Facing economic collapse and a great shortage in public support, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has chosen as his vice president one of Venezuela's most controversial and feared politicians, government critics say—Tareck El Aissami.
El Aissami has climbed from student leader in rural Venezuela to the country's number two in power in just over a decade.
El Aissami, 42 years old, is one of a number of Venezuelans under investigation by U.S. authorities for alleged participation in drug trafficking and money laundering. He played a key role in helping Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist group, gain ground in Latin America. A young star in the so called socialist party, El Aissami is viewed by both supporters and critics as extremely dangerous, far from any political ethics and skills.
Maduro, whom former President Hugo Chavez chose as his own successor, has been under pressure to step aside because of the country's potential default, widespread social unrest and a demanding opposition. He has so far avoided—through his control of the so called legal system—the opposition's attempt to hold a referendum on his removal before his term ends in about two years. Many analysts say if things continue to decline, the main risk to him is from within the military.
El Aissami's selection addresses Maduro’s concerns. Those seeking to oust Maduro probably will be more careful facing El Aissami and might hesitate to pursue their efforts. And the new vice president is a strong man with tight control over internal security forces and little loyalty to the military. He would be less tempted to take part in a military-led coup than to resist it.
In the weeks since El Aissaimi became vice president, Maduro has granted him wide-reaching decree powers and helped him to lead a newly formed “commando unit” against alleged coups and officials suspected of treason. The “Unity” has already arrested “opposition” members without hesitation or embarrassment.
El Aissami first met Chavez when he was a student. According to three witnesses, El Aissami openly celebrated the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, and has served as one of Chavez's closest allies ever since. In his last post as governor of Aragua, he regularly denounced government opponents as traitors. A court in Aragua annulled the recall referendum there, charging the opposition with collecting fraudulent signatures.
El Aissami has publicly denied any alleged drug ties, saying they are little more than media lies, but traces of all sort of media investigations end in his family circle and his people in Aragua.
El Aissami won a seat in congress as a representative of Merida in 2005. Chavez named the young congressman as vice minister and later minister of interior. Much of what El Aissami tried as interior minister was resisted by the military. In 2012, El Aissami won the governorship of Aragua and the opposition has since labeled El Aissami "the narco (nark) of Aragua,” alleging that he has used his vast political network to help turn the country into an international hub for drugs and Middle Eastern extremists.
Since at least 2011, Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been investigating El Aissami for money laundering to the Middle East, specifically Lebanon.
In this context, CNN has made this week the following announcement:
“Passports In The Shadows,” a two-part joint investigation by CNN and CNN en Espanol airing on February 6 and February 8 within AC360°(8-9pm ET, CNN), uncovers an alleged sale of passports and visas from the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq, as well as how U.S. officials have known about other passport irregularities in Venezuela for more than a decade. The yearlong investigation showcases an account by a whistleblower, the former legal adviser to the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad, who provided CNN with comprehensive reports of the alleged activity inside the embassy and the government officials’ dismissal of the allegations.CNN tracks down the former general in charge of the country’s immigration office, now living in Miami under political asylum, who details the corruption he says he witnessed for years, including the issuing of fraudulent passports. CNN and CNN en Espanol conducted interviews in the U.S., Venezuela, Spain and the UK over the past year. Additionally, CNN has obtained a confidential intelligence report from Latin American countries that links the new vice president of Venezuela, Tareck El Aissami, to the issuance of passports to individuals from the Middle East as well as people linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Countries and governments all over the world know what has been going on in Venezuela for the last ten years, and the absolute lack of any freedom in the last five years. Everybody knows the violation of human rights, the absolute absence of judiciary, political prisoners under inhuman conditions and the total disrespect for the law.
Why the silence then? Why isn’t there a vote in the Organization of American States (OAS) or any of the U.N. agencies to try to change the situation? The OAS secretary-general speaks out, but is never endorsed, why?
There are no positive answers to these questions. As there are no answers, Tareck Al Aissami can rule “de facto” as it happens today, and Iran and Hezbollah can celebrate.
Israel Is Strengthening Ties With Several Latin American States, But Will This Impact The Way These Countries Vote At The U.N.?
There are reasons to be optimistic about the progress of the bilateral relations between Israel and several Latin American states. Changes in the leadership of several countries, as well as a more proactive Israeli policy towards the region, are proving quite promising. On the other hand, it seems that there is still a long way to go when it comes to translating these good relations into changes in the voting patterns of some of these countries at the United Nations on resolutions involving Israel.
