On January 5, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's former personal pilot dropped a bombshell that has been ignored by just about every major U.S. news organization: The Venezuelan president, according to the pilot, gave al Qaeda a substantial sum of money following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Venezuelan Air Force Major Juan Diaz Castillo, who is now seeking political asylum in the United States and says his "life and liberty are in danger in Venezuela," says Chavez chose him to conduct the transfer because he trusted him as a close personal assistant. But Díaz, disgusted with Chavez's regime, resigned his post on October 25 — and fled following a December 16 attempt on his life.
At a Miami press conference this past Sunday, Diaz said that shortly following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Chavez commissioned him "to organize, coordinate, and execute a covert operation consisting of delivering financial resources, specifically $1 million, to [Afghanistan's] Taliban government, in order for them to assist the al-Qaeda terrorist organization," while, "making it appear as if humanitarian aid were being extended to the Afghan people."
The first attempt to transfer the money fell through, but in late September 2001 Venezuelan Vice President Diosdado Cabello decided to funnel the money through Venezuela's ambassador in India, one Walter Marquez. The Taliban received the money and publicly acknowledged receipt of $100,000 in "humanitarian aid." "The rest went straight to al Qaeda," claims Díaz Castillo. "That is, $900,000."
There is more. Diaz Castillo said that while in the Venezuelan air force, he saw Chavez's government send pro-Chavez armed groups — named "Bolivarian Circles," after South American independence hero Simón Bolívar — to Cuba for military training and ideological indoctrination, in order "to carry out acts of violence through them" against opponents. Diaz also says that Chavez has supplied money and arms to the Marxist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia that have plunged that country into chaos.
Diaz Castillo's testimony alone should not be taken at face value — but his statements are consistent with other defectors' testimony and Chavez's public behavior.
• General Marcos Ferreira, who resigned as director of Venezuela's border-control service, recently told Insight magazine that Cuba's General Intelligence Directorate (Spanish initials: DGI) has practically taken over Venezuela's ominously named Directorate for Intelligence, Security, and Prevention (DISIP), and that Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin pressured him to cover up the identities of terrorists — many from the Middle East — passing through Venezuela and to deceive U.S. terrorism investigators. "I quit my job when I got tired of doing dirty work for Chavez with the Cubans looking over my shoulder," he said.
• General Nestor Gonzalez Gonzalez, another military dissident, says Chavez has routed weapons and supplies from Cuba through Venezuela to Marxist guerrillas in Colombia. Gonzalez was with Diaz Castillo on December 16 during the failed attempt on Diaz's life. Militares Democraticos , a military dissident coalition, claims that Gonzalez was also targeted and that Chavez's DISIP was behind the attempt.
• In 2001, Chavez paid state visits to — and signed "cooperation agreements" with — Libya, Iraq, and Iran.
Chavez's hatred of the United States and our allies is well known, as is his propensity for violence. On September 12, 2001, Chavez supporters burned an American flag in Caracas's Plaza Bolivar to celebrate the previous day's terrorist attacks. Chavez tried to seize power by force in 1992; and recently his thugs have ransacked television stations and fired on opposition demonstrators. It is not a stretch to believe he would ally himself with anyone trying to do us harm.
The Bush administration must leave no stone unturned in investigating the allegations of Major Juan Diaz Castillo and of other Venezuelans who have fled and will flee Chavez's rule. If the allegations prove true, then the Chavez regime's current course poses a threat to the region's stability. How deeply is Chavez involved with international terror? We and our hemispheric neighbors need to know .