On December 21st the Italian daily La Stampa published a story that seems to confirm something we at the Menges Hemispheric Security Project have been warning about for some time: the real meaning of the Chavez-Iranian alliance.

According to La Stampa, the regular flights between Caracas, Damascus and Tehran constitute a device for Venezuela to help Iran send Syria material for the manufacturing of missiles. That is part of an agreement of military cooperation signed between Syria and Iran in 2006. According to La Stampa the materials are destined for the “Revolutionary Guards”, the main force protecting the Iranian regime. In exchange for those materials Iran provided Venezuela with members of their revolutionary guards and their elite unit, “Al Quds,” to strengthen Venezuela’s secret services and police.

La Stampa’s report is not surprising to those of us who have been involved in monitoring Hugo Chavez’s activities for the past several years.

In testimony before Congress on March 5, 2008, the Menges Hemispheric Security Project team pointed out that

Iran Air has weekly direct flights between Caracas, Damascus and Tehran. There are no large numbers of passengers that justify weekly travels between theses countries. Therefore, it is reasonable to speculate that these flights transport material which could be highly problematic. Nothing is evident but everything is possible. Even while the crisis in the Middle East continues it is crucial for American decision makers to think about strategies to contain the Iranian influence in our hemisphere as well as Hugo Chavez, himself.

In the same testimony we said that the connection between Chavez, radical Islam and Iran may well be related to the mindset of the Venezuelan president to exercise a reign of terror, violence and totalitarian rule by using the oppressive methods of the Islamic Republic. We added that these radical groups could be used to develop Venezuela’s philosophy of asymmetric war in case of a US or other enemy attack on Venezuela.   These tactics propose a style of fighting that is determined and suicidal, and considered to be useful in confronting a more powerful enemy, like the U.S.   However, radical Islamist tactics might also serve to impose totalitarian rule first in Venezuela and then in other countries willing to join the Chavez coalition.

At the end of October 2008, the CSP Menges Hemispheric Security Project organized a briefing for Congressional staffers working on the Western Hemisphere. Among the many important topics discussed at the briefing was the issue of Iranian partnerships with dubious local businessmen in factories located in sensitive areas with access to strategic routes. One of the speakers at the conference talked about those partnerships as possibly including connections between drug trafficking networks that control sensitive strategic areas and Iran.   In fact, Iran has established a financial and business infrastructure with Chavez’s consent and encouragement that now includes banks, gold mining, a cement plant, a tractor and bicycle factory, a tuna processing plant and a joint oil venture.   This is all very interesting in light of an incident recently reported by several well known Turkish newspapers.

They reported that on December 30th, twenty two containers were confiscated from an Iranian cargo ship bound for Venezuela. The ship was stopped by Turkish authorities in the port of Mersin near the Syrian border. Iranian authorities stated that the content of these containers were tractor parts bound for their factory in Venezuela’s Bolivar state. When the Turkish authorities inspected the shipment, they did not find tractor parts but components to build weapons, bombs and possibly some radioactive material (this material is still under investigation).

It is also known that Chavez has for some time provided Venezuelan territories and airports to drug traffickers, a fact often disregarded by State Department officials. Now, there are businesses that look like regular business and factories such as tuna and tractor factories that look like regular factories, all of them located in sensitive areas near the Orinoco River (an important connection between Colombia and Venezuela) in Venezuela with access to the Caribbean and to the Atlantic Ocean. These factories serve drug operations and involve partnerships with Iranian elements.   As such they provide Iran with access to areas such as Panama and drug-trafficking routes that are most likely used to transport drugs overseas and to provide weapons to the FARC and other terrorists.

In addition, Iran signed an agreement with Venezuela and Nicaragua to jointly build a $350 million deep water port at Monkey Point, on the east coast of Nicaragua. This location is near Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba. Cuba, as we know, is not that far away from the U.S.-Texas-Mexican border, which is another bastion of wild drug-trafficking and now potential terrorism.

Other elements of cooperation between Venezuela and Iran involve operations between an Iranian bank inside Venezuela called el Banco Internacional de Desarollo and a Venezuelan affiliate as well as many other Venezuelan banks including BANESCO that also owns banks in Panama and Florida. This money could be helping Iran, drug traffickers and other dubious groups not only in its operations in Latin America but constitute a very good device to avoid the international sanctions Iran currently faces.   In addition, it has been suggested by some analysts that the money Iran generates from its Venezuelan “businesses” is used to finance Hamas and Hezbollah.

Thus, the transport of weapons to Iran with the help of direct “commercial flights” from Venezuela is part of the assistance that Venezuela provides and which is motivated by cooperation between the two countries. As we have repeatedly said, this is not merely a marriage of convenience. It involves a strong ideological affinity. As Japan, Italy and Germany were natural allies during WWII; Chavez’s Venezuela is part of an axis with Iran which is joined by Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. A case in point is Chavez’s recent expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador from Venezuela and his very strong endorsement of Hamas.

To conclude, the report published in La Stampa about the flights confirms evidence of a situation imagined beforehand. Such imagination is not the result of the wilderness of the mind but the outcome of systematically following the discourse, ideology and development of Chavez’s regime and behavior. Therefore all the evidence we have so far plus the knowledge gathered as a result of years of study and observation of the ways Chavez operates is enough to raise a red flag that US intelligence and security agencies cannot afford to disregard.

 

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a senior 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.

 

 

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