If U.S. Maintains Open Borders, Venezuelan Dysfunction Could Spill Over Into The Country

A report by Peter Speetjens at the Middle East Eye indicated that the Trump administration is concerned with Venezuela’s role in promoting drug trafficking in the Western Hemisphere.

Speetjens highlighted the basic gist of these accusations:

Hezbollah militants backed by Iranian mullahs plotting alongside Venezuelan generals, Colombian revolutionaries and drug lords to first flood the US with cocaine and then launch the next 9/11 attack.

One of their targets has been former Venezuela politician Adel El Zabayar, who is now the president of the Venezuelan Federation of Arab Associations and Entities.

He was accused back in May of participating in a “narcoterrorism conspiracy”, in addition to committing certain acts of drug trafficking and a number of arms-related offences.

El Zabayar is allegedly an active member of the “Cartel of the Suns”, which Washington views as a drug trafficking outfit that has made its way into the highest echelons of the Venezuelan military, legislature, and judicial system.

Washington officials accuse El Zabayar of traveling to the Middle East and buying weapons and recruiting Hezbollah and Hamas members, in order to carry out a terrorist attack in the U.S.

Zabayar is of Syrian extraction and found the accusations to be in bad taste.

“It’s an honour that the great enemies of my native country Venezuela and ancestral Syria have invented such a rage,” he tweeted.

A DEA agent claims to have overheard Venezuelan politician Cabello Rondon tell Zabayer to travel to “Syria and Palestine to obtain weapons and recruit members of Hezbollah and Hamas.”

In addition, he claims to have seen Rondon point at two trucks loaded with assault rifles and RPG launchers, while saying these were for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) as payment “for the candy [cocaine].”

The FARC has long been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and has fought for decades trying to topple the Colombian government. After entering peace negotiations in 2016, they ended up formally disbanding in 2017, although splinter groups still exist and former members have integrated themselves into formal political structures in Colombia.

Since the unsolved 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which has been linked to Iran and Hezbollah, there have been increased accusations of Venezuela being a host for rogue actors.

Hezbollah has been blamed for owning large portions of land and conducting drug trafficking and illegal gold mining expeditions in the country. Some critics allege that Margarita Island is a “Hezbollah safe haven,” which has converted Venezuela into a “center of global terrorism.”

“People don’t recognize that Hezbollah has active cells [and] the Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in 2019. “We have an obligation to take down that risk for America.”

Some experts are skeptical of these claims.

“We have always been very skeptical of such claims,” declared Phil Gunson, a senior analyst for the Andes region at the International Crisis Group.

“I have lived in Venezuela for over 20 years and I’ve seen, almost from the beginning, stories about terrorist training camps, uranium mines run by Iran, and a Hezbollah military presence in Venezuela. But most turned out to be nonsense,” he noted.

“The least one can say is that they lack supporting evidence.”

Gunson did concede there are strong connections between Iran, Syria and the Venezuelan government. All three countries have been singled out by the U.S. for not bowing down to the liberal order, and as a result, they have been slapped with sanctions. Given this dynamic, it makes sense for the aforementioned countries to band together and try to resist the U.S.

Back in May, Iran shipped 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela through the use of five oil tankers. Subsequently, in July, an Iranian supermarket was opened in Caracas.

“Some individuals in the government, as well as some citizens, appear to have ties to Hezbollah, which has long had a presence among the Arab community in Venezuela,” Gunson said. “But that in itself does of course not imply links to terrorism.”

In March, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and 14 other officials were indicted for maintaining a “narco-terrorism partnership” with FARC. Per the indictment, it alleges that Maduro and other individuals had plans of overwhelming the U.S. with cocaine “to undermine the health and wellbeing of its people”.

“Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon,” declared Geoffrey S. Berman, then attorney for New York’s Southern District.

These charges were then succeeded by a potential reward of $15 million for information that could lead to the capture of Maduro and his cronies. The stakes were raised even higher after the U.S. dramatically increased its naval operations in the Caribbean in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1989 invasion of Panama.

The charges were accompanied by a series of Wild West-like posters offering rewards of up to $15m for information. Shortly after, the US doubled its presence in the Caribbean, Washington’s largest naval operation in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama.

The true nature of the Cartel of the Suns is highly contested as well.

“The term Cartel of the Suns is used to describe shadowy groups inside Venezuela’s military that traffic cocaine,” wrote InSight Crime, an American website focusing on crime in Latin America.

“It is a misleading term, as it creates the impression that there is a hierarchical group. There are cells within the main branches of the military that function as drug trafficking organizations. [Yet] describing them as a ‘cartel’ in the traditional sense would be a leap.”

InSight Crime believed that the charges pressed against Zabayer were flimsy and motivated more by politics. It called attention to Trump administration officials relying on anonymous sources and a dearth of evidence regarding the alleged recruitment and training of Hamas and Hezbollah operatives. Based on this lack of evidence, Insight Crime concluded: “Coming on the back of the multiple charges against Maduro’s inner circle, the Zabayer indictment seems to be more of a calculated attempt to turn up the heat on the Venezuelan government.”

Whether true or not, the U.S. should be taking its border control seriously and not let Venezuela’s dysfunction wash up on its shores. The country has been experiencing a multi-decade decline and now that it is a failed state, it makes it easier for some of its nastier elements to end up stateside if the U.S. doesn’t take border security seriously.

Border security is one of the most proven ways of preventing neighboring countries’ problems from spilling over into more stable jurisdictions.