Let’s start with Paraguay. From the moment, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes took office in August of 2013; the relations with Israel (which had already improved during the interim government of President Franco) got a strong boost. The Paraguayan government started to distinguish itself from other voices in the region and took a principled stance every time Israeli actions were judged by other nations. During the latest Gaza war, for example, there was an attempt at a meeting of Mercosur (the economic bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela) to issue a joint communiqué strongly condemning Israeli actions. Paraguay opposed this measure. And it took similar positions in support of Israel in different international forums. Today, Paraguay abstains on almost all anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.
An important step taken by Israel to strengthen the bilateral relations with Paraguay was the decision to re-open the Israeli Embassy in Asuncion (which was closed in 2002 for budgetary reasons). This was very well received in Asuncion by both the Paraguayan government and the local Jewish community.
Three key anti-Israel resolutions were put to a vote at the General Assembly a few days ago. These are the resolutions that renew, year after year, the mandates and the funding authorizations for the following entities: 1. the Palestinian Rights Division; 2. the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and 3. the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People. These resolutions are very important because they maintain a powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that functions under U.N. auspices.
Paraguay kept its abstentions on these three anti-Israel resolutions this year. Even though these abstentions are highly appreciated, it would be desirable for Paraguay to go a step further and cast “no” votes, as abstentions unfortunately do not prevent resolutions from being approved at the General Assembly. Time will tell if Paraguay will be ready to make that positive move, in light of the increasingly close relations between this South American nation and Israel.
Israel’s relations with Peru have also improved in recent years. But Peru’s recent role at UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee was a cause for concern. The Peruvian representative actively supported a draft resolution (when the Committee met in Istanbul last July) that was quite insulting to Jews, referring to the most sacred places for Judaism only by their Muslim names (it was, of course, insulting to Christians as well). The draft resolution could not be put to a vote because of the attempted coup in Turkey but when it came up again in October, Peru abstained, which clearly showed that the ambassador received instructions in this regard from the new government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who took office in late July. The outlook of the new president, a brilliant economist who spent many years in the United States, and who has Jewish roots, bears well for the progress of the bilateral relations between Israel and Peru.
Peru has abstained on these anti-Israel resolutions at the General Assembly for many years now, and it kept these abstentions this year. As in the case of Paraguay though, it would be desirable for Peru to start voting “no.”
The arrival of Mauricio Macri to the presidency of Argentina in December of 2015, which put an end to the 12 years of “Kirchnerismo,” opened a window of opportunity for improving this country’s bilateral relations with Israel. And the positive signs are many. One of the first things President Macri did when taking office was to nullify the shameful “pact” that the previous government had signed with Iran to “jointly investigate” the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish Center (the worst terrorist attack ever suffered by Argentina or any other Latin American country). The president also promised to guarantee the independence of the judiciary so that the mysterious death of AMIA case Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, and the complaint that he had made against the government, are properly investigated.
Last April, the Executive Board of UNESCO approved a very troublesome anti-Israel and anti-Jewish resolution. The Argentine representative supported it but, when the resolution was taken up by the plenary last October, Argentina abstained. With regard to the three key General Assembly resolutions, since 2004, Argentina voted “for” two of these resolutions and “abstains” on one. Unfortunately, there were no changes this year in this regard.
Since Brazilian President Michel Temer took office last August, the country’s sometimes shaky relations with Israel appear to have entered a new phase. His Foreign Minister Jose Serra is close to the local Jewish community, and the government seems to be determined to get Brazil’s foreign policy a new turn. We still need to see if this will indeed happen, as Brazil’s powerful Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) has proved over the years to be quite resistant to change. But there has been already a positive sign when it comes to Israel. Even though Brazil supported the troublesome resolution approved by UNESCO’s Executive Board last October, the Ministry issued a communiqué stating that unless the text is revised, Brazil will not support a similar resolution in the future. A small but positive step in the right direction. Brazil, however, supports, year after year, the three important General Assembly anti-Israel resolutions and, unfortunately, there were no changes this year.
Something very interesting happened in Mexico, a country that for many years has consistently voted against Israel at the United Nations and other international forums. President Enrique Peña Nieto traveled to Israel recently and promised that Mexico would not support the biased UNESCO resolution that was going to be put to a vote in October. His decision, however, was never transmitted by the career diplomats in the Foreign Ministry to Mexico’s new UNESCO representative, who happened to be Jewish. He cast a “yes” vote but not without protest. The local Jewish community then made its voice heard and Mexico (after trying unsuccessfully to modify its vote) decided to abstain in the plenary.
