Lebanese Hezbollah controls vast swaths of territory in Venezuela, has close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and leads drug trafficking and illegal gold mining efforts in the country, Venezuelan opposition ambassador to the UK Vanessa Neumann told Al Arabiya English in an exclusive interview.
“The Hezbollah presence in Venezuela has been part of the death and suffering of my people. [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah is interfering in our politics and giving training to murder, starve, and oppress us,” Neumann said in an interview at the IISS Manama Dialogue summit in Bahrain.
Neumann described how Hezbollah controls swaths of territory in the country.
In Venezuela’s western region, the group has led a drug trafficking organization for decades, according to Neumann, who says she was relayed this information by Hezbollah commanders in 2012 in Beirut.
In the eastern region, Hezbollah is profiting from illegal gold mining, with the gold being transferred to Turkey and Iran on airplanes owned by Maduro, said Neumann. Venezuela is known to have some of the world’s largest gold reserves.
Hezbollah, which Iran assisted in founding and continues to back today, is designated as a terrorist organization by many countries including the US. Despite Hezbollah being most known for its destabilizing and terrorist activities in Lebanon and Syria, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the organization has active cells throughout South America, specifically mentioning Venezuela during an interview in February.
Neumann said Venezuela’s relationship with Hezbollah and its backer Iran “comes straight from the top.”
“Nicolas Maduro has direct relations with Hezbollah. Maduro’s foreign minister Jorge Arreaza visits Hassan Nasrallah directly,” said Neumann.
Syrian-Lebanese Venezuelan Tareck El Aissami, who currently serves as Minister of Industries and National Production under Maduro, is “Hezbollah’s main point of contact, bagman in Venezuela,” according to Neumann.
The US blacklisted El Aissami for drug trafficking in 2017. El Aissami and his family have helped sneak Lebanese Hezbollah militants into the country, gone into business with a drug lord and shielded 140 tons of chemicals believed to be used for cocaine production, according to a secret dossier reported by The New York Times.
Neumann says she hopes the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will help fight the Maduro-Hezbollah alliance in Venezuela.
“Hezbollah are part of the repressive regime. While they help our oppressors and our murderers, they personally enrich themselves. By helping us purge the Hezbollah influence, it will help us attain the free and democratic Venezuela we are trying to attain,” said Neumann.
Neumann was appointed to her position as ambassador to the UK by Venezuela’s interim ruler Juan Guaido, who assumed his position in January following the disputed re-election of his rival Maduro. Guaido is recognized as Venezuela’s leader by almost 60 countries, including the US and UK.
Venezuela, once one of the richest countries in South America, is now in the midst of one of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian crises. Government repression and economic recession have caused a mass exodus. It is estimated the number of refugees will reach eight million by the end of 2021.
Venezuelans are faced with deadly shortages of food and medicine.
Neumann said Hezbollah is part of the system that keeps Venezuelans hungry while personally enriching themselves.
“We have hundreds of thousands of children starving and every morning a mother has to decide which of her children she is going to feed because she can’t feed all of them. And Hezbollah is intricately involved in this,” said Neumann.