Posted tagged ‘Trump and Latin America’

America Should Be Ready, Venezuela Might Become the Next Syria

April 24, 2017

America Should Be Ready, Venezuela Might Become the Next Syria, Town HallDavid Grantham, April 24, 2017

Making matters worse, this regime has allowed international criminal networks and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, to thrive within the country’s borders. This permissive environment has thoroughly compromised the upper echelons of the Venezuelan government and allowed illicit behavior to permeate the economy and society.

Most important, the same actors in Russia and Iran that prevent Assad’s demise are the same players underwriting Venezuelan tyranny. Remember that Vice President Tareck El Aissami is Hezbollah’s go-to guy in the administration. Experts should not be fooled into thinking that geographic distance will dissuade Russia or Iran from intervening on Maduro’s behalf. Neither country will so easily cede such a strategic and lucrative relationship – one that each country has spent years cultivating.

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Said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Nazi buildup in Europe: “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.” The unwillingness to act when such action would have been simple and effective constitutes the “endless repetition of history,” he concluded.

Today, observers would rightly associate this statement with Syria. But Churchill did not make this proclamation so future generations would seek out examples that affirmed his logic. He made the statement so future generations would break that dreadful repetition. This is not just a quote of self reflection – it’s a call to action.

Syria is thoroughly out of hand and late remedies are now being applied. The cycle of historical inaction will not be broken in Syria. Pundits, politicians and military officials would be wise to stop reliving what could have been done there, and start looking at what can be done elsewhere. Therefore, the American government must determine the likelihood of Venezuela becoming another Syria – this time in the western hemisphere. The United States and its Latin American allies must then collectively decide whether to do anything about it.

In their quest for more and more power, Chavez and then Maduro made reliable access to basic necessities a virtual impossibility. Maduro then had the Supreme Court dissolve the Congress after the Venezuelan people stocked the legislature with opposition members through democratic elections. Although international outcry forced him to partially rescind that order, Maduro continues to issue tyrannical edicts that will have the same effect at a slower pace. Now the Maduro regime has armed loyalists to seek out and kill dissenters. Over twenty people have died in riots over the last few weeks.

This administration would rather starve its people than relinquish power. Maduro would rather dismantle government and assassinate opponents than keep the country viable. History tells us that such despotism and subsequent international inaction can lead to Assad-like levels of oppression.

Making matters worse, this regime has allowed international criminal networks and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, to thrive within the country’s borders. This permissive environment has thoroughly compromised the upper echelons of the Venezuelan government and allowed illicit behavior to permeate the economy and society.

Most important, the same actors in Russia and Iran that prevent Assad’s demise are the same players underwriting Venezuelan tyranny. Remember that Vice President Tareck El Aissami is Hezbollah’s go-to guy in the administration. Experts should not be fooled into thinking that geographic distance will dissuade Russia or Iran from intervening on Maduro’s behalf. Neither country will so easily cede such a strategic and lucrative relationship – one that each country has spent years cultivating.

President Trump must be prepared for the possibility of a Syria in the western hemisphere. The administration has already taken steps to sanction high-level Venezuelan officials for their work with cartels and known terrorist organizations. But they must also be prepared for preemptive action:

  • Anticipate and be prepared for the possibility that Russia, Iran and/or Hezbollah will help Maduro crush dissent, covertly or otherwise. Do not be caught off guard when they block U.N. resolutions, cripple Maduro’s adversaries through cyber attacks, or, in an extreme situation, deploy military assets.
  • Consider how and where to erect safe zones because a failing state may create a refugee crisis in a region already plagued by economic and social instability.
  • Work with Latin American allies to demand a democratic resolution. Don’t wait for collapse to be spurred into action.

This is not a call for military intervention. It is merely a reminder that the arc of history bends toward inaction – something we often come to regret.

Venezuela: State Sponsor of Terrorism?

February 18, 2017

Venezuela: State Sponsor of Terrorism? Investigative Project on Terrorism, February 17, 2017

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U.S. intelligence has long considered Tareck El Aissami as a key figure in the global narcotics trade with ties to Iran. He oversaw massive shipments of drugs from Venezuela to other countries, including the United States, and issued identification documents to Hizballah operatives. But El Aissami isn’t an affiliate of Hizballah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). El Aissami is the vice president of Venezuela.

After an extensive Treasury Department investigation spanning several years, the Trump administration levied sanctions against El Aissami on Monday, freezing his assets in the United States and prohibiting business relationships with him. American officials have previously identified and sanctioned other senior Venezuelan officials involved in drug trafficking operations with Colombian FARC and close cooperation with Iran’s terrorist activities.

