Dhaka, Bangladesh
Extremist groups well placed to exploit Venezuela’s troubles

Off the track

Extremist groups well placed to exploit Venezuela’s troubles

Dr. Theodore Karasik

As the Trump administration continues to support Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido over President Nicolas Maduro because of an apparently fraudulent presidential election, the impact of the crisis on the country itself is becoming apparent. Civil disorder, which has been building for months, is occurring in various parts of Venezuela and tens of thousands of refugees are entering neighboring countries. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Security Adviser John Bolton announced sweeping sanctions aimed at weakening Maduro’s grip on the oil-rich country by freezing state-owned oil company PDVSA’s assets and prohibiting US companies and citizens from conducting business with it. More than 100 individuals, entities and aircraft have been designated as blocked property. But there is a bigger picture. As the bifurcating world looks upon Venezuela’s immediate future, there are other factors that contribute to the unstable political landscape of the northern cone of Latin America, which also includes Colombia, Suriname and Guyana. Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is also clustered into this geographical area, as are the Netherlands Antilles. Efforts to tackle terrorism, narcotics and the groups behind them, including Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and Daesh, focus on individual issues of terrorism and crime in the northern cone. The Trump administration’s actions are certain to heat up this area in terms of the activity of these groups’ supporters. Extremist groups’ capabilities in this area include the presence of Hezbollah on Isla de Margarita and Al-Qaeda and Daesh’s recruitment activity in T&T. The latter has been a hub for those two groups, specifically the activity of Jose Padilla in terms of delivering a potential dirty bomb to the US after 9/11, but also for sending recruits to the Levant to fight on behalf of Daesh. Al-Qaeda supporters were also thought to have used free-trade zones in Latin America in the mid-2000s to move money. The population that supports such groups in the northern cone is an underestimated concern in the current environment. Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and Daesh have all been seen in the northern cone and use the area for recruitment and transit. 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.

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