to light.
The following is a list of ETA members residing in Venezuela, according to the Spanish police:
Arturo Cubillas Fontán (naturalized); Ignacio Olaskoaga Mújica; Pedro Viles Escobar (naturalized); Gabriel Segura Burgos; José María Zapirain Maya; Miguel Á. Aldana Barrena; Eugenio Barrutiabengoa Z.; Juan C. Arriarán Ibarra (naturalized); J. Ricardo Urteaga Repullés; M. Asunción Arana Altuna (naturalized); Jesús M. Macazaga Igoa (naturalized); J. Manuel Bereciartua E.; Xabier Arruti Imaz (naturalized); Luis M. Olalde Quintela (naturalized); Ángeles Artola Echeverria (naturalized); Ignacio Domínguez A.; J. José Aristizábal (naturalized).; Víctor Zuloaga Abalcisqueta; I. José Echaniz Oñatibia (naturalized); Jesús M. Huerta Fernández; Ignacio Landazabal E.; J. Ángel Mutiozabal Galarraga; Luis E. Roncero Retortillo; Luis Zubimendi Oribe (naturalized); J. Ignacio Echarte Urbieta; J. Ángel Urtiaga Martínez; J. Miguel Arrugaeta San E.; J. L. Eskisabel Urdangarín (naturalized); J. M. San Sebastián Aguirre; Enrique Pagoaga Gallastegui; Carmen Albizu Echave (naturalized); J. María Zaldua Corta (deceased); Lorenzo Ayestarán (detained); Bernardo Onaindía Rivera (naturalized); Juana Idígoras Santana (naturalized); Victor Larrinaga Elguezabal (naturalized); Luis A. Trincado Gallaga (naturalized); Ignacio Ayerbe Múgica; Juan M. Barbesi Torres (deceased); Begoña Treviño Izaguirre; José J. Iceta Picabea; Juan Carlos Azcona Arroyo; Javier Larrea Bolívar; Carlos A. Zabala Gurmindo; Juan J. Ayensa Echauz; Abel Foruria Lachiondo; Miguel Á. Astoreca Derteano; Ignacio Lequerica Urresti; J. Luis Salaregui Cornago; Julián Bikandi Iturbe.