CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

Chávez and the Strange Story of the Shi'ite Indios in Venezuela

by Massimo Introvigne (il Domenicale. Settimanale di cultura, March 24th 2007)

img“If the United States were to attack Iran, the only country ruled by God, we would counter-attack in Latin America and even inside the United States itself. We have the means and we know how to go about it. We will sabotage the transportation of oil from Latin America to the US. You have been warned”. The usual communiqué from Ahmadinejad? Wrong. This document is by Hezbollah Latin America, also known as Hezbollah Venezuela. The signature is that of “Commander Teodoro”, i.e. Teodoro Rafael Darnott.

Born in Ciudad Bolivar, in the past he was an organizer of Guevarist disorder in the area of Maracaibo and in the present he is a solid supporter of the party of President Hugo Chávez.

Thanks to Commander Teodoro, there is a veritable social experiment going on between the goajiros Indios, Chavez's Venezuela and Iran. It is well known that Chávez has carried on a correspondence with Venezuelan superterrorist Carlos, a Marxist convert to Islam who is serving a life sentence in France. The President of Venezuela has expressed his appreciation for the "Carlos doctrine", which among other things provides for an alliance between Islamic ultra-fondamentalism and anti-imperialist insurrectionalism, in the name of their mutual hatred for the United States. Also well known is the harsh opposition of Catholic bishops in Venezuela to Chavez, who has more than once tried to stifle the words of the Bishops' Conference by closing down newspapers, radios and television stations. Chávez, who is on friendly terms with Ahmadinejad, has not converted to islam. But his friend and ally Commander Teodoro has .

Anyone who has been to Latin America knows that practically all over the tribal zones there are areas where Christianity has penetrated only superficially or not at all. The Catholic clergy is too small with respect to the vastness of the territory, and that's the way it has been for the past five centuries, even though in the past few years Protestant messione have often filled in where Catholics haven't gone.

WIth the blessing of President Chávez, and with the methods of an old guerrlla leader, Comnader Teodoro has proclaimed Catholic missionaries "personae non gratae" over a vast tribal area (for the Protestant missionaries it's even worse: Chavez calls them agents of American imperialism), while proclaiming the Shi'ite iranian missionaries very very welcome. Estimates vary as to the result of this experiment - converts according to Teodoro and Iran come to several thousand, while anthropologists and journalists who have penetrated the area say they are fewer than a thousand - howver a whole tribe, the Wayuu, has accepted the good news from Teheran.

The press of the Venezuelan regime has started printing strange photographs of veiled Indio women, but also of hooded militants practicing with their kalashnikovs and even their bomb-belts: not in Lebanon but in Venezuela. The experiment is turning out rather well, so much so that the Iranians and Chavez have launched two more, which are already on their feet: Hezbollah Chiapas, in the areas under the control of Subcommander Marcos, and Hezbollah El Salvador. Also new are Hezbollah Chile and Hezbollah Columbia. Considering how fond our President of the House of Representatives, Fausto Bertinotti, is of Chávez and of Subcommander Marcos, all we need wait for now is for a Hezbollah Montecitorio (ie, the Italian Parliament).

The Real Danger

But these are not necessarily harmles groups. On Oct 23rd 2006 the police arrested a university student in Caracas, one José Miguel Rojas Espinosa, who was about to detonate two bombs, one against the American Embassy and another against the Israeli Embassy. After planting the first bomb, Rojas got scared and dropped the second one outside a school, which led the police to seeking the first one and foiling the attack. Hezbollah Venezuela laid claim to the failed attack and defines Rojas on its website as “the first mujaheddin to be an example of dignity and strength in the cause of Allah, the first prisoner of war in Venezuela of the Revolutionary Islamic Movement”. Strangely enough, the Chávez Administration has taken no steps against Commander Teodoro and Hezbollah Venezuela, and has played down the planned attacks calling them “demonstrations”.

Commander Teodoro is not finicky when it comes to recluting enemies of the US and Israel. So together with the Koran and with the proclamations of Khamenei, his group reprints and spreads around texts by the late Peron-style Argentinian social scientist Norberto Rafael Ceresole, a Holocaust-denier , hovering between neo- Nazi tendencies and the little sedevacante schisms which consider the latest Popes illegitimate since they are too "progressive" and "favorable to Jews". Ceresole is also always suspected of being in contact with the perpetrators of the attack on the building of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires in 1994 (something that, however, the police has never been able to prove).

The numbers, for the moment, are against Commander Teodoro. Not only do the deep roots of Catholicism make it difficult for Iranian propaganda to produce a number of Latin American Muslims beyond a ratio of zero point something, but so does the spectacular growth of Protestantism.

Latin America is not about to convert to Islam and Chavez's initiatives keep swaying between reality, fantasy and a propaganda that often borders on the ridiculous.

But all it takes to plant bombs are a few terrorists, and Shi'ite Indios also constitute a mafia-style warning by Chavez to the Catholic Church. If it continues to oppose the regime, in tribal zones Iranian missionaries are ready to replace the Catholic ones.