January 8, 2017
Business Insider, USA
written by Linette Lopez
Thursday January 5, 2017
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the late socialist President Hugo Chavez, announced on Wednesday that former minister Tareck El Aissami would become vice president of the country.
That means that, in a country of complete and utter chaos — where people are starving, healthcare is nonexistent, electricity is scarce, and vigilante justice is becoming a norm — a suspected terrorist is one heartbeat away from the highest office in the land.
El Aissami is a known entity in the world of US intelligence. He is allegedly a part of Venezuela's state drug-trafficking network and has ties to Iran, Syria, and Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.
And if Maduro is ousted, as his opposition is calling for, El Aissami will become the president of a failed state in America's backyard.
Ever heard of Aeroterror?
A little-discussed feature, at least here in the US, of Chavez's socialist regime was its ties to hardline Islamists. For example, from 2007 to at least 2010, there was a flight from Caracas, Venezuela, to Tehran, Iran, that made a stop in Damascus, Syria.
Chavez and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly called it "Aeroterror." Only government officials with a special clearance were permitted to fly on it, and there were often very few passengers. The flights mostly carried drugs, weapons, cash and terrorists, according to US government testimony and a report by Brazilian paper Veja.
This is where El Aissami comes in. Veja reported that when he was interior minister under Chavez, El Aissami participated in a clandestine program to provide Venezuelan passports to terrorists in Damascus, according to former Chavez loyalists.
A former governor of Venezuela's Aragua state, the Wall Street Journal once said of El Aissami: "One part master of Middle-Eastern networking, one part honorary Cuban revolutionary, and one part highly ambitious chavista, Mr. El Aissami is a dream come true for Tehran and Havana. That makes him a powerful man in Venezuela."
Joseph Humire, coauthor of "Iran's Strategic Penetration in Latin America" and founder of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) think tank, testified to the same effect before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last year.
From his testimony:
"Over the years, El Aissami developed a sophisticated, multi-layered financial network that functions as a criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds and drugs from Latin America to the Middle East.
"His financial network consists of close to 40 front companies that own over 20 properties with cash, vehicles, real estate and other assets sitting in 36 bank accounts spread throughout Venezuela, Panama, Curacao, St. Lucia, Southern Florida and Lebanon. This network became integrated with the larger Ayman Joumaa moneylaundering network that used the Lebanese Canadian Bank to launder hundreds of million of dollars and move multi-ton shipments of cocaine on behalf of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels as well as Hezbollah.
"This immigration scheme is suspected to also be in place in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, as well as some Caribbean countries."
Venezuelan defectors to the US accuse El Aissami of accepting payment from drug kingpins trying to smuggle cocaine through country while he was interior minister.
"Venezuela's future is uncertain, but what is certain is that Islamic extremism has officially taken greater executive control of a national government in Latin America," Humire wrote in an e-mail to Business Insider. "A goal it has had for decades."
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