Two related items that should give the Obama administration pause as it seeks ways to engage Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and other countries in Venezuela’s sphere of influence (Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador primarily).
The first is the new Memorandum of Understanding signed between the militaries of Venezuela and Iran. According to the official FARS News Agency, Iran’s defense minister, in a visit to Caracas, “underlined Tehran’s all-out efforts to help Venezuela promote its defense capabilities and bolster its power of deterrence through bilateral Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) on military cooperation.”
Chávez, for his part, stated that “The Bolivarian and the Islamic Revolutions have a lot in common and these commonalities have consolidated the two countries’ bonds.”
Stressing that Iran has a special place in Venezuela’s foreign policy, Chavez referred to the two countries’ armies, and underlined that armed forces of the two countries should be reinforced in a bid to help strengthen sustainable security.
Secretary of State Clinton, as the Washington Post recently noted, has been talking about improving relations with Venezuela while remaining studiously silent on Chávez’s increasingly bold attacks on the legitimate opposition (something Bolivia’s Evo Morales is imitating).
It should be quite clear that Chávez values the ties to Iran far more than he does potential ties to Washington, and the recent MOU with Iran makes that clear.
At the same time, 17 people were arrested in the small Caribbean island (and Dutch territory) of Curacao on charges of transporting several tons of cocaine and sending some of the money to Hezbollah.
“We have been able to establish that this group has relations with international criminal organizations that have connections with the Hezbollah,” prosecutor Ludmila Vicento said.
Island officials said the US and the Netherlands are helping them to investigate the alleged Hezbollah connection.
Two shipments of cocaine totaling 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) have been seized from the ring in Curacao since the beginning of last year. The traffickers used cargo ships and speed boats to import the drugs from Colombia and Venezuela for shipment to Africa and beyond to Europe, according to Curacao authorities.
Since Venezuela has become a no-go zone for virtually any type of international counter-narcotics efforts and seems to tolerate a great deal of cocaine traffic to Africa, one has wonder how this all ties together. This AFP story provides more details from the Dutch investigators.
“The group shipped containers with cocaine from Curacao to the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Jordan,” it said. “From Venezuela, containers with drugs went to West Africa and then to the Netherlands, Lebanon and Spain. Carriers smuggled the cocaine as airline passengers from Curacao and Aruba into the Netherlands.”
The proceeds were allegedly invested in several countries, said the statement. “The organisation had international contacts with other criminal networks that financially supported Hezbollah in the Middle East. Large sums of drug money flooded into Lebanon, from where orders were placed for weapons that were to have been delivered from South America.”
Since Venezuela’s blooming relationship with Iran has grown closer, the amount of cocaine coming through Venezuela has skyrocketed and the documented cases of Hezbollah activities have soared. It is hard to imagine, as many seem to, that this is all some big, unhappy coincidence.
The military relationship will bring with it a formal role for the Quds Force, which will bring in greater cover for Hezbollah’s activities. Weaning Venezuela away from Iran by being nice to Chávez, as Secretary Clinton proposes, is neither realistic nor wise.