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The Spy Who Went Into the Cold

"May I have this dance?"On hiatus since the closing months of the Bush Administration, during which time Ambassadors of both countries were recalled, Venezuela's Ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, has returned to America (October 28-30) to again promote the free home heating oil program in Alaska.  The program is sponsored by CITGO, Venezuela’s state run oil company, and is aimed at fostering “cultural, commercial and academic links” with the indigenous tribes of Alaska. 

As Ambassador Alvarez puts it

“Alaska has a rich indigenous heritage, with over 100,000 members of various indigenous groups in the state. Venezuela shares a similar heritage, and celebrates it as vital to the country’s social fabric.”  Alvarez continues, “though they are thousands of miles apart, Alaska has more in common with Venezuela than any other U.S. state. Like Venezuela, Alaska depends heavily on oil for its revenues – about 82 percent of its budget comes from oil, while Venezuela stands at 80 percent.”   

And Alaska is enjoying the comparisons.  Mike Williams, chair of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council (AITC) is grateful for Venezuela’s help and “thanked them for assisting [the AITC] when nobody else did.  We are one of the poorest areas in the United States,” he said, “still living in third world conditions, and the 100 gallons per household really helped us, especially the elders. But while we are poor in terms of money, we are rich in our language and culture and way of life.”

So what is Chavez up to?

Chavez taking a page right out of Hezbollah’s playbook.  Hugo Chavez’s links to narco-trafficking and international terrorism abound.  Chavez makes well known his close relationship with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard whose paramilitary organization, Hezbollah, is often referred to as terrorism’s “A team” and is operational in South America’s Tri Border Region.  It comes as no surprise then that Chavez employed Ghazi Nasr al Din, the president of a Shia Islamic center as his Charge d’Affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Damascus, Syria, and subsequently appointed him Director of Political Aspects at the Venezuelan Embassy in Lebanon.  In 2008, Al Din was added to the US Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists for his support to Hezbollah.  

"It is extremely troubling to see the Government of Venezuela employing and providing safe harbor to Hezbollah facilitators and fundraisers," said Adam J. Szubin, the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department.   

Hezbollah has a track record of using the Robin Hood theory to its advantage.  In 2006, when Israel was provoked to move against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon following Hezbollah’s deadly attack on an Israeli Humvee, Hezbollah swooped in to help those in need.  Providing food, medicine, shelter as well as “cultural, commercial and academic” services, Hezbollah effectively enhanced its image and foundation among the citizenry as a generous and caring pseudo-political entity in southern Lebanon.

Chavez’s use of the free home heating oil program is making similar inroads as an influence operation against the residents of Alaska.  “More than 20 percent of the $100 million program assists tribal communities, helping 55,000 families that represent the lowest tier of poverty among the minorities. In Alaska, 13 regional nonprofits that represent 170 Alaska Native communities have received assistance through the program.”

Otto Reich, who has served three U.S. presidents in the White House and State Department, including as U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, writes in Foreign Policy magazine, the time has come to “end the self-defeating U.S. dependence on the Venezuelan oil that finances Chavez's anti-democratic and anti-American aggression. The United States can find new sources for 8 percent of its imports much more quickly than Venezuela can find an alternate market for 72 percent of its exports.

Elucidating further Chavez’s ties to FARC rebels in Colombia, a country in which the US has close ties and military bases, Reich puts it even more bluntly, “the United States is the principal market for Colombia's illicit drug industry, of which Chávez's allies in FARC control 60 percent of production. Clearly, an undeclared war is already underway between Hugo Chávez's government and the United States and Colombia.

Ah the Open Veins of Latin America.

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