Spurred on by both Venezuela’s relationships in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and his hatred of Western capitalism, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has fallen into political step with some of the most dangerous players in the Middle East and, in doing so, has become an increasingly outspoken detractor of Israel:
- Chavez has situated himself in direct opposition to the U.S. and much of the West, billing himself as the successor to Fidel Castro-the next anti-imperialist leader of Latin America.
- Chavez’s anti-Zionism hit a peak during the July-August 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war when he vehemently condemned Israel’s military operations in Lebanon and voiced solidarity with Hezbollah and its backers in Damascus and Tehran.
- Venezuela has had a longstanding relationship with many Arab and Muslim states due to its oil resources and its membership in OPEC, yet in the pre-Chavez era such relationships did not influence the country’s political views on Israel. This is obviously not the case today; Chavez has extended his economic ties with many Middle Eastern countries into full-blown political alliances.
- Terrorist groups in the Middle East have found Venezuela and other South American states a fertile breeding ground for satellite chapters. Recent reports on the presence of the emerging group “Hezbollah Latin America” have been a source of concern for Latin American Jewry who witnessed firsthand the impact of extremism, such as the terrorist attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in Argentina in the 1990s. Hezbollah Latin America has called for a jihad in the region.
Chavez rose to power through Venezuela’s military with a vision of anti-capitalist “Bolivarian” reforms. Riding a tide of anger after the 1989 El Caracazo riots, during which Venezuelan government security forces killed hundreds of citizens in Caracas protesting the country’s dire economic situation, Chavez staged a coup attempt in 1992. While unsuccessful, the effort and Chavez’s subsequent national exposure set the stage for his successful presidential run in 1998. Once in power, Chavez pursued an aggressive socialist agenda during which he transformed the country’s legislature and removed the power of political opponents. Chavez faced a coup attempt of his own in 2002 and blamed the unsuccessful episode on the United States, further cementing his hatred of America and his growing alliances with the West’s enemies in the Middle East and elsewhere.