Washington is no stranger to flimsy pretexts when it comes to justifying its ill-conceived, and at times illicit, Latin American initiatives. The contra epoch, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, Ollie North, former U.S. ambassador John Negroponte’s skullduggery in Honduras, and countless acts of chicanery aimed at Havana, Santiago, Grenada and Guatemala come to mind. A spate of articles tying Hugo Chávez to Iran’s covert nuclear program suggests that Washington may now be finding it increasingly difficult to resist further calumniating Venezuela by working to forge a new weapon for its anti-Caracas jihad. The only problem is that the basis for such a charge would be a complete concoction, more worthy to be put to work in Iraq, where anything goes, than in Latin America. Such a scenario would intimate that ties exist between alleged Venezuelan uranium supplies and the Iranian nuclear program. In other words, Caracas would be presented as a terrorist nation, illicitly involved in trafficking bootleg uranium to the pariah Iranian regime in exchange for nuclear devices and maybe other considerations.
In the fall of 2005, Venezuelan officials began to explore the possibility of acquiring nuclear reactor technology from either Argentina or Brazil, both of which have nuclear energy programs and facilities for peaceful use. This maneuver provoked a predictably prickly response from the State Department, which made no effort to disguise the fact that it would not be amused if this transaction would be carried out. While no agreement was ever reached or shipments made, Caracas already had established close political ties with Tehran, which became yet another reason why the White House was suspicious of Chávez’s ultimate intent. Iran’s decision to resume enrichment of uranium this year, which has now provoked an international uproar, also brought new scrutiny to the purported burgeoning relationship between that nation and Venezuela. At the U.N., Caracas helped fuel such suspicions, as Venezuela was one of only a handful of member nations that expressed support for Iran’s resumption of peaceful nuclear activity which would effectively not be under the U.N.’s supervision.
The wide-ranging, if somewhat vague, cooperation agreements between Iran and Venezuela were repeatedly reiterated by Washington sources to suggest that more malignant factors might be at play. The most popular rumor had Caracas sending its uranium to Iran in exchange for nuclear technology, with the most radical version beginning with accusations that Caracas was seeking to obtain weaponry from Tehran. Some went so far as to suggest that nuclear devices already had been clandestinely transported to Venezuela on chartered oil tankers. Further speculative intrigue came about after the expulsion of the New Tribes missionaries from the Amazonas region in February, as stampeding rumors began to circulate that the evangelical group was somehow involved in uranium exploration activities in the state of Bolívar and that the missionaries’ airstrip was facilitating such anti-Chávez operations. The allegations, which included purported links to the CIA, were heatedly denied by the group.
Much to do about Nothing
Yet all of these theories concerning some diabolic plot linking Iran to Hugo Chávez have been entirely based on a handful of anemic charges coming from several former Chávez officials, who, at best, merely quote each other, but fail to advance the core of their charge or provide minimum evidence that Venezuela somehow has been complicit with Iran when it came to supplying uranium to the latter. In turn, their diaphanous allegations are now being picked up by kindred rightwing sources domiciled in the U.S. who write enraged op-eds in Rev. Moon’s Washington Times (“Showdown with Chávez”) or get like-minded congress