Venezuela’s largest newspaper El Universal reports that, while President Nicolás Maduro might not be especially popular in his own country, he at least still has a friend in Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian leader reportedly sent a telegram to Maduro expressing support against “the brutal attack you are facing.”
The letter from Assad to Maduro was first published by official state medium the Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana), and in it Assad praises Maduro’s adherence to “world heritage principles” and his uniquely Latin American leadership. Assad says in the letter that he sees parallels between what Venezuela and what Syria are facing: “an intent to cause chaos, to extend the influence of foreign domination and to exploit our riches.” Assad concluded by supporting “the road of peace charted by President Maduro.”
Maduro’s “road of peace” has been lined with the blood of young students in Caracas – five have officially been killed so far, the latest a 22-year-old beauty queen shot in the head – though the toll is expected to increase as the aftermath of an especially violent round of raids on student residences last night is fully assessed. The current violence began after opposition party Popular Will organized a protest last weekend in which three student protesters were shot and killed, and a fourth killed by a car. Witnesses and opposition groups alike pointed to state police as responsible for the deaths, but Maduro instead issued an arrest warrant for Popular Will leader Leopoldo López, who peacefully surrendered to officials Tuesday. The charges on the arrest – murder and terrorism – have been dropped, but López faces up to ten years in prison anyway for arson and conspiracy. In messages spread by his wife, Lilian Tintori, López encouraged relentless but continued peaceful protests.
The Syrian government has been a longtime ally to Chávez’s Venezuela – so much so that in 2012, at the initial height of violence against Assad’s regime, it was reported that Assad was considering fleeing the country to Venezuela. The alliance continued long past the death of Hugo Chávez. Just last July, Sana reported that senior Assad officials were working to support Maduro’s regime. Speaker of the People’s Assembly Mohammad Jihad al-Laham is quoted in a report encouraging Venezuelans to unite with the Syrian government against “international terrorism.” “The Syrians are determined to defeat the Zionist, imperialist projects aiming at targeting Syria sovereignty and unity,” the report added.
The anti-Semitic comments should not be new to followers of Chávez’s regime; “Zionism” was a frequent target of the Revolution, and Chávez boasted a friendly alliance with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During his last election against ethnically Jewish (but religiously Catholic) opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, pro-Chávez media notably Photoshopped a Star of David onto Capriles’s lapel and titled a profile of the candidate “The Enemy is Zionism.”