A former director of Venezuela's Office of Identification, Migration, and Foreigners said that during his time in office, his government issued thousands of illegal passports and other documentation to citizens of Iran, Syria, and other Middle East countries.
In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Colonel Vladimir Medrano Rengifo said the operation was headed by current Vice President Tareck El Aissami.He said most passports and visas were granted in the Venezuelan Consulate in Damascus, Syria's capital."Today we don't know where these people are, nor what they are doing," said Medrano, who currently resides in the United States."They can be anywhere in the world, traveling with Venezuelan documentation," adding that the number of Middle Eastern individuals with irregular Venezuelan documentation could be much larger.Colonel Medrano was dismissed in October 2009 by El Aissami, who was then Minister of Interior and Justice. According to Medrano, El Aissami fired him because he knew he was trying to dismantle the human smuggling network.El Aissami, one of the most powerful men in Venezuela, has long been investigated in the United States for his alleged links to drug trafficking and to the Islamist militant group Hezbollah.In January he became the most senior Venezuelan official to ever be targeted by the U.S., when the Trump administration decreed sanctions against him and Samark Lopez, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman believed to be his front man in Miami.In the Sunday interview, Medrano told El Nuevo Herald that El Aissami was directly involved in the passport scheme. He said that whenever his office reported irregularities involving Syria-issued passports, El Aissami ordered him to look the other way.Medrano said the passports were legitimate, but the people carrying them were not Venezuelans.
Someone carrying an Iranian or Syrian passport would be under far greater scrutiny entering the U.S. than a citizen of Venezuela. By issuing these passports, the government of Venezuela has made it much easier for terrorists to travel in the West.
El Aissami is believed to be the point man in helping Hezb'allah set up training camps in remote areas of Venezuela. It is believed that the terrorist group has infiltrated operatives into the U.S. after their training. The illicit passports no doubt came in handy when Hezb'allah militiamen traveled to various Western countries to set up shop.
Needless to say, Venezuela is not one of the countries mentioned in the president's travel ban, so it is possible that terrorists could circumvent the ban by using a passport from Venezuela. The illegal passport scheme is an unfriendly act and deserves some kind of response from the U.S. But targeting Venezuelan travelers will only result in reciprocal action from Caracas.
Perhaps U.S. travelers could live with the indignities imposed upon them by Venezuela if they knew that our actions in targeting Venezuelan citizens for extra scrutiny was making us safer.