February 24, 2004
Eleven years ago, the first major terrorist attack on the Western Hemisphere, took place when the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was destroyed by a car bomb, killing 29 people and wounding more than 200. Two years later, a similar attack in Buenos Aires destroyed the headquarters of the Argentine Mutual Aid Association (AMIA), killing 87 people and wounding hundreds. This was a turning point, both for the Americas and for Jewish communities all over the world, as it represented the worst anti-Semitic attack since the end of the Second World War. From that point on, the presence of Islamist terrorist cells in Latin America as well as the radicalization of some of the local Arab population have become issues of grave concern.
Among the countries suspected of harboring terrorist cells operating unhindered is Venezuela. This should be of particular concern as Venezuela is undergoing political and socio-economic turmoil and has seen its relations with the United States erode throughout the years due to President Chavez’s close relations to Cuba and to Arab rogue states, to his anti-US rhetoric, and to his authoritarian behavior undermining democracy and the rule of law.
Indeed, relations between the Venezuelan government and countries such as Iran and Libya flourish against the background of an unprecedented massive emigration from the country due to the climate of uncertainty Venezuela’s foreign and economic policies have spawned.
The Chavez government has allowed for the entry of a significant number of Middle Easterners, using passports obtained illegally. There have been reports on the presence and activity of groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamiya al Gammat, particularly in Isla Margaritas, off the coast of Venezuela. Chavez has also reportedly advocated for the release of Venezuelan-born “Carlos the Jackal” currently imprisoned in France on charges of terrorism, and known for his close links to Palestinian terrorists during the 1970’s. In addition, Chavez has publicly referred to Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Al Kadhafi as a “hero.” Furthermore, Chavez praised the government of Saddam Hussein and characterized it as a “model” for Venezuela. Chavez also visited Iran, and referred to its campaign against the West as a “worthy” Holy War. Later, he publicly stated that Iran and Venezuela were in the throes of “sister revolutions” in which they shared goals and a common destiny.
The presence of terrorist cells in Venezuela, in addition to the sympathy of the Chavez government to suspected Arab and Muslim terrorists, should raise serious questions as to whether Venezuela could become a likely target for another terrorist attack against Israeli or Jewish institutions in Latin America or even the United States due to its geographical proximity to this country.
- The organized American Jewish community, the State of Israel and the United States government should monitor developments in Venezuela much more closely, especially as they affect the security and well being of the Jewish community in that country. In addition, the Chavez government should be made aware that providing support and safe haven to terrorists will not be tolerated.