In Brief

What links Hezbollah and Venezuela?

US Secretary of State says terrorist cells drawn to embattled South American country

Donald Trump’s administration has sought to ratchet up pressure on embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by claiming his regime supports Iranian-backed Hezbollah cells operating in his country.

Mike Pompeo told Fox Business: “People don’t recognise that Hezbollah has active cells. The Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America. We have an obligation to take down that risk for America.”

Pompeo said the ongoing political and economic crisis risks turning the Latin American country into a no-man’s land, effectively controlled by Cuba, Russia and Iran.

The US has long considered Hezbollah a terrorist organisation and “sanctions on people in Venezuela linked to Hezbollah have been imposed as far back as the George W. Bush administration”, reports Jon Sharman for The Independent.

“Washington also believes Latin America has served as a base of fund-gathering for the group for some years, including through drugs and money-laundering schemes,” says Sharman.

Last month Fox News reported that “as Iran and Venezuela become increasingly isolated and sanctioned by the US and much of the international community, the two governments are said to be tightening their bond - with the help of Tehran's proxy group, Hezbollah, in the middle of the action.”

Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chavez formed tight links with Iran under Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in the 2000s and Fox claims that Iran and Hezbollah are said to provide “strategic advice” to the Venezuelan regime “for safe keeping”.

Right-wing US news site Breitbart adds that “under Maduro, Hezbollah, in particular, has established itself as a force in Latin America, dominating drug trafficking routes and using senior Maduro officials such as Minister of Industries and National Production Tareck El Aissami to expand recruitment efforts into the Western Hemisphere”.

Donald Trump became the first leader to formally recognise Venezuela’s national assembly president Juan Guaido as interim president in January. He has since been joined by EU leaders, while Russia and China continue to back Maduro.

The latest intervention by the US’ most senior diplomat is consistent with the administration’s increasingly hostile approach towards Iran.

Last year Trump reimposed sanctions on Tehran, in breach of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, labelling the government “a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence and chaos”.

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