The Maduro regime encourages international terrorist groups to run free in Venezuela, according to a report by the U.S. Department of State.

The 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism, released June 24, documents Colombian and religious terrorist organizations inside of Venezuela that are not only permitted to operate in the country but encouraged to stay by illegitimate leader Nicolás Maduro.

“Maduro and his associates use criminal activities to help maintain their illegitimate hold on power, fostering a permissive environment for known terrorist groups,” the report says, “including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-D), the Colombian-origin National Liberation Army (ELN), and Hizballah sympathizers.”

According to the report, FARC-D and ELN both profit from and run parts of the illegal international drug trade from Venezuela. ELN oversees illegal mining operations and derives money from kidnapping civilians for ransom.

Woman in crowd holding portrait of uniformed man (© Ivan Valencia/AP Images)
Relatives attend a ceremony January 20 marking one year since a car bomb attack on the police academy in Bogota, Colombia. The Colombian government blamed ELN for the bombing, which killed at least 21 people on January 17, 2019. (© Ivan Valencia/AP Images)

While neighboring Colombia has tried to stop the groups’ influence in South America, Maduro allows it. The regime did not update its counterterrorism legislation in 2019 to reflect the growing presence of either terrorist organization in Venezuela, nor has it made any efforts to prosecute the groups.

Further, “Nicolas Maduro has openly welcomed former FARC leaders who announced a return to terrorist activities,” the report says.

On July 28, 2019, during the São Paulo Forum in Caracas, Maduro said Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich — former FARC leaders — were welcome in the country. A month later, both Márquez and Santrich appeared in a video, rallying FARC to return to arms against the Colombian government, the report says.

Man standing with arms raised in front of microphones with others seated behind him (© Fernando Vergara/AP Images)
FARC leader Jesús Santrich opens his arms during a press conference May 30, 2019, at the FARC party headquarters after he was freed from his second detention in connection with a drug case in Bogota, Colombia. (© Fernando Vergara/AP Images)

The National Assembly immediately denounced these actions and continues to criticize Maduro’s open-arms policy toward FARC and ELN. In October 2019, it designated Hizballah, ISIS and ELN as terrorist organizations, the report says.

According to the National Assembly, Maduro gives ELN control in border states, like Táchira, where the group loots towns and threatens violence.

Interim President Juan Guaidó recently called for the Venezuelan National Armed Forces to step up and protect the country from the increasing presence of ELN.

“Armed Forces, the order is simple: Exercise sovereignty and enforce the constitution,” said Guaidó on Twitter. “Failure to do so is to submit to the shame of continuing to collaborate with a drug trafficker and continue to close doors in the world to the supports that Venezuelans need today.”