U.S. officials previously have criticized Venezuela’s failure to cooperate on global counterterrorism issues. Yet these latest allegations – surrounding the upper echelons of Venezuela’s government – suggest that the South American country has devolved into a full-blown state sponsor of terrorism.

Earlier this month, CNN received a 2013 secret intelligence document from several Latin American countries highlighting ties between El Aissami and 173 Venezuelan identification cards and passports issued to people from the Middle East, including Hizballah affiliated personnel. El Aissami “took charge of issuing, granting visas and nationalizing citizens from different countries, especially Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians, and Iraqis,” the report shows.

Previous U.S. reports detailed blatant corruption and vulnerabilities on Venezuela’s borders, failing to even conduct basic biographic screening at various ports of entry. However, the allegations surrounding El Aissami’s operations take these security concerns to a whole new level. One of the most powerful leaders of a large Western country stands accused of facilitating terrorist infiltration into other states, including the United States.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center also suggests that El Aissami served as an interlocutor between Iran and Argentina in an effort to hide the Islamic Republic’s role in coordinating the 1994 Jewish Center bombing in Buenos Aires. Hizballah operatives are widely believed to be responsible for that attack, which killed 85 people and wounded 300. Moreover, a Wiesenthal Center representative in South America fears that El Aissami may encourage the Venezuelan government to adopt formal state policies based on anti-Semitism.

Under the reign of former President Hugo Chavez, Iran exploited friendly ties with Venezuela to establish terrorist networks throughout region. Iranian and Hizballah operatives have cultivated and consolidated operating bases in South America, especially in the tri-border area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. With a large Muslim population featuring significant numbers of Hizballah sympathizers, the terrorist organization uses this area for recruitment, arms smuggling and drug trafficking, and logistics planning for terrorist operations.

Hizballah also relies on legitimate businesses and front organizations in the region, diversifying its terrorist financing profile to generate a significant portion of its revenues from its Latin American operations. With Venezuelan help, the terrorist group continues to expand its presence and consolidate support in other Latin American countries. Hizballah has even registered as a political party in a Peruvian region characterized as having that nation’s largest Muslim population.

Yet Venezuelan ties to drug trafficking and terrorists are not limited to South America. The Treasury Department also revealed that El Aissami helped coordinate narcotics shipments to drug cartels operating on the U.S. border, including Mexico’s infamous Los Zetas. In 2011, Virginia prosecutors said that a Lebanese man helped the Mexican Los Zetas drug cartel smuggle of more than 100 tons of Colombian cocaine. The U.S. Treasury Department claimed that Hizballah benefitted financially from the criminal network.

Later that year, the United States disrupted an IRGC-led plot in cooperation with a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Washington.

The problematic nexus between Iranian-backed operatives – including Hizballah – and Mexican drug cartels allows terrorists to earn big money to fuel their violent operations. These connections also enable Hizballah to make inroads into the United States through its porous border with Mexico.

In a 2011 testimony before a House Homeland Security subcommittee, Roger F. Noriega, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, highlighted the danger posed to U.S. homeland security from the growing Hizballah presence in Latin America:

“The more broad implication for U.S. homeland security is that Hizballah—via Iran and Venezuela—has engaged the United States in an offensive strategy of asymmetric warfare on our doorstep. It is aiming to win the mental battle of attrition and the moral battle of legitimacy—particularly with the youth in Latin America. Unless our government recognizes and responds to their efforts, our ability to protect our interests and our homeland will be gradually and dangerously diminished.”

That testimony is as relevant today as it was years ago, foreshadowing continued cooperation between Iran, its terrorist proxies, and the government of Venezuela. Now with a vice president who maintains intimate ties to a variety of violent organizations, Venezuela has transitioned from a safe haven for nefarious activities to a global state sponsor of terrorism.

Law and Order Returns to the Border

January 26, 2017

Law and Order Returns to the Border, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, January 26, 2017

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President Donald Trump is doing something incredibly rare for a politician in Washington, D.C. He is keeping his word. Two of the most important of his campaign promises were to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into this country and to suspend the admission of “refugees” from countries prone to terrorism until a system of “extreme vetting” is put into place. On Tuesday night, President Trump tweeted out a teaser: “Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!”

After eight long years of Obama administration policies that endangered the security of the American people, President Trump is placing Americans first — before illegal aliens and self-declared “refugees” from terrorist prone countries. 

