Sean Penn, Danny Glover and Kevin Spacey have met privately with him. Oliver Stone is making a movie putting him in a positive light. From Hollywood’s love of him, you’d expect Hugo Chavez to be a courageous human rights activist, but he’s an anti-American extremist who received Iran’s highest national medal from Ahmadinejad in July 2006, where he said “We have to save humankind and put an end to the U.S. empire." And now he’s announced his intentions to begin a nuclear program with Russian assistance.
Venezuela is a critical part of Iran’s efforts to build an alliance of rogue states across the world to challenge the U.S. and provide the regime with help to sustain its fight against the West. To help prepare Iran for possible sanctions targeting its reliance upon imported gasoline, Venezuela has agreed to provide the regime with 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day.
This comes on the heels of Chavez’s announcement that he would allow Iran to build a “nuclear village” inside his country. There is even an unconfirmed Israeli report that Iran is planning on duplicating its nuclear program in Venezuela, allowing for the acceleration and securing of its own efforts.
The District Attorney of Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau, says that his office has found that Venezuelan banks are being used by the Iranians to acquire materials for its nuclear program in violation of international sanctions. Chavez and his ally in Bolivia, President Morales, are providing the Iranians with uranium, stopping the West from hoping that Iran’s shortage will delay its nuclear ambitions.
Iran also has had joint efforts with the North Koreans, Syrians and probably the Sudanese, and so Venezuela’s program must be viewed in the context of a coordinated nuclear effort by the world’s rogue states, and it is probable that Chavez will seek to include his Latin American allies in the conspiracy. Already it’s been reported that Venezuela has been flying missile parts to Syria for Iran.
Venezuela’s cooperation with Iran goes beyond the nuclear arena, though. According to a secret Israeli document, the two countries have created a massive fund of $200 billion to try to lure other Latin American countries into their bloc to fight for “liberation from the American imperialism.”
Perhaps part of this funding has gone to expand the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in Venezuela and the continent as a whole. Members of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Al-Quds Force, which is the primary outfit used to sponsor terrorists, are training Venezuela’s security services, and IranAir flights that go from Tehran to Damascus to Caracas are causing U.S. officials to worry that a covert, terrorism-sponsoring alliance has been created. In June 2008, the Treasury Department designated two Venezuelans as terrorists for providing support for Hezbollah, including a diplomat who previously worked in Venezuela’s embassy in Damascus.
Chavez’s government also supports the FARC narco-terrorist group which seeks to overthrow the pro-American government of Colombia. Swedish anti-tank missiles sold to Venezuela were found in a FARC arms cache in July, and captured rebel computer files show that the terrorists were discussing the receiving of arms from the Venezuelans and their ties to high-level officials including the highest Venezuelan officials. Other documents show that rocket-propelled grenades and other small arms were given to the rebels, and that Chavez personally offered them $300 million and to give them oil to sell. Colombian officials say their military has captured over 210,000 rounds of ammunition made in Venezuela. Rebel commanders have also talked about receiving assault rifles and explosives and being given sanctuary.
Captured documents also show that Chavez has given the FARC government documents and arranged meetings with weapons marketers that could provide weapons like surface-to-air missiles. An e-mail from a FARC commander said that the Venezuelan government was securing the travel to the Middle East of one of the group’s members so he could receive missile training. One FARC commander was even documented as having repeatedly traveled in and out of Chavez’s office.
Local Venezuelans in the western part of the country have reported that FARC members are being given safe harbor. Jose De Cordoba wrote that in July 2008, a Colombian military-intelligence captain showed him a map of four FARC camps on Venezuelan territory, each hosting about 100 guerillas. Overall, he wrote, Venezuela is believed to be harboring 500 FARC members and 1,000 of the group’s sympathizers.
Chavez’s government has also been turning a blind eye to the drug trafficking that helps fund the FARC and to a lesser degree, Hezbollah. The U.S. has blacklisted two top intelligence officials and a former interior minister for their involvement with the FARC and drug trafficking. Approximately one-third of the Colombian cocaine that makes its way to the streets of America and Europe transits via Venezuela, and the ousted leader of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, is accused of allowing the landing of three or four Venezuelan aircraft carrying drugs each day.
One defector, a former personal pilot of Chavez, Air Force Major Juan Diaz Castillo, even claims that Chavez gave funded to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. According to his unsubstantiated account, Chavez gave $900,000 to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and $100,000 in humanitarian aid to the Taliban in mid-September. Castillo warned in January 2003 that Chavez is planning an offensive against the United States through creating an international anti-American bloc that can launch an economic assault.
All of this warrants the designation of Venezuela as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the State Department. North Korea, which only helped other rogue states and did not directly support terrorist organizations, was on this list until 2008 for less. Chavez understands that Venezuela’s role as a major provider of oil to the U.S. dissuades such action. He said in 2005 that “We have already invaded the United States, but with our oil.”
However, Chavez’s rhetoric does not match reality. The United States accounts for 60% of Venezuela’s oil exports and Chavez cannot afford to end the relationship. In order for sanctions on Iran to have maximum effect, similar measures against Venezuela must be openly discussed. It’s time to warn Chavez that there’s an open spot on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.