On June 24, a Joint House Committee hearing on Venezuela’s Sanctionable Activities made a concerted effort to shed light on President Hugo Chavez’s dangerous ties to Iran. Representative Connie Mack (R–FL) and others expressed a deep-seated concern that the sanctions recently placed on the government-controlled oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), were insufficient.
In May 2010, the Obama Administration placed sanctions on PDVSA for providing at least two shipments of petroleum additives to Iran, a country that is currently sanctioned for its nuclear weapons program and, according to the State Department, is the “most active state sponsor of terrorism.” The sanctions prohibit PDVSA from competing for U.S. procurement contracts, securing financing from the Import-Export Bank of the U.S., or obtaining a U.S. export license.
The hearing highlighted the fact that despite recent sanctions, the U.S. continues to rely on Venezuela for as much as 10 percent of its oil imports. Mack estimated that the U.S. pays PDVSA $117 million per day, and he was skeptical that the Administration will do little more than give Chavez a light rap on the knuckles.
State and Treasury Department officials argued that no new prohibited shipments to Iran had been detected and that it was too soon to tell what the impact of sanctions will be. Kevin Whitaker of the State Department urged Venezuela to “pursue a path of cooperation and responsibility rather than further isolation.” Administration officials emphasized that no options for additional sanctioning are currently on the table.
From the hearing, it is once again clear that Chavez is loyal to Iran; expanding economic ties; more circumspect in his ties with terrorists; anxious to cloak the seamy, criminal side of his government; and doing a better job of concealing flights between Caracas and Iran and Syria. Although Congressman Mack and others argue vigorously, putting Chavez and Venezuela where they belong—on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list—still commands little support with the White House or State Department.
Co-authored with Olivia Snow, a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm