Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who has been linked to Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah and designated as a drug trafficking “kingpin” by the United States, “is calling the shots” as the top leader in the chaos-ridden socialist country, an expert told Breitbart News Daily on Sirius XM.
Joseph Humire, who specializes on Iran and Hezbollah activities in Latin America, joined Friday’s Breitbart News Daily on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel to discuss the deteriorating security and political conditions in Venezuela with host Frances Martel, the national security editor for Breitbart News.
Humire, who serves as the executive director for the Center for a Secure Free Society (CFS) think tank, proclaimed, “Venezuelan observers all know that the Vice President Tareck El Aissami runs the country. I mean [President Nicolás] Maduro is on TV and Maduro is, you know, the public face. He is the one who is pretty much targeted by the Venezuelan opposition, but he is not the one who is calling the shots in Venezuela.”
“If you looked at the beginning of 2017 when he was announced the vice president,” he continued, “there were executive decrees that were passed in Venezuela that pretty much gave him all the presidential powers in the country.”
Maduro, the successor to the late, rabidly anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, did grant “unprecedented powers” to his then-newly appointed vice president, Fox News reported in January 2017.
Humire pointed out that, through his work as Venezuela’s minister of interior and justice from 2008 to 2012, Aissami rendered the South American country a state-sponsor of “cover and concealment of Middle Eastern operatives” by establishing an immigration system that allows Hezbollah militants to travel with official Venezuelan identities.
As minister of the interior, the president charged Aissami with designing “an immigration scheme with Cuba, with Iran, and other countries in the Middle East” to be able to funnel drugs, individuals, and money “back and forth to the Middle East,” the expert said. He added, “He was able to create identities for individuals from Lebanon, from Syria, from Iraq, and other places in the Middle East — largely places where Hezbollah operates — and he was able to give them a presence in Venezuela when in many cases these individuals never even visited Venezuela.”
Misael López Soto, a former worker at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq, testified in a video made before his escape from the embassy to Spain that chavista government officials “delivered visas, passports, birth certificates, and other types of Venezuelan documentation to citizens of Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and, in some cases, Pakistan.” Colonel Vladimir Medrano Rengifo, a former head of Venezuela’s Office of Identification and Migration (Saime) who defected to the United States, estimated in an interview with the Miami Herald last year that Venezuela has handed out up to 25,000 passports to Middle Eastern citizens under this scheme.
Humire warned that some of those individuals have likely already infiltrated the flow of refugees fleeing the dire economic and humanitarian conditions in Venezuela, including those who have reached the United States.
“That’s a tremendous concern because that provides a blind spot not just for U.S. intelligence but intelligence services around the world,” Humire said, referring to the official identities Venezuela has created for potential jihadists from the Middle East, later adding: “They have a complete set custody of records that suggest and prove they’re from Venezuela even though that isn’t the case. In some cases they even have birth certificates saying they were born in Venezuela.”
“This is the state-sponsorship of cover and concealment of Middle Eastern operatives,” Humire concluded. “It’s a complete a vulnerability [for the United States].”
According to the most recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) figures, the U.S. granted asylum to 1,112 alleged Venezuelans between 2014 and 2016.
During that period, DHS apprehended 650 Venezuelans trying to sneak into the United States.
“It’s a very similar concern that we had with Syria in the sense that we just don’t have the capability in the country or with our regional allies to vet and verify the identity of these [Venezuelan] individuals because it’s a very sophisticated scheme,” Humire said.
The Trump administration can combat the threat with “good human intelligence and counterintelligence” — by giving the intelligence officials the “time and tools that they need,” the expert noted.
U.S. government officials have long warned against the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in the Middle East, noting that Venezuela facilitates their operations.
In Latin America, Iran “works in the shadows” through an “Arab clandestine network” of surrogates gleaned from the community of Syrian and Lebanese who have been in the country for decades, Humire explained.
“They have a tremendous presence [in Venezuela], and I would say arguably the biggest presence — more than Cuba, China, or Russia because they’ve tapped into communities that have been in the country for more than 50 years and these communities give them legitimacy. They give them access. They give them placement, and they give them the ability to operate on the ground without actually being there,” he continued.
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