Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro announced the appointment of Tarreck el Aissami as head of the Russia-Venezuela Intergovernmental Mixed Commission on Monday, a month after he was replaced as vice president of the socialist regime.
“I told [Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev] that we have appointed a new head of the commission from Venezuela that is our economic vice president, Tareck El Aissami, while Russia has also appointed a new head,” Maduro said on Monday after he was invited to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony.
Maduro has maintained close relations with Russia despite its descent into totalitarian dictatorship. Last November, Vladimir Putin offered Venezuela a debt restructuring deal on $3 billion used to finance the purchase of Russian military machinery, although the figure represents just a tiny fraction of the country’s overall debt burden.
The announcement of El Aissami’s new role comes a month after Maduro replaced him as vice president with former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez.
“I have appointed a young woman as vice president, who is brave, fierce, the daughter of a martyr, a revolutionary and who has overcome a thousand battle, our sister Delcy Eloína Rodríguez,” he wrote on Twitter in June.
He designado como Vicepresidenta Ejecutiva a una joven mujer, valiente, aguerrida, hija de mártir, revolucionaria y probada en mil batallas; nuestra hermana Delcy Eloína Rodríguez.
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) June 14, 2018
According to journalist Carlos Montaner, Maduro was urged to remove El Aissami as vice-president by Cuban officials after the U.S. State Department revealed his extensive ties to Islamic terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, as well as involvement in major drug trafficking operations including Mexico’s powerful Zetas drug cartel.
In February, the Treasury Department sanctioned El Aissami under the Drug Kingpin Act for facilitating multiple drug deals across the Western Hemisphere, freezing all his American business dealings and prohibiting all American citizens from dealing with him in a business capacity. Experts identify him as “one of Venezuela’s main contacts with Hezbollah,” some suggesting that he has worked to recruit members. El Aissami is also considered one of the top officials involved in an ongoing scheme to issue legitimate Venezuelan legal documents, including passports, to Syrian, Iranian, and Lebanese nationals believed to have ties to Shiite terrorist organizations, despite never having set foot in Venezuela.
“The change came about after the United States revealed ties between El Aissami and Islamic terrorism,” he wrote on Twitter. “It was a recommendation by Cuban officials.”
Tareck El Aissami dejó de ser el VP de Vnzla. Fue sustituido por Delcy Rodríguez. El cambio se produjo después dq USA revelara las relaciones entre El Aissami y el terrorismo islamista. Fue una recomendación de los servicios cubanos.
— Carlos A. Montaner (@CarlosAMontaner) June 14, 2018
El Aissami, who is of Lebanese-Syrian descent, was appointed in January 2017, with some experts arguing that he was effectively running the country. Venezuela’s constitution states that the vice president serves at the pleasure of the president and must assume power should the president resign or become incapacitated.
Following Erdogan’s inauguration, Maduro also declared his intention to increase economic ties with Turkey as the two men continue to develop closer diplomatic relations.
“I spoke with President Erdogan, strengthening relations that are accelerated and are going very well in all fields of commercial cooperation, gold, oil supply and a new contract that will be signed very soon,” he said. “We have been articulating a network of Turkish entrepreneurs who will invest in the field of agricultural production, gold, tourism and other economic dimensions.