Maduro depends on Russia, Iran and Syria for financial and strategic backing.
Asked on Friday about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, President Trump said “I’m not going to rule out a military option.” But he has yet to articulate the geopolitical dimension of the Venezuelan crisis.
An Aug. 5 rebel raid on a weapons arsenal at Fort Paramacay, Valencia, suggests that factions of the armed forces are ready to break with strongman Nicolás Maduro. This is logical since rank-and-file military from middle-class families have been hit hard by food shortages. And some soldiers are constitutional loyalists. They have kept silent to preserve their careers, but they are surely unhappy.
Venezuela’s civilian population, particularly in rural areas, is well-armed. With 80% of the country opposed to the Maduro regime, a fracture inside the military raises the odds that a popular rebellion might succeed.
Consider also that although a counterrevolution threatens the status quo, it also presents opportunities for the dictatorship. The regime is likely to respond to an uprising by unleashing unprecedented repression.
The opposition to Mr. Maduro also is up against an array of international antidemocratic forces. The cabal is run by Cuba on the ground but backed financially and strategically by Iran, Russia and Syria. These countries have been preparing for many years for a conflict that would establish Latin America’s “new world order.” They would also welcome the inevitable refugee crisis.
The key to understanding the danger is to assess properly Venezuela’s vice president, Tarek El Aissami. He is close to Raúl Castro but also to Iran and Syria.
I reported on Mr. El Aissami’s shady Middle Eastern connections in a 2014 Americas column. Back then he was governor of the Aragua state, where two companies owned by the Iranian military were engaged in secretive joint ventures with the Venezuelan military industry.
Mr. El Aissami’s immigrant father is from Syria’s As-Suwayda governorate, a stronghold of Bashar Assad. The younger Mr. El Aissami maintains close ties to the area.
In 2003, before Mr. El Aissami was a governor, Hugo Chávez assigned him to work with Cuban intelligence to overhaul the Venezuelan immigration agency. Earlier this year I interviewed Misael López Soto, a former legal attaché in the Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq. He told me he left the job in 2015 because he objected to selling Venezuelan documents to people suspected of membership in foreign terrorist organizations. The regime pushed back against that claim, but CNN reported this April that six Venezuelans had been arrested for selling passports to Syrians.
A former director of Venezuela’s immigration agency, Vladimir Medrano Rengifo, has asserted that Mr. El Aissami turned the office into a passport mill for Middle Easterners. Mr. Medrano told the Miami Herald in April that when he tried to detain and deport Syrians with irregular documents, Mr. El Aissami would not allow it: “He pressured us in an excessive manner so that these procedures would not be carried out and to let his ‘cousins,’ as he called them, pass.”
During Mr. El Aissami’s 2007 stint as vice minister of the interior and then as minister of the interior from 2008-12, he created the Bolivarian National Police and took charge of training law enforcement. Joseph Humire, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society, says field research suggests a high probability that Mr. El Aissami places his imported Middle Eastern extremists in Hezbollah-style training camps around the country. “Hezbollah/Iranian operatives turned Venezuelan police and military instructors” conduct arms, internal defense, and specialized technical training, he says. They also travel between Venezuela and the Middle East.
The ideology of Venezuela’s minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino López, is captured in a 2015 photo of him kneeling before Fidel Castro. But he is reputed to be even closer to the Kremlin. This January, Venezuela launched a series of civil-military exercises around the country, dubbed Plan Zamora, under the guidance of advisers from Iran, Russia and Cuba.
Russia supplies arms to Venezuela. In November the Kremlin sent new aviation and air-defense technology to Caracas. Reuters reported in May that Venezuela now has “5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons,” representing “the largest known stockpile in Latin America.”
Venezuelan democrats are ready to rebel. But they are starving, and also confronting an invasion by some of the world’s most experienced dictators. Perhaps the place for the free world to begin a rescue is to name the enemy.
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