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March 2, 2017 8:43 am

Venezuelan Dissident: Trump Administration Should Punish Maduro Regime for Nefarious Activities, Including Iran and Hezbollah Ties That Directly Threaten US Security

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Venezuelan dissident Martin Rodil.

Venezuelan dissident Martin Rodil.

The Trump administration should make the Nicolas Maduro regime pay a price for its nefarious activities — particularly its ties with Iran and Hezbollah — a Venezuelan dissident who lives in the US told The Algemeiner this week.

“There are a lot of tools the US can play with to punish the Venezuelan government,” Martin Rodil — a financial risk analyst based in Washington, DC — said. “That’s why we’re telling the new administration, put the pressure on now. Now is the time for more pressure, to engage with the opposition and try to make democracy come back to Venezuela.”

For example, Rodil pointed out, the US is “the only country still paying in cash for Venezuelan oil. Everybody else is basically paying old debt. The only income that the Venezuelan government has today is from the around 750,000 barrels of oil per day it sells to the United States. If that is affected by a new policy of the US government to reduce or eliminate American purchases of Venezuelan oil, the regime would be dead — it would be gone within days.”

Furthermore, Rodil said, one potential way to respond to Iran’s recent hostile behavior, including a ballistic missile test, would be for the US government to take action against PDVSA — Venezuela’s national oil company, which, according to Rodil, has helped the Islamic Republic evade international sanctions.

Rodil — who calls his activist work, which was further detailed by Bloomberg in December, a “hobby” — has been trying to draw attention to the Venezuela-Iran-Hezbollah nexus for years already, but ran into a stonewall put up by the Obama administration.

“We were told, ‘You are conspiracy theorists, Iran is doing nothing in Venezuela,’” Rodil said. “The Obama people not only did not want to believe, but they started attacking us. And they did so in a pretty effective way. There were rumors put out there that we were paid by nut jobs or by an intelligence agency from a foreign country to drive an agenda.”

“Venezuelans who wanted freedom and the return of democracy got in trouble with the Obama administration because it had three major items on its foreign policy agenda,” Rodil stated. “One was Iran (the nuclear deal). Two was Cuba (the restoration of diplomatic ties). And three was the peace process with FARC in Colombia. The three allies of the Chavistas — Iran, Cuba and FARC.”

“We were trying to say, listen, a lot of people are concerned about the Iranians and you always think about the Middle East where they are,” Rodil continued. “You always think they are moving money to Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan, to one of those neighboring countries. But nobody is realizing they came to the backyard of the United States. They established amazing ties with Hugo Chavez, which at the end of the day was worth over $10 billion — a relationship which no other country in the world was offering to Iran at the time. We were exposing what the Obama administration didn’t want exposed. They wanted to hide it under a carpet. No one was listening to us and the administration was on a honeymoon with Iran.”

The Iran-Venezuela relationship took off a decade ago due to a close personal bond between then-president Chavez — who died in 2013 — and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“What was common between Venezuela and Iran at the time was that both were oil countries governed by crazy people,” Rodil said. “Chavez and Ahmadinejad had one thing in common — they hated the United States and they hated Israel. And they formed an alliance — not between two nations or peoples — but between two regimes, or literally gangs, who were running their countries and decided to get together and do all of this.”

“For Iran,” Rodil went on to say, “it was an amazing opportunity to go use a third-country’s financial infrastructure with the full cooperation of the host country. This, in the middle of the worst period of the sanctions for Iran, there were no other opportunities like that. Even today there aren’t.”

Since Maduro succeeded Chavez after his death, Rodil noted, Venezuela’s relationship with Iran has changed, not due to politics, but rather economics. “The oil prices collapsed in the last three years and made it harder for every oil country to conduct business, because they are dealing with economic crises, like in Venezuela,” he said. “The ties have in fact matured and solidified, but less money is being moved because of the oil prices.”

While Rodil eventually gave up on the Obama administration ever getting tough with Venezuela, he is hopeful about the Trump era.

“There is one person in the new administration who is fully aware of and understands every single thing going on with this and that is General John Kelly of Homeland Security,” Rodil said. “He is the former commander of USSOUTHCOM out of Miami, so he was briefed all the time about this growing problem.”

Just over two weeks ago, the Trump administration imposed sanctions of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami over his alleged role in the international drug trade.

At around the same time, CNN reported that Venezuela may have issued passports and visas to individuals linked with terrorism — including Middle Easterners with Hezbollah ties.

“This means these people can travel visa-free with false identities to about 135 countries around the world,” Rodil said. “That’s a major problem.”

The presence of Iran and Hezbollah in the Western hemisphere, Rodil cautioned, poses a direct threat to the US.

“There is infrastructure in Mexico capable of pushing tons of cocaine and thousands of illegal immigrants into the US every month,” he explained. “If you can move three tons of cocaine across the border, how hard is it for you to do the same with 40 kilograms of explosives? Logistically, it’s the same.”

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