The U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said the U.S. government is not “closer” to a military intervention in Venezuela, but warned that Colombia would have full American support in case of an attack by terrorist groups or the Venezuelan armed forces.
On Tuesday, Abrams also ruled out that U.S. support for Venezuelan interim President Juan Guaidó’s efforts to join the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) meant a possible U.S. military action.
“The United States is not closer [to a military conflict with Venezuela], but I do worry a lot about the Colombian-Venezuelan border,” Abrams said in a videoconference on Tuesday from Brussels, where he was discussing the Venezuelan crisis with members of the European Union.
“I worry about the presence of the ELN and the FARC in Venezuela,” he said. “I worry about the intentions of the [Nicolás] Maduro regime with the military exercises that Maduro has ordered in the border area.”
Abrams said the United States has intelligence information confirming the presence of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Venezuela.
The diplomat said that Iván Márquez, one of the FARC commanders who broke the peace agreement, “is in Venezuela. And his video announcing the return to combat was made in Venezuela. This is very dangerous, because if there are cross-border attacks from Venezuela into Colombia, we can expect the Colombians to react. And obviously, we would be fully supportive of Colombia in that situation.”
Abrams’ statements confirm those of Colombian President Iván Duque, who after the publication of the video by Márquez and other commanders at the end of August, accused Venezuela’s Maduro of hosting and supporting the FARC members. Maduro, meanwhile, has denied the accusations and ordered military exercises on the border with Colombia, which has increased tensions in the region.
On Monday, Maduro activated the Defense Council to discuss actions against an alleged military threat from the Colombian government, which Maduro accuses of planning terrorist plots against Venezuela.
Abrams reiterated his government’s support for Colombia if the attack comes from military forces loyal to Maduro.
“I hope [the military exercises] are just a political act without any security or military meaning,” he said. “I hope [the armed forces of Venezuela] are not crazy enough to engage in any kind of attacks on Colombia, and it is certainly the case that Colombia will have full American support if that happens.”
At the same time, the special envoy said that while the military option remains on the table, as President Donald Trump and other officials have said on several occasions, it is not the current policy of the U.S. government.
Both Abrams and Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, told reporters on Tuesday that invoking the TIAR — also known as the Rio Treaty — did not necessarily mean that Guaidó would have military support from the United States, an expectation that had grown within Venezuela, especially within the opposition.
“It is wrong to think — some people do — that, oh, this is military action, this is the invasion,” Abrams said.
In a call with journalists from Washington, Trujillo clarified that “the purpose of the TIAR is not to invoke military force. The purpose of the TIAR is to seek a legal framework that did not exist until now so that the member countries can move forward and put more pressure on Venezuela to seek a democratic change.”
At the end of July, the opposition-controlled National Assembly approved the reincorporation of Venezuela into the TIAR. On Monday, the representative of Venezuela to the OAS, Gustavo Tarre, sent a letter requesting the Permanent Council convene the consultation body for the activation of the Treaty. Trujillo said the request had the majority of the votes and that its approval would be announced on Wednesday at an OAS meeting.
Possible issues that TIAR members could discuss, Abrams said, include the regional response to the refugee crisis, drug trafficking and the presence of irregular groups in Venezuela.
“All of the neighbors and really everyone in the international community should be very worried about this dangerous support for narco-terrorist groups by the Maduro regime,” Abrams said. “I think we should all worry about whether the Maduro regime intends to try deliberately to escalate tensions.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres.