Saturday, May 3, 2008

THE RADICAL GRASSROOTS: A DANGER ON THE HORIZON

By Luis Fleischman and Nicole M. Ferrand.*

The emergence of neo-populism in Latin America not only constitutes a tendency related to the rise of new leaders promising equality and rejection of the old elites but it is also combines, in numerous cases, with the political mobilization of previously passive populations who lived on the margins of society, often of indigenous origins, who speak different dialects. These new groups have become a most desired political prey for populist leaders willing to climb the political ladder and even carry a revolutionary change. These populations which include the cocaleros (coca leaf growers) in Bolivia or the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) indeed have been key players in the election of leaders such as Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. Ollanta Humala in Peru also used the etnocacerista group relatively successfully even though he lost the election.

Despite being an interesting political capital for political leaders, some of these new populist movements have an element of independence and do not necessarily blindly follow leaders. One example is the Piquetero Movement in Argentina. Even though some of its leaders have associated themselves with President Nestor Kirchner, they have also taken independent action which, at times has become a problem for the President and at other times is useful and coincides with his purposes. Indigenous movements such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, the CONAIE in Ecuador, the radical indigenous movement in Chile, and the landless movement in Brazil represent examples of more independent movements. They represent a feeling of economic and political exclusion and their demands include redistribution of land and expropriation of private property and foreign capital in favor of indigenous cooperatives and other forms of economic autonomy.

Often, these new movements tend to be radical, anti-systemic, and are inclined to reject the old political and economic order. In some cases, Indian movements have claimed their status as the majority and therefore claim all the power for themselves. Street protests and challenge of the government as well as rejection of the system and revolutionary unwillingness to compromise also characterize some of these movements.

Of course, such discontent could be capitalized on by demagogue populist leaders, but it can also go beyond. One such example is presented by the Wayuu Guajira Indians who represent the largest indigenous group in Venezuela and Colombia (about 135,000 in Colombia and 170,000 in Venezuela). On October 23, 2006, the police in Caracas found two explosive devices near the American Embassy. One of the bombs was in a box which also contained propaganda brochures for the Iran-backed organization, Hezbollah. One young man, a student at the Bolivarian University founded by Hugo Chavez, was arrested.[1]

An organization called Hezbollah Latin America claimed responsibility for the attack. Hezbollah Latin America is an organization based in the Wayuu Indian population and also calls itself Autonomia Islamica Wayuu (Wayuu Islamic Autonomy). Its website http:/groups.msn/AutonomiaIslamicaWayuu is written in Spanish and Chapateka (a combination of the Wayuu language and Spanish) and claims activity in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico. But the backbone of the organization is Venezuela. Their website states: “The brief enjoyment of life on earth is selfish. The other life is better for those who follow Allah.” The members of this group are locals and not Muslim in origin and claim to be Shiites, supporters of Hezbollah and Iran.[2]


The leader of Hezbollah Latin America is Teodoro Rafael Darnott. Mr. Darnott was initially the leader of a small Marxist faction called The Guaicapuro Movement for National Liberation, (Proyecto Movimiento Guaicaipuro por la Liberación Nacional - MGLN)” which struggled against the oppression of the poor, indigenous peasants in the Valle de Caracas region. The organization initially proposed a concrete micro- farming project but it failed to obtain support from the authorities. It was then that Darnott decided to join the Chavez political party Movimiento Quinta Republica.[3]

It was reported that early in 2004 about 100 Wayuu Indians were massacred by Colombian para-military, guerilla and drug traffickers. These events also pushed hundreds of Wayuu to flee Colombia into Venezuela. It is thought that such genocide was the result of the need to control the drug trafficking ports in the Guajira littoral by the para-military and the guerillas, according to the Colombian army.

The organization opens up its website with a set of interesting quotations by the leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Rhuolla Khomeini. "Our struggle is the struggle against all inequalities. Our struggle is the struggle of the barefoot people against uncontrolled freedom. It is the struggle of the ideological values against the dirty world of power, money and greediness". Then it proceeds to two other quotations from Khomeini. The first states that "all the political activities are part of a religious duty" and the second points out that the "Koran is not a book of prayer but a manual to organize society and to train its leaders to rule. Islam and Islamic rules are divine and their practices guarantee prosperity in this world and salvation in the world to come. (Islam) can put an end to injustice, tyranny and corruption and help mankind to achieve perfection"[4]

The philosophy of this "new Muslim" group says that the Venezuelan revolution cannot take place unless it takes a path towards the moral and divine. The group claims that Venezuelans worship sex, money, industry and commerce leading society into a "swamp of immorality and corruption".[5] Hezbollah Latin America claims that political movements and parties cannot provide an answer to these problems because they are also part of the problem. Thus, only "a theocratic, Political-Islamic force can liberate society from this situation".[6]

Hezbollah Latin America "respects the Venezuelan revolutionary process, and supports its social policies as well as its anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism", even though it rejects socialism in favor of an Islamic order. The group urges everyone to vote for and support Chavez.[7]

Nobody seems to have an answer as to why and how this Wayuu indigenous group came to embrace Hezbollah and why. The first possibility is that Hezbollah has its own independent agenda trying to create terrorist cells and bases of support for their activities aimed at spreading Islam in the western hemisphere.[8]

Some of those covering the events since the October 23rd bombing have tended to downplay the role of Darnott and to question to what extent Hezbollah Latin America is a serious organization. Yet, the phenomenon is worrisome for a number of reasons. First, Hezbollah obviously has ways to either bribe or convert so- called marginal and indigenous groups in Latin America that had already developed anti-system ideologies, and, consequently, have a predisposition to make alliances with other groups that also detest the system and identify with the oppressed. In other words, Hezbollah and radical Islamist groups do not have to import Islamists from the Muslim world; they can be "home-grown" in Latin America, itself, because the social and emotional conditions provide fertile ground. Furthermore, this new available human capital clearly does not have to have any previous connection to Islam, they can be converted to Islam because Islamism is not merely a religion but is foremost a political movement.

