By Daniel Lautenschlager*

President Chavez’s worsening health has raised questions about the future of the country.  If Chavez does happen to die in office, who knows what his regime will do to consolidate power.  However, it is certain that no matter what happens to Chavez; Venezuela’s support of Iran’s nuclear program will continue.  Venezuela and Iran have had close relations for some time now.  Chavez has publically supported Iran’s nuclear program and assisted its development.  Because of this assistance, Iran has been able to circumvent U.S. and international sanctions through Venezuela’s banking system and to begin building up its stockpile of uranium, which it happens to have a shortage of.  In July, three representatives on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a letter to the State Department addressing their concerns about alleged “attempts by Iran to engage Argentina on nuclear issues using Venezuela as an interlocutor.”[1] (see also Americas Report story here)

The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran this past Tuesday cites large amounts of evidence from many different sources that Iran has been taking clear steps in developing nuclear weapons.  It has been estimated that close to 50,000 tons of uranium are located within Venezuela.  As part of its plan to produce nuclear weapons, Iran has seized the opportunity and has allegedly joined Venezuela in operating uranium mining facilities in Venezuela from where mined uranium is shipped to Iran. 

 If Venezuela was mining uranium on its own, it would be legal.  However, Chavez and his administration have acknowledged that Iran has been assisting them in searching for uranium deposits.  In addition to Iran holding partial ownership of these alleged mines, Venezuela is in violation of Security Council Resolution 1929, which prohibits Iranian involvement in, “uranium mining, production, or use of nuclear materials and technology.”[2]  If this is the case, how has Venezuela escaped sanctions from the U.N. Security Council?

           Iran and Venezuela have allegedly set up joint front companies that are covertly mining uranium.  Uranium mining in a foreign country would not be out of the ordinary for Iran.  Ahmadinejad made a secret deal with Robert Mugabe in 2010 for access to Zimbabwe’s uranium deposits in exchange for oil.[3]  Jose Cardenas, who has served in senior positions in the State Department, National Security Council, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has reported that his sources in Ecuador have alerted him that a $30 million joint mining deal was completed between Iran and Ecuador in December of 2009.  Although the agreement did not specifically mention uranium mining, Ecuador is thought to have deposits of uranium.[4]  

 According to Kenneth Rijock, a financial crime consultant and former money-launderer involved with drug traffickers in South America, there are joint Venezuelan-Iranian aluminum mines in Venezuela that are most likely covertly mining uranium.  Rijock explains that although Iran does not need to import aluminum, Venezuela and Iran have a contract for the export of “aluminum” to Iran.[5]  Former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roger Noriega, specifically refers to a “gold” mine that was set up by a 2008 contract between a Venezuelan state-run company called CVG Minerven and the Iranian state company Impasco.  This mine sits above the Roraima Basin, where a large uranium deposit is supposedly located. 

 A Venezuelan government official even warned that the airspace over the aluminum mines and the gold mine in the Roraima Basin was prohibited to aircraft and that any aircraft that flew close to the mines would be shot down: a harsh penalty for flying close to an “aluminum” mine.[6]  Camilo Ospina, former Colombian ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), stated in a 2006 speech that covert uranium mining facilities are operating in Venezuela under the name of “bicycle” and “motorcycle” factories.[7]  However, the Colombian government renounced his statement. 

 According to Ambassador Noriega’s sources, Iranian companies have bought facilities around the “gold” mine in 2006 and 2007, claiming that they are “cement” and “tractor” factories.  However, they produce little of these products.  His sources have even said that the “cement” factory processes ore that is mined through the “gold” mine.  The ore then is supposedly moved to the Orinoco River and is put on Iranian flagged vessels.[8]  As for the “tractor” factory, eye witnesses have claimed that the facility looks like a military compound and that it is guarded by Venezuelan National Guard troops.[9]  In 2008, a shipment of cargo sent to this facility from Iran was seized by Turkish authorities.  Although the containers were labeled “tractor parts,” they were supposedly holding “barrels of nitrate and sulfite chemicals,” which are ingredients for explosives.[10]

           The credentials of the former head of Alcasa, the Venezuelan state-owned aluminum company, are also suspect.  Carlos Rafael Lanz Rodriguez, who now works in the Ministry of Education, was appointed to head Alcasa by President Chavez in 2005, having no background in mining or managing.  According to Rijock, Lanz is a former terrorist and leftist guerrilla who has allegedly kidnapped an American businessman for ransom and held him hostage for several years.[11]  Rijock also claims that sources saw Lanz meeting with Mustafa Setmariam Nasar on a Panamanian freighter off the Caribbean coast.  Nasar is the Syrian al Qaeda member who helped orchestrate the Madrid train bombing and the 9/11 attacks.[12]  Judging from this, it is certainly possible that Lanz, like Chavez, sympathizes with the goals of Iran and Islamic terrorist organizations.  Alcasa is the company that holds partial ownership of the “aluminum” mines, implying that Rodriguez would have had to know about the facility’s uranium mining and cooperate.  Former Venezuelan government mining engineers have also said that Alcasa has been secretly mining uranium and shipping it to Iran.[13] 

Interestingly enough, in March of 2008, a cache of 66 lbs of depleted uranium was found outside Bogota by Colombian authorities.  The uranium presumably belonged to the FARC.  It was even mentioned on Raul Reyes laptop that was recovered in the 2008 raid in Ecuador.[14]  Considering Chavez’s proven ties with the FARC, Venezuela passing on uranium to the terrorist group to build a ‘dirty’ bomb is certainly possible. 

