Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, issued a warning on Wednesday that the Atlantic Ocean border between the U.S. and the Lebanese-based militant group Hezbollah may be porous. Poe and his panel are asking Americans to look closer to home for potential terrorist threats against the nation, suggesting that Latin America will serve as a new path to terrorist attacks against our nation.
Iran and Syria have long been countries highlighted by the U.S. for their connections with the extremist Shiite Hezbollah terrorist group, but now Foreign Affairs committee members are pulling countries like Venezuela under the microscope as well. Of course, Hezbollah's presence in Latin America is still only rumored, but with past attacks as evidence, Poe and other congressman say they cannot mindfully disregard such viable rumors.
In 1992, anti-West and anti-Israel terrorist groups bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 29 people and injuring over 250 others. In the same city two years later, the Asociación Mutual Isrealista Argentina Jewish community center was bombed, this time killing 87 people and injuring over 100. Such tragedies are at the forefront of contemporary Latin American terrorist discussion. But what are calling for the most focus in these latest discussions are the recent loss of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and the upcoming Venezuelan election between Chavez-advocate Nicolas Maduro and conservative opposition delegate Henrique Capriles.
It is in no way a secret that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and ex-President Hugo Chavez grew close during their terms in office over their mutual hatred for the United States – a "my enemy's enemy is my friend" sort of thing. In fact, some Americans are skeptical that politicians in Caracas have provided government financial aid to support Iran's nuclear technology development.
Before his death, Chavez proclaimed Iran and Venezuela to be "two brother countries, united like a single fist. Iran is an example of struggle, resistance, dignity, revolution, and strong faith. We are two powerful countries. Iran is a power and Venezuela is becoming one. We want to create a bipolar world. We don't want a single power."
Beyond outright government allegiance, more incognito Iranian and Hezbollah gangs could likely be proliferating in the Latin American country as well. Former U.S. ambassador to the organization of American States Roger F. Noriega fears that the prospect of the Hezbollah taking advantage of the state of flux in Venezuela is becoming a reality. No matter which candidate is elected in April, Noriega believes that the terrorist situation in Venezuela will be unmanageable, that the ties the Hezbollah group and its Iranian ally have already made in the South American country with narco-traffickers and guerrilla groups are irrevocable.
Acting Venezuelan president Maduro has already expressed his hatred for the United States by recently accusing the country of plotting to assassinate his political rival, Capriles, and has continued to fuel Chavez's anti-capitalist flame in the early stages of his campaigning season. Conversely, while Capriles presidency may not necessarily be able expel any underground Hezbollah presence in Venezuela, a new set of leaders with different ideologies and insights might limit any government sanction of such a terrorist occupation.
Chavez's somewhat abrupt death has opened up the doors to change in Venezuela and as well as in the rest of South and Central America. But will this change manifest itself in the form of a new, placated relationship between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments or will it come as in an influx of legitimate, powerful terrorist presence in a country much closer to home than we've dealt with in any recent decade? Ted Poe, and many others, says we need to watch out for both.