Mérida, June 19, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– A “new, unfounded accusation” is how the President of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Civil-Military Front, Lieutenant Colonel Héctor Herrera, described allegations by the U.S. Treasury Department that a Venezuelan diplomat and Venezuelan travel agent, both of Lebanese decent, are financial supporters of the Lebanon-based political and military organization Hezbollah.
The accusations “are more of the same,” said Herrera, whose Civil-Military organization recently test-ran military maneuvers with Venezuelan reservists to defend against a simulated foreign invasion. “Just like the [accusation about] Venezuela’s link with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC),” added Herrera.
Herrera was referring to still unsubstantiated accusations by the U.S. and its chief Latin American ally Colombia that Venezuela and Ecuador, which have negotiated the release of 6 high-profile FARC hostages recently, have financed the Colombian insurgents.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury on Wednesday, the U.S. government has ordered a freeze on the U.S. assets of Ghazi Nasr al Din and Fawzi Kan'an, and prohibited U.S. citizens from engaging in business transactions with these Venezuelans, in accordance with Executive Order 13224, which aims to cut off support to terrorists.
Adam Szubin, the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the Treasury Department, stated “it is extremely troubling to see the Government of Venezuela employing and providing safe harbor to Hezbollah facilitators and fundraisers. We will continue to expose the global nature of Hezbollah's terrorist support network, and we call on responsible governments worldwide to disrupt and dismantle this activity.”
The U.S. government claims Ghazi Nasr al Din used his previous position at the Venezuelan Embassy in Syria and as President of the Shi'a Islamic Center in Caracas to “counsel” Hezbollah donors and give them “specific information on bank accounts” used by Hezbollah, which the U.S. and several other countries label a terrorist organization. Ghazi Nasr al Din is currently the Political Affairs Director for the Venezuelan Embassy in Lebanon.
OFAC also claims Ghazi Nasr al Din “discussed operational issues” with Hezbollah and “facilitated the travel” of members of the organization, once to Caracas and another time to Iran.
Travel assistance for Hezbollah’s “fundraising efforts” is also the charge against Fawzi Kan'an, whose two travel agencies in Caracas were penalized by OFAC Wednesday.
“These are all lies,” Fawzi Kan´an told several reporters in phone interviews from one of his travel agencies Wednesday.
Kan´an explained that he came to Venezuela in 1986 as a refugee from violence in his home country. He claimed to be neither political nor linked with either Hezbollah or the Venezuelan government.
“When someone walks in to buy a ticket I don't have the right to ask them what religion they are. I have all kinds of clients,” said Kan´an.
In an official statement, Hezbollah declared Wednesday that the two men accused by the U.S. are not members of the organization. Hezbollah denounced the “stupid manner” in which the U.S. conducts its foreign affairs, and said it would release a broader statement on the matter on a future date, according to the news agency EFE.
The Venezuelan Communication and Information Minister, Andrés Izarra, told the press Thursday that the Lebanese government has not expressed concern to Venezuela about the accusations raised by OFAC.
“We do not have any formal complaint from Lebanon regarding this or any other issue,” Izarra announced. “If they had any problem requiring investigations, they would have informed our country about it, and they have not,” the minister explained.
Minister Izarra recognized Hezbollah’s status as a legitimate political organization within Lebanon and in the eyes of many countries, including the European Union. “Unlike the U.S. we do not intervene in the internal affairs of others,” Izarra asserted.
The U.S. has fiercely criticized Venezuela for sustaining friendly relations with Iran. Venezuela and Iran recently proposed the creation of a $1.2 billion joint investment fund, and in past deals Iran has shared bicycle and agricultural technology with Venezuela.
In Herrera’s opinion, the U.S.’s persistent accusations against Venezuela “are conjectures, alarmist opinions, what they’re after is to sling mud on the reputation and the management of President Hugo Chávez.”
Herrera further asserted that the U.S. should not accuse others of being terrorists because the U.S. is the principal terrorist and sponsor of terrorist groups worldwide.