In addition, at the General Assembly, Mexico moved from “yes” to “abstain” on one of the three important resolutions, which is a pretty significant step.
Since President Tabaré Vasquez returned to Uruguay’s presidential office in March of 2015, that country’s relations with Israel made a turn for the better. Even though Vasquez belongs to the left-wing Frente Amplio party (the same party of former President Jose Mujica), he is a far more centrist leader and has interesting personal ties to Israel, as he had the opportunity to do post-doctoral studies at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot several years ago.
With regard to Uruguay’s votes at the General Assembly, like Argentina, Uruguay votes for two of the resolutions and abstains on one. There were unfortunately no changes this year.
Guatemala has given us a pleasant surprise this year. After a recent visit that President Jimmy Morales paid to Israel, during which the Israeli government pledged to support Guatemala on a number of areas, the Guatemalan U.N. representative cast a “no” vote on the three key anti-Israel resolutions, something that has no precedents in Latin America. This is a very important development and a strong sign of friendship between the two countries.
The bilateral relations between Israel and Honduras have improved considerably in the last few years. And this change has been reflected in the way Honduras votes at the U.N. This year, even though Honduras has kept its abstentions on two of the three important anti-Israel resolutions at the General Assembly, it cast a “no” vote on one of them, which is quite important.
Colombia continues to have excellent relations with Israel, even though President Santos does not have the same kind of personal ties that Former President Uribe had both with the Jewish community and Israel. Colombia has abstained on the three key anti-Israel resolutions at the UN for a number of years now and there were no changes this year.
Panama was, until now, the only Latin American country that voted “no” on one of the three key anti-Israel resolutions (the Special Committee to Investigate Human Rights Practices). This was a decision made by Former President Martinelli, who had excellent ties with Israel and the Jewish community. This year, Panama’s U.N. representative cast a “yes” vote when this resolution was put to a vote at the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee. A pretty dramatic change as it is unusual for countries to move from “no” to “yes.” The local Jewish community reached out to President Carlos Varela and this is probably why, when the resolution was taken up by the plenary, Panama abstained. Still, this move from “no” to “abstain” represents an important setback in the bilateral relations between Panama and Israel.
The current political environment is certainly favorable for the relations between Israel and Latin America to grow. And there is a lot that Israel can contribute to the countries of the region in the fields of agriculture, technology, security, science, education, etc. But Israel must ensure that the improvement of its ties with several Latin American states has a certain impact in the way these countries vote at the U.N., especially when it comes to resolutions that makes it possible for a powerful and strongly biased anti-Israel propaganda apparatus to operate under the U.N. roof.
Nov. 29, 1947 is a date the United Nations should always remember as a day of serious accomplishment of the principles on which it was founded.
This was the day Resolution 181 established the Jewish State and an Arab State.
But, in the last 40 years, the U.N. changed its own history. Every Nov. 29, the UN General Assembly celebrates the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” a shameful fabrication.
History has been erased by the U.N.
When the USSR vanished and Iran penetrated Latin America, perpetrating two terrorist attacks in Argentina (in 1992 and 1994), anti-Israeli leaders came out. First, it was Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, who was faithfully followed by his heir Nicolas Maduro. Evo Morales from Bolivia, Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua followed the same steps. Venezuela and Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel; Chavez cursed Israel and other Latin American presidents did the same. Even a president who did not break relations with Israel took the opportunity to curse it: Jose Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, said that “Israel was perpetrating a genocide in Gaza (2014)” and anti-Semitism came out in Uruguay as it was never known before.
In this frame of anti-Semitism, hidden behind the mask of anti-Israelism, it is not surprising that Horacio Sevilla Borja, the Ecuadorean ambassador to the U.N., equated Israel with Nazism last week on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It is not only the Iranian style of Jewish hatred but also the Jewish hatred experienced in several Latin American countries over the last decade.
Sevilla Borja said: “We repudiate with all our strength the persecution and genocide that in its time unleashed Nazism against the Hebrew people. But I cannot remember anything more similar in our contemporary history than the eviction, persecution and genocide that today imperialism and Zionism do against the Palestinian people”.
