It should come as no surprise that Venezuela, and likely Bolivia, are supporting Iran’s nuclear ambitions by exporting uranium to the mullahs. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has been supporting the Iranian regime during the past few years in a somewhat vain attempt to upset the regional power balance in Latin America against the United States.
With the support and guidance from Cuban leaders in Havana, Chavez has penned political, economic, and cultural agreements with Iran that has facilitated Iran’s presence in the Americas. So good are these relations that Iranians can travel without a visa from Tehran to Caracas, thereby avoiding detection by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence.
Iran needs friends in South and Central America for a variety of reasons, one the most important of which is tapping the vast uranium reserves found in Bolivia and Venezuela. And it is not just for nefarious reasons. There are other nuclear powers that also tap regional uranium sources, and other natural resources, for energy and related needs. Iran, however, is not ordinary nation and its seemingly regional dalliances have gone largely unchecked for some time. It has become a permanent player.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Israel’s foreign ministry has a three-page document that outlines, with evidence, how Venezuela and Bolivia have been supporting Iran’s nuclear program. According to the article, “[t]here are reports that Venezuela supplies Iran with uranium for its nuclear program,” the Foreign Ministry document states, referring to previous Israeli intelligence conclusions. It added, “Bolivia also supplies uranium to Iran.”
If this report and its supporting documentation can shed light on Venezuela’s role in supporting Iran’s nuclear program, it is further evidence to be used in favor of adding Venezuela to the state sponsors of terrorism list of countries. It may not be a popular approach, as it would require that the Obama Administration impose economic sanctions on Venezuela, but it is a prudent way to get Hugo Chavez to, at least try, think about the consequences of his actions.
As Cuba, Venezuela has supported Latin American and Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. It provides safe haven to terror groups and suspected terrorist fugitives including Colombia’s FARC. Most important, he has worked against the U.S. and our allies in combatting terrorism in the Americas. And, by supporting Iran’s nuclear program, he has facilitated the mullah’s quest for the nuclear bomb.
Economic sanctions need not be imposed at the same levels as Iran or Cuba, quite the opposite. A well-targeted approach that aims at limiting exports of sensitive dual-use technologies (that Iran has been likely targeting for purchase through Venezuela) and other controls aimed at limiting travel by certain Venezuelan leaders (such as those responsible for relations with Iran), among others, could be very effective. More robust sanctions such as those aimed at the Venezuelan oil sector, can be held in abeyance for a limited time (Venezuela needs access to U.S. oil refineries and gas stations).
Bottom-line? Mr. Chavez, and to a lesser extent Bolivia’s Morales, are enemies of freedom and rule of law. Even with the many domestic challenges the people in the countries face, including wide-spread poverty, corruption, and no rule of law, they still find time to work against the U.S. and to undermine regional interests wherever and whenever they can.
Treating them as equals, as has been the case during the past eight years, has not worked to bring these people around because they will never work with the U.S., not even the Obama Administration. Anything less than economic isolation would be tantamount to kowtowing and hurting the opposition in those countries who need all the support they can get from the U.S.