The president began fulfilling his promises on immigration by signing two executive orders on Wednesday at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whose responsibilities include overseeing immigration and border security. Mr. Trump also took part in a ceremony installing his new Secretary of Homeland Security, retired Marine General John Kelly. In his remarks following the signing, President Trump emphasized that DHS is a “law enforcement agency.” He added that “beginning today, the United States gets back control of its borders.”

The first executive order he signed redirected funds already appropriated by Congress towards paying for the construction of the border wall he has promised between Mexico and the United States. Additional funding appropriations will be required from Congress for completion of the project. However, President Trump still intends that Mexico will ultimately reimburse U.S. taxpayers for the expenditures through one means or another, including possibly redirecting monies presently slotted for foreign aid to Mexico or using revenue from border taxes. President Trump’s action came on the same day that Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, was due to arrive in Washington to help prepare for the visit of Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto later this month.

The order would end the “catch-and-release” policies the Obama administration utilized, under which illegals awaiting removal hearings were released. More detention facilities along the border are planned for construction. According to Immigration and Custom Enforcement figures cited by Fox News, 179,040 of the 925,193 illegal immigrants who have evaded a scheduled deportation had criminal convictions.

The Trump administration is anticipating roadblocks put in its way by legal challenges, including activists’ exploitation of environmental laws to block construction of the wall. However, the administration should be able to prevail and move forward expeditiously. The REAL ID Act of 2005 gives the Secretary of Homeland Security “the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads” along U.S. borders. Federal district courts have exclusive jurisdiction to hear challenges to the Secretary of Homeland Security’s determination, but a “cause of action or claim may only be brought alleging a violation of the Constitution of the United States.” Melinda Taylor, an environmental law professor with the University of Texas, said, “The new administration has a wild card they can pull and it’s in this law. The language in this law allows them to waive all federal laws that would be an impediment to building any type of physical barrier along the border, including a wall.” Actually, “the authority to waive all legal requirements” in the statute would extend to state and local laws and regulations, as well as federal laws. The president’s constitutional authority derives from his fundamental constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” – in this case, the nation’s existing immigration laws.

President Trump signed a second executive order addressing the so-called “sanctuary cities,” which have been openly defying federal immigration law enforcement. They may face the loss of certain federal funding if they continue their 21st century version of segregationist Governor George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” in opposition to federally mandated school desegregation.

The orders also call for beefing up the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents used to apprehend migrants at the border and to arrest and deport illegal immigrants already living in the United States. The priority will be to identify for deportation illegal aliens in this country with a criminal record and to provide the State Department with additional tools to pressure countries to take back illegal immigrant criminals whom originally came from those countries.

Notably, neither immigration executive order sought to penalize the so-called “Dreamers.” President Trump has not yet rescinded Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action. President Trump made his priorities clear in his DHS remarks, declaring “we’re going to get the bad ones out.” To put a human face on what he intended to accomplish, President Trump took time out during his remarks at DHS to recognize several parents who have had to endure the grief over their children killed by illegal immigrants. “They will always be remembered,” he said.

In his DHS remarks, President Trump also mentioned how he planned coordination and partnership with Mexico to save lives on both sides of the border. He said that the wall and actions to break up the drug cartels would help keep drugs and guns from flowing between the United States and Mexico. What a relief from the days of Operation Fast and Furious, when the Obama administration’s botched gunrunning sting allowed guns into Mexico that the Obama administration lost track of. U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry may well have been killed by one of those guns.

In addition to the immigration executive orders, President Trump is planning later in the week to sign an executive order drastically reducing the number of refugees overall who are admitted to the United States for resettlement. It would also suspend the admission of refugees from “terrorist prone” countries such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, pending the institution of an effective “extreme vetting” process. Procedures for granting visas to residents from those countries will also be carefully re-examined. While leftists and other pro-Islamists will undoubtedly cry foul and may go to court in an effort to overturn this executive order as allegedly discriminating against Muslims on religious grounds, President Trump’s action is well within his legal authority. Refugees and visitors from other countries deemed dangerous by the president acting in his capacity as commander in chief should not have a constitutional right to enter the United States anyway.

“From a legal standpoint, it would be exactly within his legal rights,” said Stephen Legomsky, who was chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration and currently a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. Legomsky went on to say that he disagreed with President Trump’s planned suspension action from a public policy perspective “because there is such an urgent humanitarian need right now for refugees.” However, the Obama administration in which he served was discriminatory in its own “humanitarian” outreach to self-declared “refugees.” It virtually ignored the truly persecuted Christian minority population seeking an escape from genocide, and favored instead the one group of migrants from the Middle East who needed refugee protection the least– Sunni Muslims. Moreover, the Obama administration had no vetting procedures in place to ensure that some of these Sunni Muslims were not bringing their Wahhabi jihadist ideology with them.