On Monday, Dec. 5, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned Ecuadorian embassy’s third secretary, Enrique Ponce, for an “urgent meeting,” to protest Sevilla’s remarks.
Diplomatically, this is what Israel has to do and can do.
But let´s clarify a little more. Sevilla Borja is not a newcomer in diplomacy. He has been an ambassador in Latin American and European countries. He has been serving Ecuador a long time in the international field. He is a very distinguished and awarded lawyer and professor in international law.
The decision to equate Israel with Nazi Germany is a perverse diplomatic action which was carefully thought out before it was said. It was not his personal decision but a decision of the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador. Clearly, he spoke on behalf of his country. And he, of course, agreed to relay this message, full of hatred and incitement.
We do not know if Ecuador is going to excuse itself. If it does not, it would be much more sincere than if it does. The spreading of Jewish hatred has not diminished. During the 2014 Gaza war, the accusations against Israel in the region came from unions, academia, the media, but first were presidents like Rafael Correa, among others.
Ambassador Sevilla Borja is to be blamed. He expressed his hateful message because he believed in it. But let´s not stop with the messenger. His statement has not been an exception or an accident. It has been the result of policies of hatred which will not stop. Not soon, at least.
Promoting Education And Anti-Discrimination Legislation: Two Important Ways To Combat Anti-Semitism And Other Forms Of Bigotry Globally
The Case of a Small City in Argentina
A few weeks ago, there was an anti-Semitic incident in the city of Bariloche, a major tourist destination in the southwestern part of Argentina. It is common for Argentine students to travel there when they graduate from high school.
A group of Jewish students from the ORT School in Buenos Aires were at a disco when they started to receive insults from another group of students, from a German School, who were wearing swastikas and Hitler costumes. The students from ORT alerted the managers of the disco but nobody took the appropriate measures and, therefore, there was apparently a fight between the two groups.
Officials from the city apologized later on and the German school took appropriate disciplinary measures. But the incident sparked a number of other of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country.
One of them happened in my hometown, Salta, a relatively small city in the northwestern part of the country. Carlos Paz, the ombudsman of a district called Cerrillos, allegedly posted an outrageous anti-Semitic message on his Facebook page, stating:
"Sh***y Jews, I am tired of them, always appearing as the victim. They are the ones that segregate millions of Palestinians, build walls, have racist laws, murder and advise terrorist organizations and murderous States, like they did with Apartheid South Africa. Now they are judging young people for wearing German clothes from WWII. And we cannot even say ‘sh***y Jew’ because we are labeled as racists and human garbage…”
The post went on to imply that the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish center was a self-inflicted attack and that the Jews want people to believe Iran was responsible. The message ended again with the phrase "sh***y Jews, I am tired of them," and was accompanied by several articles, one of them stating that the Holocaust was a lie.
Paz is not only the ombudsman of the district but also teaches philosophy at several local high schools.
Fortunately, INADI, the country’s agency that combats discrimination, xenophobia and racism (created after the AMIA bombing) acted immediately and joined the local Jewish community in its denunciation of the incident. Several government officials strongly condemn the incident as well.
As a result, the ombudsman is now suspended from his position and will apparently face an impeachment process through the local legislature. He was also suspended from his teaching positions and is facing criminal charges (because of an existing anti-discrimination law).
Independently of what ends up happening with this particular person (who is now orchestrating a pretty clever defense by stating that his Facebook account was hacked), it is important to note the swift and positive measures that the local government, the judiciary and the nation’s anti-discrimination agency took. Some years ago, an incident like this would have not generated such a strong response, particularly in a city like Salta, a small and traditional place where anti-Semitic manifestations were not at all uncommon.
There are three factors that, in my opinion, contributed to these very positive developments. The first one is the anti-discrimination law that the Argentine Parliament passed back in 1988, which has gradually become more widely known and used. The second one is the creation of INADI, in 1995, which has not only played a key role at creating awareness among the general population about the need to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance, but also expanded the use of the existing anti-discrimination law in a considerable way. And the last factor is Argentina’s decision to join the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2002. Until then, the Holocaust was either absent in the curricula of most schools or studied in a very tangential way.
As this case shows, anti-discrimination laws can play a very important role in the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance. Anti-Semites and bigots of all kinds will continue to exist but these laws can certainly force them to watch what they do and limit the negative effects that their hateful acts can have in society.
