Washington (CNSNews.com) – A senior Republican in the House Foreign Affairs Committee disagreed with a State Department official over the extent to which the terrorist group Hezbollah is benefiting from its presence in Venezuela.
At a joint hearing of the Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform committees on Friday, State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin indicated that the Obama administration does not think Hezbollah is benefiting significantly from its money-raising activities in Venezuela.
In prepared testimony, Benjamin said he wanted to “emphasize that the information available to us indicates that Hezbollah activity in Venezuela is confined to fundraising. We remain alert to indications of other activities, particularly operational activity, but there is no information to support any such contention at this point.”
In reaction, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, argued that Hezbollah uses its fundraising activities in order to operate.
Hezbollah is a Lebanese-based, Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorist organization established in 1982 with the help of Tehran, designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization for well over a decade.
Among the deadliest attacks attributed to it were suicide bombings in Beirut in 1983 which killed more than 300 people, including 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 French troops; and the killing of 114 people in deadly bombings on Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez considers his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a strategic ally. Both are hostile to the U.S.
Mack repeated earlier calls for the administration to declare Venezuela a state-sponsor of terrorism, saying it had more than enough evidence of the Chavez government’s support for terrorists including Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).According to prepared testimony co-authored by Benjamin and two other State Department officials who testified with him, “Venezuela is Iran’s closest political ally in the Western Hemisphere and President Chavez continues to define Iran as a ‘strategic ally.’”
“The State Department is concerned about Venezuela’s relations with Iran, its support for the FARC, its lackluster cooperation on counterterrorism, and its demonstrable failure to meet its international counternarcotics obligations, and we have taken a series of specific actions over time to address them in a serious way, using the tools provided by Congress,” the testimony stated.
Both Venezuela and Iran are under U.S. sanctions and the State officials indicated that when it comes to additional sanctions against Venezuela, all options are under consideration.
“We continue to monitor Venezuela, as well as other countries, for activities that would indicate a pattern of support for acts of international terrorism,” they stated. “No option is ever off the table, and the Department will continue to assess what additional actions might be warranted in the future.”