Al Jazeera in a September 2009 article reports that, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President, has given his backing to Iran's nuclear program, which most world powers suspect of having non-peaceful aims. Chavez, who visited the Iranian capital Tehran, said that Iran had the right to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes. "We are certain that Iran, as it has shown, will not back down in its effort to obtain what is a sovereign right of the people: to have all the equipment and structures to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes," Chavez said, on the first day of his two-day trip. "There is not a single proof that Iran is building ... a nuclear bomb. Soon they will accuse us of also building an atomic bomb."
Chavez has shown that generally being taken as a buffoon can buy a lot of time in international politics - you can do naughty things for a long while before people begin to take you seriously. Chavez's involvement in Iran’s nuclear ambitions has unpleasant implications for the Western hemisphere. Should the Tehran-Caracas relationship evolve into a nuclear Venezuela, or a Venezuela acting as a nuclear base for Iran, Caracas's ability to destabilize neighboring countries that are resisting Chavez's attempts to subvert them would be exponentially augmented. Not a pleasant thought for those of us who would rather see Chavez - and the line of populist tyrants from which he descends - relegated to horror museums.
The new relationship between Iran and Venezuela started in 2006. If we brush aside the rhetorical declarations of mutual love, we are left with three hard facts, all of which emanate from the military, political and economic accords signed by Caracas and Tehran.
First, Iran has set up financial institutions - such as the Banco Internacional de Desarrollo - in Venezuela ostensibly for development purposes. The problem with that is simply that Iran is in no position to lavish on other countries the development it has failed to bring to its own people; investigators believe the real intention is to bypass sanctions that bar Tehran from using the banking institutions of the US for payments related to its nuclear program.
Second, in the past three years, a series of factories owned by Iran have been established in remote locations inside Venezuela, including an area containing up to 50,000 tons of uranium.
Third, last December, Turkey intercepted an Iranian ship bound for Venezuela with equipment capable of producing explosives; it was hidden in 22 containers labeled "tractor parts".
These are not the only substantial elements in the relationship between Venezuela and the Middle East at large. Another one is Ghazi Nasr al-Din, a Venezuelan of Lebanese origin barred by the US Treasury from transacting any business in the US because of his terrorist connections. He is working openly but under a different name at the Venezuelan embassy in Lebanon.
Bypassing international sanctions in order to continue making payments to its suppliers has long been an Iranian obsession. Since most wire transfers made in dollars are cleared by US banks acting as intermediaries - regardless of their origin and final destination - Iran needs at least indirect access to banks in New York.
While Iran's development bank in Caracas is on the US blacklist because it is a subsidiary of a larger Iranian institution, Venezuela's banks can transact business in the US legally. Iran can, therefore, use any Venezuelan financial institution with which its Caracas-based bank has a relationship to make transfers that will sail through the US banking system. All this is happening right under President Obama’s nose, who apparently thinks his “sanctions” are effective.
Not since 1962 has Latin America been drawn directly by an outside power into the nuclear chess game. The Argentine and Brazilian nuclear programs developed in the 1970s and 80s (Mexico's never went past the preliminary phase) were entirely homegrown affairs, unrelated to the interests of outside powers. Venezuela, whose anti-imperialist government has announced a nuclear program of its own and has gone so far as signing agreements with Brazil, Argentina, Iran, Syria, Russia, Belarus and even France on varying aspects of that program. Chavez is busy bringing Latin America back to the good old days of “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and animosity and President Obama’s foreign policy appears blissfully blind to the deadly implications.
Special Note: I am glad to note that Abbey Sunderland, the 16 year old girl attempting to sail solo around the world, was located by an Australian Search plane and reports via radio that although her sail is torn and her vessel took on some water, she is OK. A French fishing ship will be on scene shortly.
On a Lighter Note: