Overview: On January 10, 2019, Nicolás Maduro sought to begin an illegitimate second term as president, following 2018 presidential elections that were widely condemned as fraudulent. Juan Guaidó, as president of the National Assembly (AN), invoked the Venezuelan constitution on January 23 concerning vacancies in the Office of the President to assume the role of Interim President. Maduro and his associates use criminal activities to help maintain their illegitimate hold on power, fostering a permissive environment for known terrorist groups, including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-D), the Colombian-origin National Liberation Army (ELN), and Hizballah sympathizers. Financial ties with FARC-D, ELN, and Venezuelan paramilitary groups facilitate the public corruption and graft schemes of the regime to include members of the armed forces. Of concern, there were reports noting sporadic cooperation between FARC-D and ELN in the areas of road/border checkpoints, subsidized food distribution, recruitment and forced displacement of vulnerable indigenous communities, and trafficking of illegal narcotics and gold. According to local and international media, ELN was present in 12 of Venezuela’s 24 states (with particular strength in Anzoátegui, Amazonas, Apure, Bolivar, Zulia, and Táchira states). The ELN’s presence has expanded beyond its historic base in the border zone with Colombia. Media report an increasing role for the ELN in regime-subsidized food distribution, contraband (gas, basic goods, meat), extortion, illegal mining, and recruitment propaganda, at times via control of radio stations.
Interim President Guaidó condemned Maduro’s complicity with the ELN and FARC-D. In October, he said that the former regime “promotes and protects terrorism, representing a risk for peace in the region.” Within the same resolution, the AN officially designated the FARC-D, ELN, Hamas, Hizballah, and ISIS as terrorist organizations. Guaidó warned that Maduro has lost control of Venezuela’s borders and territory, running the risk of turning Venezuela into a “failed state.”
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist incidents in Venezuela reflected ELN’s growing presence and territorial control. There were increased confrontations between ELN, other Colombian and Venezuelan illegal armed groups, and Venezuelan government forces.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes to Venezuela’s counterterrorism legislation in 2019.
The former Maduro regime has not demonstrated political will to address terrorism concerns in Venezuela. The regime’s usurpation of the judicial system and military/security services for its own illicit ends, rampant public corruption, and cooperation with criminal elements provided ideal conditions for illegal activity. The regime’s economic mismanagement has created dire resource constraints. The regime regularly uses charges of terrorism to persecute the political opposition and suppress dissent. It has accused without evidence or due process Guaidó’s Chief of Staff and multiple AN deputies of “terrorism.”
Systematic corruption plagues the issuance of Venezuelan passport and identification documents. In December 2019, the United States sanctioned the current and former directors of Venezuela’s passport agency (Administrative Service of Identification, Migration, and Immigration) in light of activities such as the agency’s sales of passports for thousands of dollars, including to non-Venezuelan citizens. Border security at ports of entry was vulnerable and susceptible to corruption. Biometric screening is not conducted at Venezuelan ports of entry. There is no automated system to collect API or PNR records on commercial flights or to crosscheck flight manifests with passenger disembarkation data.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Venezuela is a member of the CFATF. Venezuela’s FIU, the National Financial Intelligence Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. There were no significant updates in 2019.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no CVE efforts underway in 2019.
International and Regional Cooperation: The Guaidó government worked with regional partners to invoke the Interamerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (also known as the Rio Treaty) in September to address the former Maduro regime’s illegal activities, including terrorism and its financing. Guaidó pledged to work closely with Colombian President Duque on the regional threat posed by ELN, FARC-D, and other illegal armed actors in Venezuela.