A report in an Arabic newspaper this week cites Hezbollah media outlet al-Manar and unnamed “sources in the Arabic community” as beginning a push to replace embattled dictator Nicolás Maduro with Tareck El Aissami, alleged drug lord and appointed vice president of Venezuela.
Reports have linked El Aissami to a variety of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Mexican Zetas cartel, and allies of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has designated El Aissami a “Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker” as per the Drug Kingpin act.
With the international community almost universally condemning Maduro, in response to his imposition of a fabricated socialist lawmaking body in the country which annuls the powers of the democratically-elected legislature, Asharq Al-Awsat reports that “many have turned to the Venezuelan president’s second in command, Tareck El Aissami.”
“Many see the Syrian native as Maduro’s potential successor, describing him as the strong ‘man in the shadows,’ who has found himself in the spotlight,” the report claims, noting that El Aissami “became a member of the local Arab Baath socialist party in Venezuela,” the party of Bashar al-Assad and Saddam Hussein, in his youth.
The Argentine outlet Infobae adds in their own report that “groups close to El Aissami in Venezuela and Syria have collaborated in the creation of a report surfacing on al-Manar television (the official press organ of Hezbollah) in Lebanon” that appears to support the ascension of El Aissami to the top office in Venezuela.
El Aissami, promoted to the vice presidency this year following a tenure as governor of Aragua state, has been repeatedly accused of ties to Hezbollah. “I believe Tareck El-Aissami is one of many political figures that Iran has courted and supported in Latin America over the years,” Joseph Humire of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, explained in a television report this year:
This illicit network managed by Hezbollah is believed to be connected to Mr. El Aissami’s illicit network through a company called Importador Silvania, C.A. with offices in Venezuela and Colombia. This company was sanctioned by U.S. Treasury for laundering money for Hezbollah and its owner, Ali Hussein Harb, who was also sanctioned, is allegedly a close associate of the Venezuelan VP’s brother Feras El Aissami.
The Gatestone Institute, another think tank, has accused El Aissami of “recruiting young Venezuelan Arabs to be trained in Hezbollah camps in Southern Lebanon” as well as having a hand in a complex passport procurement scheme in the Middle East. A former Venezuelan diplomat at the embassy in Iraq has accused the government of selling authentic Venezuelan passports to Shiite terrorists across the regime for up to $15,000 each, years after Spanish journalist Emili Blasco revealed that then-foreign minister Nicolás Maduro met Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus in 2007 to discuss the execution of this very scheme.
In February, the U.S. Treasury branded El Aissami a “Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker” for ties to a variety of international drug traffickers:
El Aissami received payment for the facilitation of drug shipments belonging to Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia. El Aissami also is linked to coordinating drug shipments to Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel, as well as providing protection to Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco
The sanctions against El Aissami froze $3 billion in assets in the United States, mostly in Florida, and banned Americans from doing business with him. El Aissami also cannot legally enter the country.
El Aissami denied all the accusations against him in a full-page ad in the New York Times.