Late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez developed a close political and strategic relationship with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad based on a deep anti-Americanism, which led to an “Axis of Unity” against the US.Ahmadinejad was received in Venezuela with military honours by Chavez, who called him an “anti-imperialist gladiator”. “I am your brother, we will be together until the end,” Ahmadinejad replied. The close personal, symbiotic relationship between Chavez and Ahmadinejad was also grounded in their visceral antisemitism.
Although acclaimed as a “socialist” leader, less known were the fascist influences on Chavez’s worldview and policy. In 1994, after ending his incarceration resulting from his failed 1992 military coup, Chavez visited Buenos Aires, where he met Argentine neo-fascist sociologist, the late Norberto Ceresole, a Holocaust denier and sworn enemy of both Israel and of Jews who had strong ties to the Iranian regime.
Ceresole facilitated Chavez’s contacts with Argentinian radical right –wing figures and the Carapintadas (“Painted Faces”), a group of mutineers in the Argentine army in the late 1980s. According to Ceresole, while he served as adviser to then-president Chavez at the end of the 1990s, military intelligence was restructured along the lines he proposed. He also proposed the creation of an Office of Strategic Intelligence that could be financed by Hizbollah, like his own office in Madrid, a project never implemented but which possibly led to his expulsion from Venezuela.
However, Chavez was probably the most open apologist for Hizbollah in the hemisphere. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, he withdrew his envoy from Tel Aviv and accused Israel of conducting its defensive war in “the fascist manner of Hitler”. During Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead against Hamas rocket attacks and its continuous terrorist activity against its citizens, Chavez completely embraced Iran’s position and complied with Ahmadinejad’s demand to severe Venezuela’s diplomatic relations with Israel.
In an interview with American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in 2010, Fidel Castro criticised Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of antisemitism. In the days before Castro’s remark, Chavez had faced growing criticism by Venezuelan Jewish leaders for verbal attacks on Venezuelan Jews both by him and by members of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela, as well as his tacit encouragement of the antisemitic vandalism of a synagogue and an attack on a Jewish community centre in Caracas in 2009. Interestingly, the day after Castro’s comments, Chavez released a statement saying that “we respect and love the Jewish people”.
The acting president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, and probable future president, a man with deep ideological roots in the Bolivarian revolution, has begun the post-Chavez era by orchestrating a crisis with the US, by expelling American diplomats, accusing the US of poisoning Chavez and calling the domestic opposition fascists. On this background it seems the new leadership will continue Chavez’s anti-Israeli policy. More so given that the Minister of Foreign Affairs [and former vice-president] is Elías Jaua, of Lebanese origin, belongs to the radical chavista wing and was reportedly not accepted in 2002 as ambassador of Venezuela to Buenos Aires because of his connections to Argentinian Carapintada circles. Venezuela’s opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski will have a difficult fight in the upcoming election. Hopefully this time, Mr Capriles will not be subject to antisemitic rants in the state media as happened during the last race.