A report by the Secure Free Society reveals this week that Venezuela and Cuba have been providing passports and national identification cards to Middle Eastern immigrants, later used to surreptitiously enter the United States and Canada, with Venezuela providing a passport to the right-hand man of the head of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The study warns that both countries “offer Islamist extremists facilities that pose a threat to security in North America,” according to Argentine news outlet Infobae. The Venezuelan government, in particular, provided at least 173 passports, visas, and permits to migrants from the Middle East between April 2008 and November 2012. It was during this wave that Suleiman Ghani Abdul Waked, known as a right-hand man to Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, received his Venezuelan papers.
The paper notes that the relative ease with which migrants moving West into Latin America can receive credentials is a cause for alarm for the United States and Canada. While Canada ended its diplomatic ties with Iran and closed down the embassies of respective countries, Latin America was the largest prior embarkation region for Iranian migrants without the proper paperwork to receive refugee status in Canada between 2009 and 2011. From Latin America, they then moved north into Canada. Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, was among the most trafficked migrant intermediate points from the Middle East.
The links between the socialist Venezuelan government and radical Islamists has long been a problem for North America, as Hugo Chávez maintained close ties with the government of Iran that have persisted into Nicolás Maduro’s tenure. An AEI report in February also reveals that Hezbollah has been working to cement its ties with Caracas. Ghazi Atef Nassereddine, a Hezbollah operative sanctioned by the United States, has allegedly been working to cement Venezuela’s ties with Syria, even helping contrive schemes to transfer Syrian oil to Venezuelan refineries to avoid sanctions placed on President Bashar al-Assad.
Cuba, meanwhile, the second country warned of in the report, has been officially designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States for decades, though mostly through its defense and involvement in the work of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and providing safe harbor for terrorists from international groups such as the Basque separatist group ETA. Direct ties to aiding Islamist extremists would evolve the threat from the Cuban government into something much more significant to the national security interests of the United States.
The Secure Free Society is an independent, non-profit research and educational center based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to publishing research reports and organizing educational panels and events.
Read the full report here.