By Eva Silkwood, Research Assistant, and Walter Rodriguez, Research Intern to Latin America Senior Fellow John (Jay) Cope
Should the U.S. government be concerned with Syria’s foray into Latin America?
This past weekend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first official visit to Venezuela, as part of a larger tour of Latin America to include Cuba, Brazil and Argentina (President Chavez had previously visited Syria in 2006 and 2009). The two presidents discussed speeding up Syrian-Venezuelan cooperation and signed trade, tourism, and energy MOUs, including plans for the construction of an oil refinery in Syria which will begin operating in 2013 with a production capacity of 145,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan crude oil. President al-Assad said that Syria is seeking “a strategic relationship with Latin America, which starts from the strategic relationship between Syria and Venezuela.”
However, this is not necessarily a new relationship – President Chavez has cultivated diplomatic ties with Syria since 2000. It should be no surprise that Syria wishes to engage more with Venezuela since a small but influential community of Muslim Arabs of Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian descent lives there. However, of greater concern is the growing presence of Hezbollah in Venezuela. Ties between Iran and Venezuela in the form of weekly flights linking Caracas and Tehran via Damascus are also worrisome as some analysts have suggested the poorly regulated flights may be aiding the unrestricted flow of money and agents from Middle Eastern terrorist groups.