In this regard, it is worth noting that B’nai B’rith International has long advocated for the approval of anti-discrimination legislation in many countries throughout the region, working in conjunction with other minorities and vulnerable groups. And—at the hemispheric level—B’nai B’rith has worked for many years at the Organization of American States to make the approval of two major Inter-American anti-discrimination conventions a reality.
The other—and perhaps most important—tool in the fight against bigotry is, of course, education. And B’nai B’rith can be proud of its work in this field as well. Our districts and units across Latin America have not only advocated for the passing of legislation that makes Holocaust education mandatory in schools but also played a very active role in promoting educational programs that teach respect for diversity and human rights. As the case of Salta demonstrates, this is definitely something worth continuing.
Dilma Rousseff has to leave the Brazilian presidency. A Senate majority vote of 61 to 20, no abstentions, ousted her under the accusation that she “used illegal means to hide holes in the federal budget, exacerbated a recession and high inflation.” The impeachment procedure established under Brazilian law ended with her second term as president.
Another vote to ban Rousseff to participate in elections and be elected was defeated, so if she wants she could be a candidate in 2019.
Michel Temer, acting president during the time the impeachment has lasted, became the formal Brazilian president on Aug. 31, and his term will end on Jan. 1, 2019.
Rousseff, who was imprisoned during the country’s dictatorship in the 1960s, said she broke no laws, and argued that she was forced to make tough choices on the budget in the face of declining revenues, and accused that her problem was the refusal by opponents in Congress to work with her.
Rousseff had sharp words on Monday for her former vice president, Temer, who took over when she was suspended and will finish the term as president. She called him a “usurper” and “racist.” Temer, whose family is from Christian Lebanese origin, is trying to face the very difficult economic situation Brazil is going through with high rates of unemployment and inflation.
A large number of members of Congress and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have been implicated in a number of corruption scandals. It is another front that Temer has to face. Watchdog groups estimate 60 percent of the 594 lawmakers in both chambers are being investigated for wrongdoing, many for corruption.
Rousseff and her predecessor Lula Da Silva ruled Brazil for more than a decade. Together with former Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina; Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela; Rafael Correa in Ecuador; Evo Morales in Bolivia; the Castros´ in Cuba; and Jose Mujica in Uruguay (2005-2010), there was created a wide net of populist governments, which engaged with Iran and utterly anti-Israel and anti-American.
Today the political map has changed. Argentina voted for another type of ruling when they elected Mauricio Macri last year; Rousseff has been ousted by impeachment; Venezuela is economically and politically ruined; Cuba is trying to approach the United States and Uruguay changed in last year´s election for a most moderate leftist like Tabare Vazquez for president.
These changes have created a serious political division in the region.
Presidents like Temer, Macri, Horacio Cartes (Paraguay) have joined the new President of Peru Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia to face and reject the violent populism of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
With regard to Israel, it once again has democratic governments in Latin America with which to deal, to conduct business and to receive proper designation as the only democratic country in the Middle East.
The immediate future of Brazil is still uncertain. The economic crisis is the most important challenge that Temer has to face. If Brazil gets some improvements in its economy, the region will feel relieved and democracy will have a better chance to be sustainable.
Populist Presidents like Maduro and Morales have accused the Brazilian Congress of attempting a coup against Rousseff. That is absurd, legally speaking, because impeachment is a procedure established in the Brazilian constitution, and there has been no shadow of any coup. On the other hand, the confrontation between democracies and populists will go deeper, so not only the political relations will suffer, but the economic links too.
This is “the framework of uncertainty” for the immediate future in Brazil and its neighbors. Time is of the essence, so we will have to wait no less than until the end of the year to watch if Brazil can recover, and if the dangerous instability in Venezuela does not create another regional unrest.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
Across Latin America, Iran presents itself as a very normal country wanting to deliver its culture and share it with ordinary people.
Mosques and cultural centers want to show Iran´s point: “We are peaceful and we want to spread peace all over the world.”
Iran wants to distract from its nuclear race and the terrorist attacks in Argentina in 1992 and 1994.
Venezuela opened its doors to Iran 10 years ago and Iran took advantage of it, directly or through Hezbollah in South and Central America. But, Iran envisioned that allies like Venezuela or Bolivia may not endure forever as authoritarian regimes, so it has also advanced its agenda with mosques and missionaries.
