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DC Notes: Twelve Senators Urge State Sponsor of Terrorism Review for Venezuela

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Wednesday, 26 May 2010 10:31

by Jason Poblete

Twelve United States Senators have signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting that the State Department determine whether the government of Venezuela satisfies the statutory requirements to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.  In a press release issued on May 25, 2010, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said:  “It’s no secret to the American people that Venezuela wishes harm to the United States. What is a secret is how many more ties to terrorist organizations and State Sponsors of Terrorism does Venezuela need to be declared a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”  Currently there are four countries designated state sponsors of terrorism including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.  The state sponsors designation is made pursuant to Arms Export Control Act (AECA), the Export Administration Act (EAR), and the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA).  Once a country has been listed it is subject to a series of economic sanctions including a ban on defense and dual use exports, foreign assistance, as well as other restrictions on bilateral trade.

Every year the Secretary of State must provide “detailed assessments” to the Congress of each foreign country that, among other things, is using its territory as a sanctuary for terrorist organizations or where significant acts of international terrorism occurred.  In the case of Venezuela, for several years there has been growing concern of Venezuelan activities in support of terrorist entities and terrorist states.  In the most recent Country Reports on Terrorism (2008), Venezuela was "re-certified as "not cooperating fully" with U.S. antiterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act".  It also states that Venezuela continues to maintain close relations with the Colombian terrorist group FARC and with state sponsor of terrorism Iran.  The Venezuelans have failed to systematically "police the 1,400-mile Venezuelan-Colombian border to prevent the movement of groups of armed terrorists or to interdict arms or the flow of narcotics."  There is likely much more information that remains classified. 

For the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely that Venezuela will be designated a state sponsor of terrorism or even the lesser category, terrorist haven; however, U.S. companies and other persons doing business in Venezuela from the United States should already be taking reasonable precautions when engaging in transactions with certain Venezuelan entities.  A cursory review of the Department of the Treasury’s specially designated nationals (SDN) list generates over 100 hits in Venezuela.  There are numerous individuals, banks and travel agencies that U.S. persons are prohibited from doing business with unless you have prior authorization from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  Most of these SDNs have been included on the list for suspected links to terrorism or terrorism-related activities including money laundering and even ties to Hezbollah.  There are severe criminal and civil penalties for doing business with SDNs, including fines and jail.

If additional sanctions were ever imposed on Venezuela, it would have a significant economic impact to the Venezuela economy as well as to businesses in the South Florida region and the Gulf region.  Venezuelan exports to the United States account for more than 60% of Venezuela's total exports.  This figure includes unrefined crude oil for which Venezuela needs U.S. refining capacity or it would be in tough straits.  U.S. exports to Venezuela - about 25% of Venezuela's total imports - include items such as agriculture (not likely to be directly affected by sanctions), consumer goods, heavy machinery, chemicals, as well as travel and other private services such as business, professional and technical services.  U.S. businesses in South Florida would be the more immediately impacted, as would petroleum companies in the Gulf region and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

As was the case during most of the prior Bush Administration,  a piecemeal and targeted sanctions approach will continue as the U.S. weighs its options toward Venezuela.  In the meantime, U.S. and foreign entities working from the U.S. should continue to scrub all transactions with Venezuelan companies and persons to ensure that they are not engaging in unauthorized transactions with SDNs.  

For additional information see "Ensign to State Department: Review Venezuela's Status as a Terrorist State". 


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