Both the Iranian regime and the Hezbollah terrorist group maintain a base of operations in Venezuela, under the complacent gaze and cooperation of the Nicolás Maduro regime; a fact that reveals how that country has become a threat to the region.
On Wednesday, June 5, the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, denounced that Iran and Hezbollah terrorists operate in South America, overseeing organized transnational crime networks.
“Iran and Hezbollah have a solid base of operations in South America in alliance with the narco-dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro. If we fail in Venezuela, it represents a victory for terrorism, transnational organized crime, and anti-Semitism,” warned the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Almagro’s statements coincide with those of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who noted that “Hezbollah has active cells and that with their actions, the Iranians are affecting the peoples of Venezuela and throughout South America.”
On Thursday, June 6, the Group of Lima, made up of 12 countries, issued a statement in which it clearly recognizes that the Nicolás Maduro regime is involved in illicit acts of terrorism and drug trafficking.
“We urge the international community to take action in the face of the growing involvement of the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro in different forms of corruption, drug trafficking, and transnational organized crime involving their relatives and frontmen, as well as the protection granted to terrorist organizations and illegal armed groups in Venezuelan territory and the impact in the region of their activities,” the statement said.
Strong evidence has shown that Chavismo in Venezuela is involved in terrorist actions, money laundering, and drug trafficking hand in hand with Iran and Hezbollah.
Although in the South American country the terrorist group acts in a clandestine manner, there are key individuals that have boosted its presence and operations in the South American country. These include Tareck El Aissami and Ghazi Nasr al Din (better known as Ghazi Atef Nassereddine). From Iran, General Aref Richany Jimenez plays a key role.
In an interview with the PanAm Post, Joseph Humire, hemispheric security expert and executive director of the Center for a Free and Secure Society based in Washington DC, revealed how Iran and Hezbollah operate in Latin America, but especially in Venezuela. Humire has specialized in the conflict in the Middle East and has participated as a key witness in terrorist attacks in Peru.
“Iran and Hezbollah have been in Latin America since, practically, the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, but in 2005 they joined the Bolivarian alliance (ALBA); as ALBA grew, the Iranian and Hezbollah presence grew,” he explained.
Humire, who has focused on investigating the situation closely, explained that since 2007, Iran has increased its military presence, mainly in Bolivia, which became its main strategic partner in the region, and in Venezuela.
“They started to increase their military presence, but not in the conventional way with troops, but with technical engineers, people who are part of the Iranian military industry,” he said.
What are Iran and Hezbollah seeking in Venezuela?
Humire explained that in the case of Iran, proximity to the United States is key.
“At the strategic level, I believe that Iran, as a hostile and undemocratic government, understands that the only way to advance its revolution is to remove the influence of the United States,” he said.
In the case of Hezbollah, he explained that each day it deepens its relationship with transnational crime groups and terrorists in Latin America to provide them with intelligence, drug trafficking, and money laundering services.
“Hezbollah is a terrorist group, recognized as such by more than fifty countries in the world. They commited acts of terrorism in Latin America, the most famous were 25 years ago with the AMIA in Argentina, and one in Panama in 1994; but beyond simply executing attacks, they also get involved with other terrorist groups in the region and criminal groups such as the FARC and the ELN,” he explained.
He explained that Hezbollah has a huge international money laundering network and offers its services to drug cartels.
The key individuals that keep Hezbollah in the country
Although it is impossible to count how many Iranian members of the terrorist group there are in Venezuela, it has been possible to identify at least two key pieces that facilitate clandestine work. The first is Ghazi Nasr al Din. Currently in Venezuela, he was a diplomat of Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s advisory minister in Syria, and also has a “family clan” with economic power within the South American country.
In 2008 Nasr al Din was sanctioned by the United States for facilitating the Venezuelan government’s connection with Hezbollah and in 2015 he was described as a person of interest to the FBI.
“He came to Venezuela in the 90s, he went into the Foreign Ministry, he was a diplomat and he was sent to Syria to be a minister, he was mainly in charge of the embassy in that country and before the civil war in Syria in 2011, he was in Damascus connecting the subversive networks that exist in Syria with the subversive networks of Venezuela and with Lebanon,” Humire explained.
“He is of Lebanese descent and is considered the main contact link with the Venezuelan government and Hezbollah. He worked with Nicolás Maduro when he was foreign minister, and he was also essentially the eyes and ears of El Aissami in the Middle East for a long time,” he added.
“The family clan of Nasr al Din is great. He has relatives who settled mostly on the island of Margarita, Barquisimeto, and La Guajira. In Margarita they have lotteries, shopping centers, and large investments in the island and therefore helped Hugo Chavez in his campaign before he became president,” he explained.
“Nasr al Din is in Venezuela, but he moves around a lot: sometimes he is in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, or in Mexico. He is under US sanctions and is being sought by the FBI, but is not wanted by Interpol. He has so much power that he was one of the main people in charge of designing the immigration system that Venezuela used to provide passports to Hezbollah,” Humire added.
