During a recent interview on A Mano Limpia, hosted by Oscar Haza on WJAN-Channel 41 (Florida), President Obama declared that Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez has not posed “a serious” national security threat to the United States.
Perhaps, he considered Chávez’s rhetoric simply as “business as usual” in Latin American politics: blaming U.S. foreign policy as the source of all regional evils. In that context, Chávez’s “anti-Imperialist” speech might, at a stretch, be perceived as ordinary propaganda bluster and not a major threat.
But when it comes to Venezuela’s regional stance, it is crucial to consider the overall context.
Chávez created his own regional bloc, the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), led by Venezuela, and joined by Evo Morales’ Bolivia, Rafael Correa’s Ecuador, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, and Fidel and Raúl Castro´s Cuba. This bloc is the main partner for a growing Iranian penetration into Latin America.
Together with commercial ties, often profitable for these countries, Iran’s clear intention has been to bring its political agenda, which ipso facto makes it a military threat to the region.
Tehran’s influence was evident when Bolivia, and later Venezuela, broke relations with Israel.
In Chávez’s Caracas, antisemitism has grown exponentially, and it is estimated that the current number of Jews living in Venezuela are half what they were before his presidency.
A partial list of antisemitic incidents includes two police raids against the Hebraica Jewish Center of Caracas, the desecration of the Tiferet Israel synagogue, the publication of programs of action against the Jewish community in the pro-government website “aporrea.org”, a Christmas eve speech delivered by President Chávez, in which he said that “the world has wealth for all, but some minorities, among them the descendants of the murderers of Christ, have seized the wealth of the world,” and frequent threats from state-sponsored media.
The scope of such attacks against the Jewish community was reflected in a critique by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), a body of the Organization of American States (OAS).
In February 2010, the commission issued a report on “Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela,” which cites antisemitic incidents as examples of human rights abuses in Venezuela.
A close ally to Chávez and Iran, Bolivia, is the home for a “School of Defense”, opened in May, 2011. The special guest for the inauguration was Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, a fugitive from the Argentine justice for his alleged involvement in the AMIA Jewish Center bombing in Buenos Aires, in 1994.
Hugo Chávez actively supported Moamar Gadhafi during his attempted escape, just as he is currently supporting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad while he is butchering his own people. There have even been allegations that he is supplying Iran with Venezuelan-mined uranium, ostensibly destined for Caracas’ own domestic nuclear development policy.
But if the above does not adequately constitute a threat to U.S. interests, we must add that Iran has built, on the Venezuelan coast, launching platforms for Shahab 3 missiles with a range of 2,000 miles, to be operated exclusively by Iranians. These rockets place areas of South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the south of the U.S. in the line of fire.
President Obama apparently misplaced his emphasis. Chávez is not a threat to the United States only.
His regime is a threat to the entire Western hemisphere.
Sergio Widder is the Buenos Aires-based director for Latin America of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Shimon Samuels is director for international relations of the Wiesenthal Center.