Dr. Theodore Karasik
Following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Guaido, Hezbollah declared its support for Maduro. Hezbollah has a long history with the now-sanctioned Maduro government.
In 2008, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two Venezuelan nationals, one of them a diplomat, for their Hezbollah connections. The terrorist group is also heavily involved in cocaine trafficking via the local community. It has supported Maduro in the past, especially in the wake of a failed assassination attempt by drone and other incidents that are falsely blamed on the US. Maduro’s former vice president Tareck Zaidan El-Aissami is purportedly a key interlocutor with Hezbollah, Iran and the local community.
Importantly, Hezbollah’s presence in Venezuela actually stretches along the coastline into Colombia. The city of Maicao on the Guajira Peninsula near the border to Venezuela is one particular point of interest, as the community there is connected to the creation of the free-trade zone on Isla de Margarita, which allowed Hezbollah to gain a major foothold and establish a base from which to operate from in terms of financing its activities. The impact of the ongoing Venezuelan crisis is a potential cause of concern for the country’s Hezbollah supporters.
Meanwhile, although there have been no recent attacks in T&T, more than 100 citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with Daesh. In February 2018, the T&T authorities arrested some individuals who had planned to carry out attacks during the islands’ Carnival celebrations. Carnival time is now fast approaching for 2019 and there is a threat from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups to carry out so-called “lone actor” attacks targeting public events or places. T&T is also the only Western Hemisphere country to experience a coup by a Muslim organization — in 1990, although it lasted just a few days.
The Trump administration’s Venezuela move is perhaps opening the door to a wider set of factors, including terrorist violence in the northern cone and throughout the Americas. The countries of the Lima Group all supported the US move, but the challenge now is for those countries in Central and Latin America to be on the lookout for increased activity by any of the extremist groups. The cone has a long history of being a support center for low-level but extremely toxic terrorist activity.
Overall, the current struggle over Venezuela’s future has other factors that will contribute to an unstable environment and may invite terrorists into the theater, if they are not already there. Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and Daesh have all been seen in the northern cone and use the area for recruitment and transit. Given the background and current landscape, the potential for these groups to find more local support because of Venezuela’s precarious position may allow a more extensive entry of Daesh into Latin America. Daesh grew in the Levant because of collapsed states and riding traditional networks to grow their territory. Will Venezuela and the northern cone present the same opportunity?
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a non-resident senior fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert, specializing in Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. He worked for the RAND Corporation and publishes widely in the US and international media. Twitter: @tkarasik