Ahmadinejad’s South American Caracstan
“Iran is not going away,” said Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We need to be strong and really in the deterrent mode,” he explained, and that’s especially true here at home because Tehran which is killing Americans in Iraq and threatens to “wipe Israel off the map” is radically transforming America’s soft underbelly.
Iran has recruited Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to its Islamic revolution. Tehran is working with Chavez to militarize that country, grow terrorist groups, Islamitize indigenous tribes, develop a nuclear program, spread corruption, and do whatever possible to hurt the US.
“I feel I have met a brother and trench mate after meeting Chavez. We do not have any limitation in cooperation,” Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, explained. The rogue brothers have become a dangerous odd couple.
Chavez’s politics are a radical populism modeled after Cuban Fidel Castro’s communism. Chavez wants to “liberate” Latin America as his 19th century hero Simon Bolivar dreamt. In contrast, Ahmedinejad is a radically conservative Islamic leader who has a theistic vision of controlling the world. Together, they share a deep hatred for the US which defines their relationship.
Ted Brennan, a former US House of Representatives international relations committee staff member, has met Chavez. “Chavez fancies himself as a great revolutionary titling at empires,” Brennan said. He acts like an “adolescent” who wrestles with “personal adequacy” and “He needs a brick wall to throw stones at which explains why he opposes the US.”
Former US ambassador to Costa Rica Jaime Daremblum explained that Ahmedinejad sought a relationship with Chavez to help shed Iran’s pariah status. Besides image-building, Daremblum explained, Islamic revolution founder Ayatollah Khomeini commanded his followers “…to perpetuate the revolution both at home and abroad.”
Chavez is helping spread the ayatollahs’ revolution by acting as Iran’s Latin enabler. He has introduced Ahmadinejad to socialists such as Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Chavez has also allowed Venezuela to become Tehran’s Latin base of operations.
Until recently, Iran and Venezuela had no trading relationship. Now, with at least 29 bilateral agreements reached since 2005, they are cooperating on many fronts, especially in energy.
Dr. Norman Bailey, who served in the Reagan National Security Council and recently with the Director of National Intelligence, says Iran has sent oil industry technicians to Venezuela but characterized this as the “…blind leading the blind.” This is an example of “…a poorly run oil program helping the world’s worst-run oil program.”
They are cooperating on nuclear energy as well. “I do not think Iran is manufacturing atomic bombs,” Chavez said in defense of his “brother” Ahmadinejad but then acknowledged that “Venezuela is also beginning to develop nuclear energy with peaceful purposes.” US Congressman Connie Mack (R-Fla.) said Chavez’s nuclear desires “…should cause great alarm for the United States.”
Evidence of a Venezuelan nuclear program remains in the shadows much like Tehran’s program was secret until an opposition group blew its cover. The only public evidence other than Chavez’s claim that Venezuela seeks nuclear status came in 2005 when Argentina announced that Caracas had inquired about buying a reactor.
But Chavez may already have a clandestine program. Camilo Ospina, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, claims there are “… two factories [in Venezuela that] are a façade to excavate uranium … Venezuela can’t enrich uranium, but Iran can. If this happens we will have a real problem.”
Ospina’s 2007 statement refers to joint Venezuela-Iran bicycle and motorcycle factories in Bolivar State but in two years the heavily guarded, thick concrete walled factories reportedly haven’t produced bikes. One press report claims the facilities are uranium enrichment plants and another claims that story was fabricated by US intelligence to destabilize the Chavez regime.
Ospino’s uranium allegation matches the reason given for Chavez’s expulsion of US naval attaché John Correa. The officer supposedly passed information about uranium deposits under Cuban and Iranian control in the Orinoco region.
Iran’s alliance with Venezuela has a terrorist component. The State Department’s 2008 terrorism report slapped Caracas with a “not cooperating fully” antiterrorism label. It states there is “Rampant corruption with the Venezuelan government and military” and ideological ties with the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Rep. Mack says Chavez called the FARC’s number two leader a “good revolutionary” and admitted that “the FARC operates in Venezuela with his knowledge and with impunity.”
Chavez’s terror tolerance has provided Iran an opportunity to grow a Latin knock-off of its terror proxy Hezbollah. Dr. Bailey is certain that Hezbollah has created an operational capability in Venezuela but “mostly for raising money” intended for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Islamic proselytizing. However, there is the 2006 case of a Hezbollah operative attempting to bomb the US embassy in Caracas.
Hezbollah “missionaries” apparently have Chavez’s blessing to convert indigenous people to Shia Islam. Specifically, Venezuela’s border region with Colombia is the home of the Wayuu tribe which have recently embraced Shi’ism while under Hezbollah’s influence. There are also reports from Venezula’s south that heavily-armed Middle East-looking people are among that indigenous population.
Then there are the curious flights. The State Department acknowledges that Iran Airlines runs weekly flights from Tehran through Damascus to Caracas and that the passengers are never subject to immigration and customs. Latin blogs suggest the secretive flights are used to smuggle uranium and terrorists.
Dr. Bailey explained that outsiders can’t book the flight and his contacts say the aircraft flies mostly empty with as few as 20 passengers, mostly Venezuelan and Iranian government officials.
Brennan, who once investigated Chavez’s techniques for cocaine smuggling, believes these flights may be operated like drug runners but the cargo is possibly dirty drug money. Perhaps Tehran launders the funds and then wires it back to handlers at its newly opened bank in Caracas. Iran is trying to buy three more banks says Bailey.
Chavez is militarizing Venezuela and likely with Iran’s help. He has already purchased Russian fighters, helicopters, and an assault rifle factory and has shown interest in submarines. Three months ago, large containers arrived aboard an Iranian ship. There is an uncorroborated report that those containers included ground-to-air and ground-to-ground missiles. It’s noteworthy that Colombia has since reported seeing Venezuelan missiles in the frontier.
The Latin-Persian axis threatens the US because it provides Iran geographical access from which to launch Hezbollah terrorists against America if Tehran faces a serious threat of attack against its nuclear sites. Then again a militarized Venezuela developing nuclear weapons will destabilize Latin America much like Iran has the Middle East.
Until recently, the US has been inattentive to the growing Latin-Persian axis. That may be changing. Last week, the Bush administration reactivated the Fourth Fleet to direct our presence in Latin America. Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, said the decision to establish a separate fleet for the region "… recognizes the immense importance of maritime security in the southern part of the western hemisphere."
The US must stop tip-toeing around Venezuela’s radical alliance with Iran and oppose Iranian encroachment in the hemisphere, raise awareness that Iran is creating trouble via Hezbollah, and confront what appears to a clandestine nuclear program.