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.
A standoff between Spain and Venezuela is heating up as
Spanish authorities move toward requesting the extradition of an alleged ETA
member working within the government of President Hugo Chávez.
Venezuela said last week it would not extradite Arturo
Cubillas, the Basque separatist group’s alleged top militant in Latin America,
because local law does not allow extraditions of citizens. A Spaniard, Mr.
Cubillas became a naturalized citizen in 1993.
But the decision of Spain's prosecutor general to ask
today for the National Court to request the extradition underscores how
authorities are under pressure to act more forcefully against Mr. Chávez. His
defiance and ongoing refusal to cooperate with Spanish authorities could
ultimately trigger a powerful reaction from Europe and the United States,
including labeling the country a state sponsor of terrorism, analysts say.
“If [the Spanish government] wanted to, it could pressure
Europe and its allies, including the US, to include Venezuela in the list of
state sponsors of terrorism," says Oscar Elía, an ETA expert with the
Madrid-based Strategic Studies Group who has written extensively about the
Basque group. "This could blow over if Chávez was more helpful, but he
doesn’t even deny it. Instead he is defiant and arrogant.”
Chávez stonewalls investigation
The Spanish investigation, which dates to 2008, produced
an indictment in February alleging use of Venezuela as a training
ground for militants with ETA and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC). Both groups are labeled terrorist organizations by the European Union
and the United States.
The case “demonstrates Venezuelan governmental cooperation
in the illicit collaboration” of the two groups, which included
explosive-handling, intelligence sharing, and surface-to-air missile-training
seminars, the indictment said.
After months of stonewalling, Chávez on Oct. 11 opened a
separate case in Venezuela to investigate the allegations against Mr. Cubillas.
But he also dismissed them as fabrications orchestrated to discredit his
government. “Foolish words fall on deaf ears,” he said.
Chávez is not new to accusations of harboring and
abetting terrorist groups. Colombia has accused him of arming,
financially aiding, and protecting FARC guerrillas. Washington has also on
several occasions voiced its suspicions and warned Chávez, but he has always
denied having anything more than ideological sympathies, and no Western court
case has challenged that.
"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
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
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
Diplomacy aside, though, analysts say the Spanish
government is increasingly under pressure to act more forcefully against
“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
“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
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.”