A major Iranian-backed terrorist group is using drug trafficking operations in Venezuela to fund operations in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday according to washingtonexaminer.com.
“It is mostly a money-making enterprise,” Pompeo said of Hezbollah’s Venezuela operations during a Senate panel Tuesday afternoon. “That is, it is designed to generate revenues for Hezbollah and its activities, which are largely conducted in the Middle East — to help them make payroll throughout the Middle East.”
Pompeo’s assessment served to highlight the Iranian presence in South America while tempering the nature of the worry over terrorist operations there. Pompeo provided that perspective to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, but Venezuela was a recurring theme of the wide-ranging discussion.
“The Venezuelan state — most senior officials, state-run enterprises, police and security forces, etc. — is complicit directly in transnational organized crime,” retired Ambassador Roger Noriega, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said in testimony prepared for the second panel of the hearing. “No domestic Venezuelan force is willing or able to confront this pervasive criminality, making international investigations, sanctions, and prosecutions indispensable to dismantling this narcostate.”
Pompeo, speaking earlier in the hearing, allowed that Hezbollah’s agents aren’t “at the top of the list in terms of bad actors” by volume of drugs trafficked into the United States, but the operations they do run are “very difficult” to thwart.
“That doesn’t mean we’re giving up. We’re certainly working on it,” he said. “We have folks working on the border between Venezuela and Colombia, the Brazilian border, all the places we can touch and reach, but it is the case that we no longer even have an embassy in Venezuela, so it is difficult for us to do that.”
Pompeo withdrew U.S. diplomats from Caracas in March, due to concern that strongman Nicolás Maduro — whom President Trump denounced as an illegitimate leader before backing a top opposition lawmaker as the interim president of the country — would no longer guarantee their safety.
“So we monitor, collect intelligence, and attempt to identify networks and work on them in places that surround Venezuela,” Pompeo said.