This method is similar to Islamist methods we find in the U.S. The case of Jose Padilla comes to mind. Padilla, an American citizen of Hispanic ancestry was indoctrinated by Islamists while in prison for common crimes and later charged with terrorist conspiracy. Indigenous populations have been socially marginal and their status is comparable with criminals even though they are not criminals, by definition. Those who have dismissed Mr. Darnott as a mere opportunist have ignored the systematic way in which the message of the organization was put together. The methods of indoctrination use images that are simple and consistent with the totalitarian ideology of the Iranian revolution.

The second possibility worth exploring is that Hugo Chavez is fully cooperating with the Islamization process of indigenous and other populations. Indeed, such conversion is taking place as relations between Venezuela and Iran strengthen at all levels and as Chavez openly supports Iran's nuclear program and Hezbollah during the war against Israel. In addition, Chavez has strong sympathies for Islamic groups and has provided safe haven for financial activities benefiting Islamic terrorist organizations. Chavez has given Venezuelan passports to individuals coming from Arab and Muslim countries, and, his administration maintains a very uneasy relationship with the Jewish community as anti-Semitism among Chavista circles becomes more apparent. Chávez is supporting Hezbollah in the Middle East and will most probably support their criminal work in Venezuela.[9]

Gustavo Coronel, an opponent of Chavez, reports that in October 2005 Hugo Chavez expelled a group of US Evangelical missionaries who were working with indigenous communities in the area for more than half a century. Coronel reports that as the evangelical groups left Venezuela, Hezbollah occupied the new territory.[10]

The presence of Hezbollah Venezuela is worrisome because of the timing of their activities. They have become visible at a moment in which Hugo Chavez and the Iranian President Ahmadinejad have become really close allies. Ahmadinejad visited Caracas in September 2006 and again in January 2007 and the two countries have signed more than 20 cooperation agreements in the fields of oil & gas, iron & steel, and infrastructure worth billions of dollars.[11]

As stated in The America's Report of March 13, 2006, Luis D'Elia, one of the leaders of the Argentinean Piquetero movement and a former member of the Kirchner cabinet, has established both a relationship with Chavez and with the Iranian government. D'Elia, like other Latin American "social" leaders from Latin America, attended the first Iran- Latin American conference that took place in Tehran on February 27 and 28, 2007. The conference was characterized by a clear ideological agenda with strong anti-American tones and was not attended by the higher echelons of the political system in Latin America but by "social" leaders such as Mr. D'Elia. By the same token, Chavez has been the main promoter of the reinforcement of relations between Iran and Latin America, as he has engaged in deepening relations between Iran and grassroots leaders in the region, mostly those newly mobilized social forces that we described above.[12]

It could be said that the road from socialist revolutionarily Marxism to Islam has been paved by no other than Hugo Chavez. Therefore, should we rule out the Darnott episode as a farce? We do not think so. At this point the revolutionary fever led by Hugo Chavez, to mobilize the "politically" available marginal masses of society coupled with the Iranian penetration in the region should raise an eyebrow not only among American government officials but also among those in Latin America. Given its importance, we will continue to explore the radicalization of indigenous populations in the region.

*Dr. Luis Fleischman is an advisor to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science and Sociology at Wilkes Honor College at Florida Atlantic University.


*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE.


[1] The Other "Axis of Evil." July 1st, 2003. The American Legion Magazine. By Paul Crespo.
[2] Chávez joins the terrorists: his path to martyrdom. September 2, 2006. Venezuela Today. By Gustavo Coronel.
[3] Gustavo Coronel. The Hezbollah Venezuelan Metastasis.
[4] Jose Orozco, “Venezuelan Jews Fear Chavez-Iran Ties,” The Jerusalem Post, September 19, 2006.
[5] http://groups.msn/AutonomiaIslamicaWayu.
[6] http://groups.msn/AutonomiaIslamicaWayu
[7] http://groups.msn/AutonomiaIslamicaWayu
[8] The Hezbollah Venezuelan Metastasis. September 4, 2006. Venezuela Today. By Gustavo Coronel.
[9] Hezbollah America Latina: strange group or real threat? Feb. 12, 2007. By Ely Karmon. Reporter Associati Internacional.
[10] The Hezbollah Venezuelan Metastasis. September 4, 2006. Venezuela Today. By Gustavo Coronel.
[11] The Hezbollah Venezuelan Metastasis. September 4, 2006. Venezuela Today. By Gustavo Coronel.
[12] “La Fascinación por el éxito: Hezbollah en América Latina.” Jihad Monitor. Oct. 17, 2006. Manuel Torres Soriano.

2 comments:

teodoro R Darnott said...

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