By Matt Schroeder
The recent discovery of Swedish AT-4 anti-tank rockets sold to Venezuela in a Colombian rebel arms cache raises serious questions about Venezuela’s ability to safeguard its arsenal of modern weaponry, including dozens of advanced SA-24 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles. Given the potential threat posed by these missiles and other weapons in Venezuela’s rapidly growing arsenal, the international community should take immediate steps to identify and close the gaps in Venezuela’s stockpile security and to ensure that the end-use monitoring conducted by states that export weapons to Venezuela is sufficiently robust.
According to Colombian authorities, Swedish anti-tank rocket launchers were found in October 2008 in an arms cache allegedly linked to the FARC. On July 27th, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos asserted that “[i]n several operations in which we have recovered weapons from the FARC, we have found powerful munitions and powerful equipment, including anti-tank weapons, from a European country that sold them to Venezuela and that turned up in the hands of the FARC.” Thomas Samuelsson of the Swedish firm Saab Bofors Dynamics confirmed that the AT-4 rockets were manufactured and sold to Venezuela by his firm. The Venezuelan government responded harshly to Colombia’s revelation, calling it “laughable” and recalling the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia.
This is not the first time that Colombian authorities have discovered Venezuelan weapons in rebel arms caches. In 2006, the Federation of American Scientists called attention to several reports of Venezuelan firearms acquired by the FARC, sometimes “…in lots of 50,” according to a demobilized guerrilla interviewed by Jane’s Information Group. In most of these cases, it is not clear what role, if any, that Venezuelan government officials played in the diversion. There is much speculation about the regime’s support of the FARC and its role in arms trafficking to the embattled rebel group, but verifying accusations of high-level complicity by the Venezuelan government based on information in the public domain is nearly impossible and, at one level, it doesn’t matter. The Venezuelan government is responsible for safeguarding the military’s arsenal and should be held accountable for any diverted weapons, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their diversion. The focus, therefore, should shift from the fruitless back-and-forth with Chavez over his regime’s alleged support for the FARC to identifying the specific sources of diverted weapons, bolstering Venezuelan stockpile security, and calling on states that arm Venezuela to closely monitor their exported weapons. Continue Reading →