Tehran’s use of clerics as unofficial agents of the Iranian revolution started in the 1980s and Latin America was not forgotten in this field. The first cleric to reach Latin America was Mohsen Rabbani, who, in 1983, went to Argentina to lead the Al-Tawhid mosque and serve as a halal meat inspector in Buenos Aires. Both tasks appeared innocent, but Rabbani was deeply involved in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured over 300.
In 1984, Sheikh Taleb Hussein al-Khazraji made his way to Brazil. Both Rabbani and Khazraji were cited by the Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman (found dead in his apartment a year and a half ago, two days before he was expected to present criminal charges against the former Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner) in his 2013 report on Iran’s Latin American networks.
According to Nisman, “Interpol [Brasilia] informed that Khazraji was an employee of the Iranian government and ... was engaged in recruiting highly politicized believers to get them close to Teheran.”
Though Rabbani left Latin America due to the accusation of his involvement in the AMIA bombing, he continues to run his recruitment program from Iran’s center of religious learning in Qom.
Khazraji remains in the Shia community of São Paulo, Brazil, where he pursues his “clerical tasks.”
According to a very serious investigation of Emanuele Ottolenghi, an expert in Islamic penetration in Latin America, “another cleric reportedly linked to Hezbollah is Sheikh Ghassan Youssef Abdallah. Abdallah is active in Chile, in Brazil (frequently visiting the tri-border area), and in Paraguay (where he once ran the Iranian mosque in Ciudad Del Este).”
Ottolenghi explains: “They are not alone. Alongside dozens of Iranian and Lebanese Shia clerics, there is also a new generation of locally born clerics who have joined their ranks. Converts are routinely sent to Qom, all expenses paid, to attend Iranian seminaries specially tailored to Spanish and Portuguese speakers, before they return home to act as Iran’s unofficial emissaries in their countries of birth.”
During his term, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the region numerous times, attempting to influence the region, including: Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua. Iranian influence and Hezbollah activities use religious envoys to deliver messages of hate toward the Jewish people and Israel.
In June 2014, the Imam Ali mosque in Curitiba hosted a well-attended memorial service for a young Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria in March 2014. His Brazilian uncle, wearing a Hezbollah scarf, led the memorial, and praised his nephew as a martyr.
Latin American governments should recognize the threat posed by a foreign power spreading hatred to local populations.
The bombings in Argentina in 1992 and 1994, the freedom of Hezbollah members to traffic drugs in Venezuela and Central America, the anti-Semitic hatred in social media; the murder of a Jewish businessman this year in Uruguay, stabbed by a converted Islamist who said “he had received a call from Allah to kill a Jew,” are enough examples of hate crime, terrorism and hate speech.
And hate crimes and hate speech are a threat for all countries and their populations. If governments and civil society recognize that everybody is under threat, more tragedies could be avoided.
Still Waiting for Justice: 22 Years After the AMIA Bombing Rocked Buenos Aires (English and Español)
This piece was also run on The Times of Israel. You can click below to read it there.
More from Adriana Camisar
The Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should have been the most important event during the 46th General Assembly in Santo Domingo. It is the first instrument in OAS history to promote and protect the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
But the situation in Venezuela was the main issue discussed, both on and off the record.
Next week, Permanent Council will convene to discuss the report on Venezuela, made a month ago by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, invoking the Democratic Charter.
Since then, Venezuela started a face-to-face fight between the secretary general and the Venezuelan Government.
During the General Assembly, Venezuela presented a resolution to diminish the secretary general’s role. Among the proposal’s “resolves” are:
To express its profound concern at the conduct of the Secretary General of the Organization, Luis Leonardo Almagro Lemes, especially his abuse of authority and exceeding of the powers conferred on him under the OAS Charter and the General Standards to Govern the Operations of the General Secretariat, and at his violation and lack of respect for the Code of Ethics of the General Secretariat
To urge the Secretary General to abstain from any activity, regardless of whether or not it is specifically prohibited by the General Standards to Govern the Operations of the General Secretariat, that may result in, or give the impression of resulting in: a) Giving preferential treatment to any organization or person; b) Losing complete independence or impartiality of action; c) Making an administrative decision without observing established procedures; d) Adversely affecting the good name and integrity of the General Secretariat.”
To request the Permanent Council to report to the General Assembly at its forty-seventh regular session on compliance with this resolution.
Venezuela is attempting to diminish the secretary general because he is the only one denouncing, in detail, the ongoing violation of human rights by Maduro´s regime. His 132-page report, which will be discussed next week, has been compelling and emphatic.
