Updated: Mar 5
While the Russian attack on Ukraine has all our attention, we must not lose sight of the next threat to world peace. This coming from our very own backyard in America.
We must open our eyes to what is happening!
by Judith Flores
One of the financing centers of the terrorist organization, Hezbollah is located in Venezuela, they operate with drug trafficking, arms and human trafficking, also illegal mining.
One of the latent threats facing the Western Hemisphere in these times is the presence in the territory of the organization of Lebanese origin Hezbollah and financed and considered the armed wing of Iran.
Although this reality is not new, the threat has intensified, and experts attribute it in part to the fact that under the administration of President Barack Obama the execution of the Cassandra project operation to dismantle the criminal networks of that terrorist organization was prevented.
Hezbollah's number one goal is to damage and destroy the state of Israel and to achieve this, they need to affect their main ally, the United States, in this hemisphere.
Maibort Petit is a Venezuelan writer, researcher and political scientist specialized in Transnational Organized Crime. Based in New York, she works for various Hispanic media outlets and as a consultant for various firms in New York and Washington DC.
Freedom Voice Reports is an Investigative Reporting team with an emphasis on protecting our freedoms. Reporting on authoritative government, dark money used by business to persuade our political institutions, our court system, drug trafficking stealing so many lives, parental rights being lost in our educational system and so much more
Some doubt hezbollah's presence in the region, others downplay it, but organized crime investigative journalist Maibort Petit explains the reasons, partly "because the terrorist group has promoted a disinformation campaign with the support of Venezuela since the time of Hugo Chávez. One of its main strategies to expand and operate is disinformation and counterintelligence," explains the communicator.
"A laboratory was created with the authorship of China, Iranians who are very good at this and the Russians who work almost together and created a disinformation matrix to protect Hezbollah actors in Venezuela, that disinformation campaign has done a lot of damage because it has allowed them to expand. [In that sense] the United States and some governments in the region were practically neutralized for a period," says the expert.
During the III Hemispheric Ministerial Conference on Combating Terrorism, held in 2020 in Colombia, President Iván Duque and then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, agreed that Hezbollah is expanding to the region from Venezuela.
Among the terrorist group's associates are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FUERZAS Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), which operate out of Venezuela. "It is known that a subject identified as Cristóbal Grimaldo, alias Jaime, is the link between the ELN and the Lebanese group," the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported, citing a government source, after Pompeo's visit to the conference.
Hezbollah, which translated into English means "party of God", was founded in 1982, is characterized by experts as a political, military and criminal organization.
Latin America has become an attraction for Hezbollah not only because of its proximity to the United States, but also because it has an important financing center in the region.
"As a terrorist organization, it operates with the aim of financing itself, creating drug trafficking networks, arms sales, organized crime, among other criminal acts. It acts mainly in the triple border (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay)", reveals a study by the academic Myriam Esther Campo, from the University of Santo Tomás, Colombia, information with which Petit agrees.
Penetration is due to permeability at borders. "The high degree of corruption and lack of control by the states responsible for these borders," the study says.
Petit said Chavez allowed Hezbollah to "launder money and send through accounts of the international financial system that were not monitored [at the time] and carry people [operators]. From 2007 they move on to another stage, which is to offer them identity [documents] so that they can move around the area of the Latin American region and also in Europe."
Objectives in the region
In Latin America, the Iranian regime has political, economic and ideological objectives," Ely Kamon, a senior researcher at Israel's Anti-Terrorism Institute and an advisory member of the UN Security Council, told the Latin American Jewish Congress (CJL).
In this regard, Petit maintains that these objectives are achieved through infiltration in cultural centers, in the different political spheres, in the economy, and even in the social area taking advantage of poverty, food in exchange for political and religious conversion, despite the fact that Christianity predominates in the region.
Researcher Emanuele Ottolenghi, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies of the United States, described Hezbollah as a sophisticated organization, with a budget of 1,000 million dollars per year of which 700 are financed by Iran, reveals the portal Jewish Link.
