Former officials in the government of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez claim that the late leader granted temporary asylum to Bushra al Assad, sister of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and her five nephews, before they were able to escape to Dubai.
The revelation appears this week in the Brazilian publication Veja, which has begun publishing a series of revelations the magazine based on interviews with unnamed former members of the socialist government of Venezuela during Chávez’s tenure. Veja alleges that Bushra al Assad requested asylum for herself and five children in Venezuela in 2012, after her husband was killed in an attack.
The official interviewed claims that then Minister of the Interior Tarek el Aissami, himself of Middle Eastern descent, granted the Assad family request, and the six Assad family members remained in Venezuela for “two to three weeks” before receiving permission to enter the United Arab Emirates. They currently all live in Dubai.
The Venezuelan government has longstanding ties in the Middle East, most notably with Iran. The Venezuelan government under Nicolás Maduro has maintained its close relations with Iran while also continuing to establish relations with the Assad regime.
Foreign Policy notes that President Maduro has been one of the more vocal supporters of Assad in the international community, attempting to encourage President Barack Obama to keep American troops out of Syria. Assad has reciprocated Venezuela’s warmth, congratulating Maduro for winning an election many believe to have been less than clean (Maduro, in turn, congratulated Assad for winning his own “sham” elections with 88% of the vote). Syria’s ties with Venezuela are so close that at least one Venezuelan former legislator, Abdel el Zabayar, is currently in Syria fighting with Assad’s “resistance brigades.”
Venezuela’s questionable Middle Eastern ties do not end at official government diplomacy. Last week, Veja reported, based again on interviews with at least one ex-Chavista, that Venezuelan government officials had falsified passports for Hezbollah terrorists in an attempt to help them evade the law. Venezuela was not only recruited to help Hezbollah members escape justice after the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Argentine-Israeli Mutual Society, but to convince the Argentine government to help Iran protect the orchestrators of the deadliest attack in the former nation’s history.
The Venezuelan government is also reeling from a more minor Syrian scandal: images of the president’s son, Nicolás Maduro Guerra, dancing at a Syrian wedding while being showered in dollar bills, surfacing on social media. As Maduro Guerra holds three high-ranking positions in the socialist government, many are criticizing him for appearing to bathe in riches while the nation his family helps run struggles to keep supermarket shelves stocked with milk and vegetable oil.
Maduro Guerra’s explanation for his behavior clarified little. “For those of us who come from the streets, gossip is the principal enemy,” he said on Venezuelan state television, accusing gossip of “coercing our unity [sic], which is ironclad and trans, tran– I can’t find the word– impenetrable.”