There is a very deep division between the ALBA countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela) and a group of 15 countries which want to find a real solution to the the Venezuelan people’s is suffering. Those 15 countries decided to issue a statement before the end of the OAS GA, a sort of a preamble for the meeting of the Permanent Council next week.
Statement by Ministers and Heads of Delegation on the Situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, United States of America and Uruguay
We, Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS), reaffirm our commitment to the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which proclaims that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it”, and our commitment with the respect of the principle of noninterference, universal principles and values of democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech and association;
If the OAS Permanent Council rejects the request of the secretary general to move forward and stops the violation of human rights in Venezuela, Almagro will not be defeated, but OAS will.
In the last decade, Iran has penetrated Latin America, Hezbollah has the freedom to move inside Latin America and it is all happening in Venezuela.
There is no real judiciary system, no freedom speech and far too many politic prisoners.
After so many years, OAS has used its secretary general to speak out. The statement of the 15 countries is cautious, but it is a step forward. How many more steps are they ready to advance? Today, it is uncertain.
In the private meeting between B’nai B’rith International and Secretary General Almagro in Santo Domingo during the OAS GA, Almagro was very clear when he told us that he will not answer to more insults and threats; he follow OAS rules and defend the respect of the Democratic Charter.
Now, the Permanent Council will have to show its commitment to democracy next week.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is on the brink of collapse. The tragedy has simmered over decades, culminating in civil unrest, barren shelves, looting, riots and lacking institutions, which have captured headlines for two years. President Nicolas Maduro continues to shift the blame externally for Venezuela’s woes, faulting an axis of foreign companies, the United States and other dark foreign forces.
In reality, the challenges stem from a melding of socialism and authoritarianism that has systematically destroyed Venezuela’s capacity across industries. According to the International Monetary Fund, the Venezuelan economy is expected to shrink 8% this year, with inflation rising to a staggering 720%. And the government has dug its heels in. Venezuela has avoided technical assistance from the I.M.F. and other international institutions for economies in crisis. Maduro’s public is fed up.
The Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis found that 68 percent of Venezuelans want Maduro gone. At the beginning of May, the national coalition of opposition parties got the ball rolling on a recall referendum to remove him from power before his term is set to end in 2019. The coalition delivered over 1.85 million signatures, nearly 10 times the number required to launch the recall process.
All expect that the referendum may be hard to push through, with the understanding that the National Electoral Council is staffed by loyalists to the Bolivarian revolution. As if that weren’t enough of an obstacle, rolling blackouts have the workweek reduced to two days. The ostensible effort to preserve electricity will strangle the agency’s already stagnated capacity to a slow drip.
For years, Venezuela has employed petro-diplomacy to buy regional allies, and has counted on the support of both those still loyal to Maduro and those simply reluctant to criticize. But Petrocaribe influence is curbed by the drying of Venezuela’s reserves and its economic collapse.
Meanwhile, Maduro declared a state of emergency in order "to tend to our country and more importantly to prepare to denounce, neutralize and overcome the external and foreign aggressions against our country." In truth, Maduro is silencing a growing domestic opposition through intimidation.
All of that is not to say that Venezuela isn’t feeling any external pressure or criticism. On Wednesday, May 11, Maduro accused Secretary General of the Organization of American States Mr. Luis Almagro of being a traitor and an agent of the CIA. This continued a row that began last year when Almagro accused the Venezuelan government of manipulating judicial independence, stifling political dissent and impeding free media.
Almagro, a bold critic of Maduro and his government, retorted with a public letter addressed to the Venezuelan president, likening him to petty dictators that have plagued the hemisphere. “You betray your people and your supposed ideology with your rambling tirades, you are a traitor to ethics in politics with your lies and you betray the most sacred principle in politics, which is to subject yourself to the scrutiny of your people.” Almagro is expected to convene a special session at the OAS invoking the democratic charter to discuss abuses, use of excessive force, censorship and the erosion of other fundamental rights in Venezuela.
For years, Venezuela has employed petro-diplomacy to buy regional allies, and has counted on the support of both those still loyal to Maduro and those simply reluctant to criticize. But Petrocaribe influence is curbed by the drying of Venezuela’s reserves and its economic collapse.
For the United States’ part, officials have predicted Maduro is not likely to be allowed to complete his term, but acknowledged that Washington has little leverage. In a briefing to reporters, the administration expressed its hope for regional efforts to help keep the country from complete collapse.
