By Andrei Simpson-Satchlian | Opinion Columnist
President Trump’s travel ban is back in the news after the Executive Order was redrafted by the administration. While President Trump’s original travel ban received frenzied coverage, another issue has remained out of the limelight: the Trump Administration’s spotlight on Venezuela. The two issues should neither be treated differently nor independently. Here’s why:
There are only two countries that deserve the ban, instead of the six Muslim-majority countries. The country that did make the list was Iran, while the one that was left out was Venezuela.
As I will explain, the Iranian government, which is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, is looking to infiltrate our country with agents and government-funded terrorists and undermine our national security. This is not an Alex Jones conspiracy theory. This Iranian plan of action was revealed thanks to Venezuela— and here’s where they enter the picture.
On Jan. 4, 2017, Tareck El Aissami ascended to the position of Vice President of Venezuela, after having served as the governor of Aragua and Minister of the Interior and Justice. His appointment as Vice President (VP) by President Nicolas Maduro was perceived by many as an insurance policy. Maduro’s socialist regime—a successor to Hugo Chavez’s socialist dictatorship —is failing by all measurable markers. In order to avoid impeachment, Maduro conspicuously tapped El Aissami as his new VP. Venezuelans won’t impeach Maduro if they know they’ll get El Aissami instead. At the time, El Aissami was already controversial at home for his notorious well-known ties to the Latin American drug trade and Middle Eastern terror groups. Remarkably, it seemed he was unknown to the West – aside from, maybe, the CIA. But, his appointment to Vice President of Venezuela changed that, and he was formally recognized by the United States, although it received little media attention.
On Feb. 13, 2017, the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on Tareck El Aissami, however; the Treasury Department’s official statement only characterized him as an international narcotics trafficker and did not mention his terrorist affiliations. I wonder if this is a result of the US government strictly focusing on his narcotics operations in order to “get him” under the Kingpin Act, or because the United States intelligence agencies are waiting, compiling more information, and building a bigger case against him. Either way, alarming substantiated charges already exist.
In his report, After Nisman: How the Death of a Prosecutor Revealed Iran’s Growing Influence in the Americas, Joseph Humire, Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, reveals that Tareck El Aissami has been Iran’s liaison in Venezuela for the past decade. Iran’s cunning leadership realized that infiltrating government agents and government-sponsored terrorists into the United States with clearly Middle Eastern backgrounds would not be easy. It would be much simpler if the radical Shiite agents and/or terrorists happened to be of a nationality not associated with Islam. Iran recognized that if the terrorists were to come from a Latin American country, they would have had a much easier time getting in due to American stereotypes about terrorists having to be of Middle Eastern descent. The Iranians’ thinking was that the naïve Americans would believe that the tan person with darker features standing before them was a Latino, and thereby Catholic, and thereby not prone to be a terrorist. With this in mind, Iran instructed El Aissami to make their agents and terrorists Venezuelans – even if they weren’t Venezuelan at all. How could El Aissami make troops of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard into Venezuelans? Easily – from 2008 to 2012, El Aissami was the Minister of the Interior and Justice, the very department that deals with Venezuelan citizenship, identification paperwork, etc.
El Aissami’s role as Minister of the Interior and Justice meant that he oversaw the Venezuelan federal department, which manages Venezuelan citizenship. As such, El Aissami had the means to construct false identities, certified by official documentation, for Iranian agents or government-funded terrorists. The Iranians weren’t provided naturalization documents, which referenced their prior status as an Iranian national and their immigration. Instead, their Middle Eastern pasts were entirely replaced with documents declaring these persons to be lifelong Venezuelans with identities that weren’t real. Such documentation is problematic because it is being issued from the source – it is not a fake ID. It is an official, legitimate ID of a fake personality.
This matter has been exacerbated by the recent surge in Venezuelans seeking refuge in the United States for either economic or political reasons. Amongst the asylum seekers are Iranian agents and terrorists with misleading documentation, taking advantage of a refugee crisis. Vetting mass waves of migrants and refugees is already a tall order, and it is remarkable that our security agencies do such a good job. But the Venezuelan government’s manipulation of documents adds another layer.
It is for the reasons laid out above that I believe there are two countries in the world deserving a travel ban: Iran and Venezuela. This is not because of their peoples, but because of their governments. Iran’s cunning and malicious government has found a bedfellow in Venezuela’s corrupt government. Together, the two have crafted a nexus of international terrorism and narcotics trafficking —for the world, a nightmare come true. This piece has only focused on one aspect of the problem— the infiltration of Iranian agents and terrorists into the US through Venezuela —I have not even begun to discuss the funding of terrorism with drug money. Hopefully, the Trump Administration’s recent spotlight on Venezuela, as further demonstrated by Senator Marco Rubio’s meeting with the President —in which the Senator convinced President Trump to publicly condemn the Maduro regime’s imprisonment of political opposition— will bring these issues into focus. This is a threat deserving the highest concern and should not be taken lightly.
Andrei Simpson-Satchlian is one of five columnists featured in the Opinion Section. He is an Economics and Politics double-major, and a member of the Honors Program. He is the Chair of the College Republicans. and President of the Law Club.