- By José R. CárdenasJose R. Cardenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.
Tomorrow the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a joint subcommittee hearing on "Venezuela’s Sanctionable Activity." The hearing follows the Obama administration’s recent announcement of sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and a military armaments entity for illicit dealings with Iran.
Congress has been at the forefront in pressing the administration to further unravel the dangerous Venezuela-Iran relationship to identify and sanction activities found to be aiding Iran’s international sanctions-busting campaign and that threaten U.S. security interests. There is no shortage of opportunities. It is, as they say, a target-rich environment.
In fact, the next target should be the Venezuelan airline Conviasa, which is operating secretive weekly flights between Venezuela, Iran, and Syria. We do not know for certain who or what is aboard these flights because passengers are not subject to immigration and customs controls and cargo manifests are not made public.
Published reports, however, indicate the flights are ferrying terrorists and weapons between the Western Hemisphere and the Middle East, meaning that that these flights should be targeted immediately using Treasury Department anti-terrorism authorities.
For example, it was widely reported that Abdul Kadir, a Guyanese national who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 2007 terrorist plot to explode fuel tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, was arrested in Trinidad as he was attempting to board a flight to Venezuela. From there, he was to planning to continue on to Iran on the Conviasa flight.
U.S. authorities established that on previous trips to Iran, Kadir met with Iranian official Mohsen Rabbani, who is wanted in Argentina for his role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires.
Rabbani has also been identified by Brazilian intelligence as someone who continues to covertly travel to Brazil and other countries in the region seeking converts to Iran’s radical version of Islam for training in Iran. They say he enters the continent aboard the Conviasa flight, which they have dubbed "Aero-Terror."
Citing Western intelligence reports, La Stampa of Italy reports that the bulk of the passengers are made up of intelligence officials and military officers of the three countries. It also said the flights are designed to move military and military-related matériel between Venezuela, Iran, and Syria that are banned under international sanctions, such as components for missile systems.
U.S. officials have already expressed their concerns publicly about the flights, so now is the time to act.
Under Executive Order 13324, either the State or Treasury Departments can designate Conviasa as an entity providing material support for terrorism through its services to suspect individuals and entities and thereby bar it from engaging in U.S.-dollar-denominated transactions.
Since most international transactions are done in U.S. dollars, such a measure would effectively cripple "Aero-Terror" operations, as most foreign banks would simply prohibit business with Conviasa rather than imperil their broader access to the U.S. financial system.
Iran is pursuing a head-long campaign to ward off international sanctions and preposition assets in the event of its cold war with the West turning hot — and its pliant ally in Hugo Chavez is all-too-willing to be an accomplice in that effort. The U.S. has the means to deter this growing menace before it’s too late. All that’s needed is the will to act.