They also expressed concern for a possible spillover to infect neighboring countries, and rightly so. The stability of Latin America is greatly impacted by the unrest in Venezuela, and vice versa. Venezuela has proven a breeding ground for Iranian infiltration into the region, just another dangerous symptom of unchecked corruption and misery. On the flip side, the calls for referendum are certainly emboldened by the ongoing impeachment scandal of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff.
Drastic steps must be taken to reverse the economic meltdown and erosion of democratic values. But it is highly likely that the government will continue business as usual in order to maintain its power. Would Venezuela consider swallowing the tough pill of privatizing portions of the oil industry and simultaneously convince foreign investors that it will enforce the rule of law and allow the companies to operate unimpeded? It’s doubtful the government will change course. Can Maduro turn the tide on popular distrust and civil unrest? A seemingly insurmountable task. And can regional actors stand up for principled measures to ensure justice and human rights for their neighbors in Venezuela? What’s to follow leaves us with uncertainty, but the status quo is dire.
It is not the best for any democracy to impeach a president who has been elected by the book. But there is no doubt that the impeachment process that Brazil has started, which is going to take six months, is according to the constitutional law of Brazil.
The rhetoric of an “institutional coup” comes from populist leaders of the region who believe any politics are above the law and the constitution.
When Dilma Rousseff says “I never imagined that it would be necessary to fight once again against a coup in this country,” she is inciting to unrest, something that also populist rulers have used very frequently in the last decade.
Corruption brought political and economic distress, and corruption has dragged Brazil to the current situation.
Since the calls began many months ago, millions have rallied in the streets of Sao Paulo, Rio and other major cities to demand Rousseff’s impeachment. Responding to this social unrest, Rousseff compared the attempts to impeach her over corruption to the Nazi persecution of Jews. Mauro Wainstock, editor of Alef News, Rio’s Jewish newspaper, wrote of the statement, “Comparing peaceful democratic rallies to the Nazi genocidal machine is an unfortunate and ridiculously absurd insult to all the victims and their families.” The cavalier use of the Nazi regime as a point of comparison serves to desensitize the public to the unique horrors of the Holocaust. Brazil deserves better.
The weakness of the impeachment as a political move is that the charges are limited to budget technicalities instead of the Petrobras scandal and investigation of this state-owned oil company, which is tainting almost the entire political class.
It is a time of uncertainty, not only for Brazil, but for all South America.
The Brazilian situation produces a great damage to South America as a whole. Brazil is the giant, the largest territory, the largest population, the largest production. South America needs a strong and prestigious Brazil, otherwise MERCOSUR will be paralyzed and the rest of the countries will suffer.
Brazilian Foreign Policy in the last decade since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva came first to power has supported leaders like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela; Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela; Cristina Kirchner in Argentina; Raul Castro in Cuba; Rafael Correa in Ecuador; and Evo Morales in Bolivia. And beyond the region, Brazil started the relationship with the Arab League, with Iran and the ongoing criticism to Israel in every U.N. agency, in MERCOSUR, in OAS.
It was Brazil that rejected months ago the appointment of Danny Dayan as Israeli ambassador in a very uncommon diplomatic act of contempt against Israel sovereignty.
It is very uncertain if Brazil will make any changes in its foreign policies in the next six months while Rousseff is suspended. Michel Temer is the interim president, and Jose Serra a center right politician who has been governor of Sao Pablo and senator will be the foreign minister.
At least, we can hope that the policies vis a vis the Middle East will be warmer with Israel and should be critical with terrorism and states sponsoring terrorism.
Argentina immediately recognized the interim president. Uruguay has said that it will keep working side by side with the “Brazilian Government.” Chile has underlined that “there is concern before the situation in Brazil, but we hope that the democratic institutions prevail.” Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, will work with Temer too.
Venezuela, which is suffering the worst economic crisis ever known in that country, and is under a very serious political unrest, “supports” Dilma Rousseff. Ecuador and Bolivia are still cautious
In 60 days we will know if Interim President Temer has been able to start recovering the Brazilian economy and then the political stability.
In 60 days we will know if Interim President Temer and his ministers have been able to show a different face in international affairs, getting closer to democracies and putting aside populist governments that have brought pain and misery to the region.
And in a short time, Rousseff will have to show if her party and herself are able to recover and face the impeachment with a strength they do not have today.
It is a time of uncertainty, not only for Brazil, but for all South America.
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