A new political danger is on the rise in Latin America.  At the grass roots, there are a swelling number of populist groups that are seeking to remake the social fabric of the continent.  Hugo Chávez has close ties to many of these radicals, including the group Hezbollah Venezuela.

Worryingly, Chávez’s ties with Hezbollah also extend south, into Nestor Kirchner’s Argentina.  There, he helps operate a network that, as Israeli analyst Ely Karmon points out, includes radical rightists and populist elements, both of which have close relations with local Arab Shiites and the Iranian regime. [1]

Hezbollah Argentina works with the Islamic Association of Argentina (AIA), which has links to Hezbollah and to the government of Iran. AIA consists mainly of Shiite converts to Islam who cooperate closely with the Iranian Embassy.  The organization’s website celebrates the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, condemns the United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for sanctions against Iran, and is violently critical of Israel and the West.

According to Karmon, the AIA actively cooperates with the Argentinean violent protest group known as “Quebracho.”[2]

This group, whose official name is the Patriotic Revolutionary Movement (MPR), touts an ideology based on toxic anti-capitalism and “anti-imperialism.”  Their angst and anger are directed at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United States, Japan, Israel, and Argentineans who are linked to these countries or organizations. [3]

Unsurprisingly, the group advocates the use of what it calls revolutionary violence: “Violence in the hands of the people is not violence but it is justice and self-defense”. They are convinced that violence is more effective than any other form of struggle – especially voting, for which they have a particular disdain: “you do not need to convince the enemies, you must defeat them.  Elections are nothing but a fraudulent game that conspires against the people.”[4]

Quebracho’s message content is simple and easy to communicate to the general population and its leaders often speak a plain, often hate-filled language that resonates with the region’s marginal populations of society.  In keeping with this simple, ideological character, the group exerts enormous energy defining and denigrating their enemies.  Their speech is always of destruction and hatred, while offering very little in the way of a concrete policy agenda.

To better understand the role violent grassroots groups play in Latin American politics, it is instructive to look to Karl Marx’s study of Louis Napoleon’s 1851 coup d’etat in Paris. Marx notes that the seizure of power took place on the wings of great social chaos, abetted in large part by the “Society of December 10.”  This group consisted of “people with dubious means of subsistence and of questionable character…vagabonds, failed soldiers, discharged jailbirds, swindlers, lazzaroni, pickpockets, and tricksters.”  “They had to improvise a public for him, stage public enthusiasm, roar “long live the Emperor”, and […] insult and trash supporters of the French Republic.”[5]

Chávez’s relations with Quebracho and the Islamists could serve him exactly in the same way the “Society of December 10” served Louis Bonaparte more than 150 years ago.   He hopes that the synergy between popular socialism and radical Islamism – with its proven record of political violence [6] – could help him unify Latin American under his ideological control.

What’s more, it is possible that he believes this Latin American unity may take place in his lifetime. His burgeoning confidence – many Latin American leaders treat Caracas as a new socialist Mecca and endlessly genuflect before him – results in him frequently behaving as if he were already supreme leader of the continent.

In Argentina, for example, the former Venezuelan Ambassador, Roger Capella, personally supervised welfare programs paid for by Caracas.  This aid included scholarships, health plans, and commercial exchanges for small businesses.  It was designed to “[open] doors so that lectures to promote the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ could take place.”[7] Ambassador Capella was also giving recruitment lectures throughout colleges and universities in Argentina with the Iranian business envoy, Moshen Baharvand. [8]

Essentially, the Chávez regime is undermining Néstor Kirchner’s government in Buenos Aires.  By presenting himself as the benefactor of the Argentines who have been supposedly abandoned by their own government, Chávez aims to shift the loyalties of its Argentine recipients from Buenos Aires to Caracas.  This fact has been admitted by Mr. Capella himself, who has stated that “the Venezuelan diplomacy is transforming itself from being a traditional diplomacy into an active militancy.”[9]

At the same time Chávez is using this “militant” grassroots diplomacy to sway the populace loyalties, he is also using it to sway the loyalties of those in the Argentinean government.   Specifically, he has seen to it that a number of his allied radical groups are headed by current and top-level members of the Kirchner administration.

The best example of this phenomenon is Jorge Ceballos. Mr. Ceballos is Kirchner’s Undersecretary of Social Development, head of the grassroots group Barrio de Pie, and a key member of the People’s Bolivarian Congress (CBP), an organization founded by Hugo Chávez which coordinates the activities of various grassroots organizations from all over Latin America, including Quebracho. [10].

During President’s Bush recent visit to Uruguay (as part of a larger Latin American tour), Ceballos was part of the group that – with Kirchner’s permission – organized the massive anti-Bush protest in Buenos Aires’ massive “Ferro” soccer stadium.

By allowing Chávez to hold such events as the “Ferro” rally, Kirchner unwittingly de-legitimizes his own government while enhancing Chavez’s position as a supra-national leader. In other words, this is not simply just a case of “dual loyalty” by Argentineans. The event at “Ferro” was a manifestation of “dual power” where Chávez intentionally played the role of a parallel leader. In Argentina, where history is full of charismatic leaders prevailing over institutions, Chávez’s takeover of the public stage was particularly striking.

Chávez’s ability to reach out to the newly politicized marginal groups serves him to extend his power beyond his own border, and spread his “Bolivarianism” throughout the whole continent. This is undoubtedly a threat to the governments of Latin America, especially to those like Argentina that has chosen to befriend Chávez.

Dr. Luis Fleischman is an advisor to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science and Sociology at Wilkes Honor College at Florida Atlantic University.

Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

NOTES

  1. Ely Karmon, “Hezbollah Latin America: Strange Group or Real Threat”, Institute for Counterterrorism, 11/14/2006.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (New York: International Publishers, 1984), 75-77.
  5. This idea has been articulated by Jorge Verstrynge, the author of a book titled “La Guerra Periferica y el Islam Revolucionario: Origenes, Reglas y Etica de la Guerra Asimetrica.” (The Peripheral War and Revolutionary Islam: Origins, Rules and Ethics of Asymmetric War” .The book praises Islamic terrorism as “the ultimate and preferred method of asymmetric warfare because it involves fighters willing to sacrifice their lives to kill the enemy.”  According to author Joe Sweeny, the Chavez government financed a special edition of Verstrynge’s book exclusively for the Army of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela . Verstrynge spoke in Army-sponsored conferences and has become a Guru in the Chavez –controlled Venezuelan army. See Joe Sweeny, “Jorge Verstrynge: The Guru of Bolivarian Asymmetric Warfare” in http://www.vcrisis.com/index.php?content=letters/200509091152
  6. Daniel Gallo, “Controvertida agenda politica del embajador de Venezuela ,” Venezuela Real, November 16, 2006.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

 

 

 

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