Nasr al Din has been repeatedly interviewed by Chavista-aligned media outlets such as Telesur and RT.
The government of Hugo Chávez promoted human trafficking in the world with the illegal delivery of at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports to citizens of Syria, Iran, and other countries of the Middle East.
Venezuelan Colonel Vladimir Medrano Rengifo, former Director General of the Office of Identification, Migration and Immigration of Venezuela, told El Nuevo Herald that at least 800 people a month arrived to Venezuela – between May 2008 and October 2009 – with an illegal passport.
Medrano explained that El Aissami, when serving as Minister of Interior Relations, ordered him not to deport citizens who entered the country with irregular documents.
“The passports were legitimate, legal tender, but the people who carried the documents were not really Venezuelan,” he explained.
In 2015, an official of the Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigation Corps (CICPC), identified as Misael López Soto, who supposedly was counselor of the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq, confessed that he witnessed the Venezuelan Government deliver diplomatic documents to terrorists from the Middle East.
Lopez explained in a video that Embassy employees sell Venezuelan visas, passports, identity cards and birth certificates to people in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Pakistan who paid between USD $5,000 and USD $15,000 to obtain the documents “under the complacent glance of the Venezuelan diplomatic authorities.”
Lopez Soto’s statements coincide with arrests of citizens who have been captured with Venezuelan passports
In 2003 Hasil Mohammed Rahaham-Alan was arrested in the United Kingdom, traveling with a presumed Venezuelan passport on a British Airways flight to Heathrow Airport.
His flight departed from Caracas and made stops in Colombia and Barbados; he had a grenade in his luggage, which required the evacuation of the terminal and a military response.
In 2008, the US Treasury Department issued a statement in which it said that “it is extremely worrisome to see that the government of Venezuela employs and provides shelter to Hezbollah facilitators and fundraisers.”
This is because Ghazi Nasr al Din (Identity Card No. 18.190.527) served, allegedly, as Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Venezuela in Damascus, Syria, and was subsequently named Director of Political Affairs of the Venezuelan Embassy in Lebanon. In 2016 he appeared in the National Electoral Council as a voter from Damascus in Syria, but now in 2019 he appears as a voter in Caracas.
According to the Brazilian magazine Veja, sources said in 2015 that Nasr al Din allegedly maintained a network of manufacturing and distribution of authentic Venezuelan passports that were provided to hide the true identities of the terrorists.
In the book Búmeran Chavez it is revealed, according to testimony of Rafael Isea – then Vice Minister of Finance and president of the Bank of Economic and Social Development (Bandes) – who was present at a meeting held in Damascus in 2007, that Maduro – then Minister of Foreign Affairs – and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the terrorist group, signed a pact that covered drug trafficking, money laundering, arms supply, and delivery of passports, as well as the deployment of cells of the radical Shiite organization in Venezuela.
Hezbollah’s efforts in Venezuela
Humire told the PanAm Post that Hezbollah performs intelligence work in Venezuela clandestinely and that most of the staff is “very high level with a lot of capacity.”
“Hezbollah is clandestine, and in Venezuela part of the problem is that as it has a completely obscure immigration system, I do not rule out the possibility that members of the Venezuelan government, particularly within the police or military forces, are also members of Hezbollah with a completely false identity.”
“It must be remembered that when Tareck El Aissami was in the position of interior minister with a Bolivarian mission that was called Mission Identity, at the same time he was also in charge of the Security mission with which he transformed the system of criminal investigations, and so It would be logical to imagine that he could have used these two missions to combine a platform for Hezbollah to enter the country and go unnoticed,” he added.
According to a piece in Foreign Policy, Margarita Island, located off the coast of Venezuela, is a known criminal center where Hezbollah members have established a safe haven.
Iran’s top men in Venezuela
Although El Aissami is the key link of the Venezuelan regime with Iran and Hezbollah, there is another key individual that has boosted Iranian presence in Venezuela. This is General Aref Richany Jimenez, who served in two positions: he was in charge of the Venezuelan military industry CAVIM and also dealt with commercial relationships with PDVSA.
“This gentleman was also sanctioned by the United States; his first actions for the Venezuelan government were with CAVIM and later in PDVSA because he had relations with Iran,” he explained.
“He had a double role: he was commander of CAVIM and director of commercial relations at PDVSA. He used PDVSA to make payments from Iran to Venezuela using the pretext of oil agreements to insert Iran into Venezuela’s military sphere. He is a very important figure, is supposedly retired, and lives on the island of Margarita,” he said.
During his administration, CAVIM was sanctioned by the United States government for its projects with Iran, the explosion of a warehouse in Maracay that left a casualty in its wake, and the Military Prosecutor’s Office detection of irregularities in the assembly project of the Zamora pistol by means of an agreement between Venezuela and the Czech Republic.
In 2014, he was included in a list of Venezuelan officials sanctioned by the United States government presented by Senator Marco Rubio.