 Brad MacDonald reported that Matthew Bunn, a senior research associate with Harvard’s Project on Managing the Atom, explained that it was interesting that “a very professional terrorist organization like FARC… apparently was interested in getting involved in buying and selling nuclear material for money.  That suggests that someone who had serious nuclear material (unlike this material) and needed to move it from one country to another might have been able to make use of the FARC’s capabilities.”[15]  Was it mined in Venezuela through a Venezuelan-Iranian mining operation?  If so, Bunn is implying that this uranium mining industry would be fairly advanced.  Chavez has stated that Iran is only assisting in the exploration of Venezuela’s uranium deposits.  However, the cache of uranium that was recovered may suggest that uranium deposits in Venezuela are already accessible.  Ambassador Noriega believes that not only are these mines still operating today, the Venezuelan government may also be exploring for other uranium deposits.  Chavez has refused to sign the Additional Protocol (AP) which would grant the IAEA broader inspection powers to inspect nuclear facilities and force Venezuela to reveal the location and capacity of its uranium mines.[16]  There is a possibility that Chavez has refused to sign it because he is afraid that the IAEA will find evidence of these alleged Venezuelan-Iranian uranium mines.    

 According to the New York Times, the IAEA’s report on Iran’s nuclear program cites sources that suggest Iran “was working on a project to secure a source of uranium suitable for use in an undisclosed enrichment program” in order to develop a nuclear weapon.[17]  One of those sources may be Venezuela.  If Iran is able to develop nuclear weapons, it is a high possibility that Ahmadinejad will hand Venezuela nuclear weapons or nuclear technology in return for Venezuela’s assistance.

Daniel Lautenschlager was an intern at the Center for Security Policy and is majoring in political science at the College of the Holy Cross.


[1] Office of the Spokesperson. U.S. Department of State. Argentina/Iran/Venezuela: Nuclear Technology. U.S. Department of State. 13 July 2011. Web. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/07/168491.htm>.

[2] Noriega, Roger F. “Chavez’s Secret Nuclear Program.” Foreign Policy. 5 Oct. 2010. Web. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/05/chavez_s_secret_nuclear_program>.

[3] Mushekwe, Itai, and Harriet Alexander. “Iran Strikes Secret Nuclear Mining Deal with Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Regime.” The Telegraph. 24 Apr. 2010. Web. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/7628750/Iran-strikes-secret-nuclear-mining-deal-with-Zimbabwes-Mugabe-regime.html>.

[4] Cardenas, Jose R. “Iran’s Man in Ecuador.” Foreign Policy. 15 Feb. 2011. Web. <http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/02/15/irans_man_in_ecuador>.

[5] Hurd, Dale. “Hugo Chavez: America’s Highest Risk?” Turning Point Ministries International. CBN News. Web. <http://www.tpmi.org/apps/articles/web/articleid/26688/columnid/3149/default.asp>.

[6] Schoen, Douglas E., and Michael Rowan. The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War against America. New York: Free Press, 2009. 115.

[7] Schoen, Douglas E., and Michael Rowan. The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War against America. New York: Free Press, 2009. 115-116.

[8] Noriega, Roger F. “Chavez’s Secret Nuclear Program.” Foreign Policy. 5 Oct. 2010. Web. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/05/chavez_s_secret_nuclear_program>.

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Rijock, Kenneth. “Drug Traffickers, Money Launderers and Terrorists Running Venezuela.” VCrisis. 27 Feb. 2006. Web. <http://vcrisis.com/?content=letters/200602270723>.

[12]Ibid

[13] MacDonald, Brad. “Is Chavez Helping Terrorists Go Nuclear?” The Philadelphia Trumpet 19.5 (2008). The Trumpet. Web. <http://www.thetrumpet.com/?q=5036.0.104.0>

[14] Schoen, Douglas E., and Michael Rowan. The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War against America. New York: Free Press, 2009. 116.

[15] MacDonald, Brad. “Is Chavez Helping Terrorists Go Nuclear?” The Philadelphia Trumpet 19.5 (2008). The Trumpet. Web. <http://www.thetrumpet.com/?q=5036.0.104.0>

[16] “Factsheet and FAQs.” International Atomic Energy Agency. Web. <http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Factsheets/English/sg_overview.html>.

[17]Sanger, David E., and William J. Broad. “U.N. Agency Says Iran Data Points to A-Bomb Work.” The New York Times [New York] 9 Nov. 2011, A1 sec. The New York Times. 8 Nov. 2011. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/09/world/un-details-case-that-iran-is-at-work-on-nuclear-device.html?ref=world>.

 

2 Responses to Uranium Mining: Just Another Venezuela-Iran Connection

  1. […] of the country. Iran has been helping Venezuela locate their uranium deposits and allegedly holds partial ownership in a number of Venezuelan uranium mines. Venezuela has created a no-fly zone over one of their “aluminum” mines, which is most likely a […]

  2. […] of the country. Iran has been helping Venezuela locate their uranium deposits and allegedly holds partial ownership in a number of Venezuelan uranium mines. Venezuela has created a no-fly zone over one of their “aluminum” mines, which is most likely a […]

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