Ottolenghi said Hezbollah right now is stronger in Latin America than it was in the '90s. It now has more "political influence and contacts".
For Petit, the advance of Hezbollah in the hemisphere contributed to the policy of President Barack Obama (2009-2017), after torpedoing the "Cassandra Project", an operation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in which some 30 US and foreign agencies would be involved, which for eight years investigated and had managed to identify the drug trafficking and money laundering networks of the terrorist organization established between Iran, Venezuela and the FARC, according to an investigation published by the Portal Político in 2017.
Obama halted the operation; the decision was political. The purpose was to achieve the nuclear deal with Iran, negotiations that allowed the "lifting" of economic sanctions on the Islamic republic, the investigation reveals. That fact was described as an opportunity that the United States lost to dismantle the terrorist group's networks in Latin America and the United States.
"In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious campaign to enforce the law against drug trafficking to the Iranian-backed terrorist group, Hezbollah," Politico reported.
During eight years of work, agents working at a "top-secret" DEA facility in Chantilly, Virginia, used wiretaps, covert operations and informants to map Hezbollah's illicit networks, with the help of 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies.
"That project was underway and there was evidence, there had been a review of operational actors and the same government of Barak Obama ordered it to eliminate, they dismantled all the actors all those who were working (on the project). When Trump arrived, he wanted to reassemble it, but the team that had been assembled at that time was already separated in other areas of work," Petit said.
According to the expert, the network has now been extended to other countries such as Chile, Central America and Mexico.
The organization has been modifying its operating strategies.
"The operational agents are in several countries, the first target in the hemisphere is the United States. Venezuela is an important operating platform. They operate at different levels of networks so that, if they grab one, not the rest, and that allows them to move more freely from the triple border Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina to Mexico, the United States and Canada. Venezuela and Cuba are important platforms for them. Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile enter the rank of important square," Petit said.
He added that there have been some efforts to slow progress in the region, to no avail. "When work began on Hezbollah's presence on the triple border, which is like the predominant money laundering and financing center, the intelligence agents of those countries viewed the situation with concern and considered the elaboration of joint security policies, which included declaring Hezbollah a criminal organization, and creating a control center to combat money laundering. but it was not executed."
This is due to the infiltration of Hezbollah operators into politics, the explanation is that they invest in "lobbying" to avoid being declared a criminal organization.
The ways to operate is to penetrate and create circles of influence in all spheres of power, "they use the mechanism of infiltration to neutralize measures against them, they know the legal structure, they always think that a criminal is 20 years ahead of the one who respects the law," Petit said.
"The ways of raising [funds by Hezbollah] range from arms trafficking to people," Ottolenghi added.
They would also be involved in the extraction of illegal gold from Venezuela, a network of which Nicaragua is a part.
On the subject, retired U.S. Army Colonel Octavio Perez told DIARIO LAS AMÉRICAS that the greatest danger is that Hezbollah is involved in the exploitation of gold mines.
"And not just gold but other strategic minerals. Those flights that depart from Maiquetía to Damascus and from there to other destinations such as Iran have to do with the extraction of gold. The guerrillas of Hezzbollah, the FARC and the ELN are the ones who work the mines with people they have enslaved who extract gold not in an industrialized way but as in the stone age," he denounced.
He added that there is "a coordination for the exploitation of gold between Hezbollah, the FARC and the ELN and the Los Soles cartel, that has been detected by the United States since 2009. What has happened is that those responsible for this who are Maduro and Diosdado Cabello remain in Venezuela, they do not leave the country out of fear. They don't go through countries that have extradition treaties with the United States or the European Union, because they are qualified as traffickers."
"They are leaving an ecological disaster, but the environmental liberals do not say anything," Perez questioned.
Petit maintains that there is a criminal structure in Venezuela, consolidated because it operates in complete impunity.
"It is the best criminal structure that has been achieved because it has a common goal, many interests, and there is no law for them, there is no law in the mining arc, everyone does what they want, they have authorization, the power to do it first with Chávez and then Maduro."