March 13, 2008 / 6:25 PM / 10 years ago

Rice: U.S. concerned by terrorism in Latin America

By Arshad Mohammed

BRASILIA, March 13 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday that Washington was concerned about terrorism in Latin America but she declined to comment on the chances that it might add Venezuela to a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

Washington had no "permanent enemies" in the region, Rice also said at a news conference in Brasilia.

Questions about Venezuela’s links to Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group -- which Washington classifies as a terrorist organization -- were raised by a March 1 raid by Colombian forces inside Ecuador that killed a FARC leader, Raul Reyes.

"We do have to be concerned about terrorism. We have to be concerned about the safety and well-being of countries in the region, that they should not be subject to terrorist activities or terrorist attacks that are either within their borders or beyond their borders," she said.

Rice also referred to countries’ obligations under U.N. accords to prevent their territory from being used by armed groups.

"We expect responsible states to live up to those obligations," she said.

Colombia defused the crisis that erupted over its cross-border raid by apologizing and promising not to take similar action if its neighbors cooperated in fighting the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The Colombian government seized several computers as a result of the attack and said they yielded data that proved leftist-led Ecuador and Venezuela were aiding the FARC.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says Colombia’s accusations are part of a U.S.-backed plot to smear him.

Rice declined to directly answer questions on whether the United States might add Venezuela to a list of countries deemed to support terrorism.

"The United States doesn’t have enemies -- permanent enemies. What we have is the effort to work well with any state that is acting responsibly on matters of democracy, on matters of security, on matters of economic development," she said.

"That’s our positive agenda for Latin America and we pursue it without an ideological litmus test."


On Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said new information about possible links between Venezuela and Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group was disturbing but Washington was far from a decision to declare Caracas a state sponsor of terrorism.

That declaration could lead to sanctions on Venezuela although it was unclear whether it would disrupt Venezuelan oil supplies to the United States. Caracas, however, could retaliate by cutting off oil shipments.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon on Wednesday said the United States was carefully studying the information on these computers as well as another belonging to FARC leader Ivan Rios, who was killed by his own bodyguard last week.

Possible sanctions for being on the list include a ban on U.S. arms-related sales, bans on certain economic aid, and financial sanctions including U.S. opposition to World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans.

Rice spoke at the start of a two-day trip to Brazil and Chile that will include an overnight stay in Salvador, the former slave port that is heart of Afro-Brazilian culture.

In Brasilia, Rice, who is African-American, and Brazilian Racial Integration Minister Edson Santos signed a plan for the two countries to work together to fight racial and ethnic discrimination.

The countries will share ideas on how best to combat discrimination in education, housing, the workplace and other areas. The plan will also explore expanding educational exchanges between U.S. and Brazilian schools and universities, including historically black U.S. colleges.

Rice then flies to Salvador, where she is expected to tour the city, which was founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century and is famous for its cobble-stoned streets and its 17th- and 18th-century palaces and Baroque churches.

On Friday, she flies to Santiago to meet Chilean officials and to promote educational and commercial exchanges between Chile and California, which share similar agricultural, trade, coastal and environmental concerns.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Ray Colitt; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Eric Beech)

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