Finally, we are seeing movement and leadership on the part of the U.S government to isolate a Venezuelan leadership that for almost two decades has led, within Latin America, an anti-democratic movement mixed with drug trafficking and alliances with rogue elements.
The Venezuelan Vice-President, Tareck El Aissami has been added to the list of those sanctioned by the U.S government on the grounds of international narcotics trafficking. El Aissami, as well as other associates who served as front men for him, have assets estimated at 3 billion dollars, including property bought in South Florida, a product of money laundry. The U.S Treasury froze all of their assets.
This action is the work of a meticulous investigation carried out by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency in charge of enforcing U.S. sanctions.
The Treasury Department accuses El Aissami of facilitating the shipment of narcotics from Venezuela and personal oversight of more than 1,000 kilograms of narcotics to Mexico and the U.S. Thus, El Aissami worked with large scale drug traffickers and facilitated their operations. He had relations with Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled, who was captured by Colombia but was extradited to Venezuela where he was protected. Makled is a top cocaine dealer who had information revealed to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) implicating top military Venezuelan officers in drug trafficking and connections with Hezbollah. It is not clear why the Obama Administration refused to extradite him to the U.S. It sounds like Makled was too much of hot potato. This would have inevitably led to a confrontation with Venezuela, a confrontation Obama tried to avoid at all costs.
The problem is not only that the Venezuelan regime is corrupt or criminal. The regime is also associated with Iran and Hezbollah. Mr. El Aissami was one of the key connections to the Islamic Republic, and its proxy Hezbollah.
As we pointed out in this article from last month, El Aissami, as head of the office of Immigration (ONIDEX) and Minister of Interior, provided passports to individuals from the Middle East; mainly Iranians. Iranian presence in Venezuela includes Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards are training soldiers of the revolution in camps in Venezuela, as well as in the ALBA school, located in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Likewise, many Venezuelans and presumably other Latin American revolutionaries received training in Lebanon.
A 2014 report by the Center for a Secure Free Society noted that when Al Aissami was Minister of Interior, almost 200 Venezuelan passports were issued, mainly but not only, to individuals with ties to Iran. The Venezuelan Embassy in Baghdad also sold passports. It can be assumed that chances are members of ISIS have also purchased Venezuelan passports.
The Venezuelan regime continues to repress its citizens, incarcerating political opponents, maintaining ties with rogue elements, and starving its population.
So far, the U.S government has not had any solid security or human rights policy.
These two are pillars for regional and American security.
Obama applied sanctions to a handful of individuals under heavy pressure from Congress. These sanctions are insignificant and ineffective.
Targeting El Aissami and his closes associates should be the first step. The U.S also must target the entire Venezuelan political, military, and security elite on grounds of human rights violations, drug trafficking, and cooperation with terrorist organizations. At this point, I see no reason why we need to wait for a long investigation of another suspect. Sanctions, freezing of assets, and other types of pressure must be applied carried in coordination with other regional partners. Political and economic means must be applied systematically and thoughtfully in order to isolate the regime and ultimately restore a democratic order in Venezuela, and consequently in the region too.
This action becomes even more relevant as Ecuador, another pro-Venezuela regime with a serious record of rights violations and drug trafficking, faces elections next Sunday. The pro-Venezuela government of Rafael Correa will try to secure his candidate Lenin Moreno in order to perpetuate the rule of his party, Alianza Pais.
Firm action by the Trump Administration on Venezuela can send a clear message that this kind of regime will no longer be tolerated in the region.
Published by The Americas Report -a project for the center for security policy on Wednesday February 15th, 2017.
*The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author.*