Former President Obama put Americans’ lives in danger by his ill-advised immigration and refugee policies. He also released scores of suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay despite at least a 30 percent recidivist rate. President Trump, by contrast, is showing that he means what he says in making the protection of the American people his first priority.

Now is the Time. A Bad U.S.-Cuba Policy With a Good U.S.-Latin American Policy

December 16, 2016

Now is the Time. A Bad U.S.-Cuba Policy With a Good U.S.-Latin American Policy, Center for Security Policy, Luis Fleischman, December 16, 2016

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Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor warned President –elect Donald Trump that reversing the normalization process with Cuba could have harmful consequences.

Mr. Rhodes gave a number of reasons including that the death of Fidel Castro  offers an opportunity for a political transition as  Raul Castro, the current president announced he will retire in 2018. He also added that closing off Cuba now is likely to embolden the hardliners. In addition, Rhodes believes that closing the doors to Cuba at this juncture could harm relations between the United States and other Latin American countries.

Interestingly enough, President –elect Trump never spoke of stopping the normalization process or specifically returning to the situation before December 17, 2014. Mr. Trump, through his spokesman pointed out that he will demand religious and political liberalization for the island including liberation of political prisoners.  However, Rhodes suggested that insistence on demanding respect for human rights in Cuba has only led to more repression.

The arguments brought by the Obama Administration are difficult to sustain.  According to Pedro Roig, a Cuba expert, who published a detailed report in 2014, there is an entire structure in place aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the regime even after Raul Castro leaves office or dies.

The regime secured key supporters in the armed forces and in the government bureaucracy. The armed forces control 65% of the economy. More than half of the 14 members of the Politburo are military men. Furthermore, there is a younger generation of people in high office that are also part of the central committee of the Communist Party. By the same token, Fidel and Raul’s children as well as members of their extended family and children of other high officers, occupy important positions. Many of them are in their fifties. As such they are likely to keep the regime in place for many years, if not decades to come.

Therefore, neither Raul’s retirement nor his eventual death can secure a transition as the Obama Administration asserts.

By the same token, Obama’s contention that relations with countries in Latin America would be at risk if the normalization process changes course is false.

For more than a decade and a half the left dominated the political scene in Latin America and indeed they pressured to de-isolate Cuba and reintegrate it into the family of the Americas. However, the political scene has now changed.

Most recently, Cuba’s strongest ally in the region, Venezuela, was suspended from MERCOSUR, the South American common market trade block.

The suspension was due to Venezuela’s lack of compliance with MERCOSUR’s rules and violations of human rights and democratic governance.

In two other key countries, Brazil and Argentina, the left is no longer in power. In Uruguay a moderate left-wing government also voted to suspend Venezuela.

The bottom line is that Venezuela has become isolated after 16 years of stealing the limelight. Therefore, it is logical that Cuba may no longer enjoy the regional status it once did. The MERCOSUR decision on Venezuela is a powerful sign of this development. The countries that still remain zealous supporters of Cuba are Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, all part of the Bolivarian Alliance and led by authoritarian leaders.

A Trump Administration is in a position now to take the upper hand in relation to Cuba as well as to Venezuela and their allies. This is a perfect moment to apply pressure on Cuba to change human rights policy. It is also a great moment to develop an overall new strategy aimed at neutralizing countries that still maintain the legacy of Castro and Chavez. Such a legacy is still highly problematic, to say the least, as these countries maintain relations with Iran, with terrorist elements and with drug cartels.

Trump’s appointment of General John Kelly as head of the Department of Homeland Security is an encouraging sign. Kelly has denounced a Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards presence in Latin America which are mostly harbored by countries associated with Cuba and Venezuela. He also understands very well that ISIS can take advantage of the vulnerable American Southern border. Most recently Southern Command confirmed the infiltration of Sunni Arabs to the U.S. through that border.

A new policy in the Western Hemisphere will require a strong diplomatic effort and cooperation from Latin American countries.

We do not need to treat the Western Hemisphere as a battlefield. Latin America is about more than this. However, treating the hemisphere only in commercial terms, ignoring all the issues mentioned above, or making a reconciliation policy with Cuba a centerpiece of what requires a much larger approach, should not continue to be our official policy.