Organizations based in Venezuela, including one run by a sanctioned Hizballah facilitator, amplify the Iranian government’s message in the country, according to a Kharon investigation.
Ties between Iran and Venezuela have strengthened in recent years. The two countries share a hostility toward Washington as the U.S. has ramped up sanctions pressure against both governments since 2017. Both oil-rich countries are undergoing economic crises that their respective leaders blame on the U.S., and Iran has condemned U.S. intervention in Venezuela as it seeks to expand its influence across Latin America.
Ghazi Nasr al Din, a former Venezuelan diplomat to Syria and Lebanon who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2008 for his support of Hizballah, leads the Caracas-based Center for Analysis and Global Studies (CAGS), according to his Twitter profile. Nasr al Din regularly retweets Nicolas Maduro, supporters of Hizballah, and posts containing tags from the Tuiteros Patriotas, part of a pro-Maduro Venezuelan digital militia profiled by Kharon.
CAGS is a research center that has a history of hosting conferences that promote Iranian government interests, as well as those of its Syrian and Russian allies. Diplomats from those countries have attended and spoken at CAGS events over the years, according to its website, social media posts and transcripts of events.
The Center for Analysis and Global Studies’ website, which is no longer active, has posted articles in the past on Iranian news events, and Nasr al Din has been a frequent guest on local media outlets, as recently as January 2019, including TeleSur.
CAGS events were promoted by the Center for Iranian-Latin American Cultural Exchange (CICIL), another Caracas-based religious and cultural organization established by Iran to promote Islamic culture, as well as exchanges between Latin America and Iran.
In November 2015, CICL attended and used social media to promote a CAGS event entitled “the New World Order and the Fight Against Terrorism,” with Syrian and Russian government envoys to Venezuela as speakers, according to the CAGS website. Similar events hosted by CAGS have focused on the origins and financing of the Islamic State and al Qaeda, and included accusations that the Gulf monarchies and United States "financed terrorism to overthrow the legitimate president Bashar Al Assad," according to the CAGS website and social media.
In December 2015, CAGS hosted the Iranian and Syrian envoys to Venezuela at an event on the geopolitics of the Middle East and North Africa. According to a CAGS transcript of the event, the Iranian ambassador emphasized Iran's anti-Israel and anti-US stances and stated that "the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to help, support and lend the most cordial collaboration to whatever group, town, or county that fights against vast imperialism and global arrogance." The Iranian ambassador also cited Iran’s support of the Houthi movement in Yemen and Shiites in Lebanon as examples.
In February 2016, CAGS hosted the Syrian ambassador to Venezuela and Ali Rashid Fayyad, a Hizballah representative, at an event titled "Geopolitics of the Middle East: Scenarios and Threats," according to the CAGS website.
In the same month, CICIL co-hosted the Iranian ambassador to Venezuela at an event on Islam and Iran in the Geopolitics of Western Asia, along with CICL and a Venezuelan satellite campus of the Al Mustafa International University, an Iranian educational institution, according to a CAGS social media account.
CICIL has posted on social media about several other events it conducted with Al Mustafa International University and the Iranian embassy in Caracas.
In 2014, CICIL and the Iranian embassy in Caracas co-hosted an event commemorating the Grand Ayatollah Imam Khomeini, according to a social media profile affiliated with CICL.
CICL also promoted at least two essay competitions with the Iranian embassy in Caracas and the Venezuelan satellite of Al Mustafa International University. In 2016, CICIL advertised a monetary reward on social media for the best essay in response to a photography exhibit, called "Iran, An Ancient Land," which promoted Iran's "pluripolar" world view.
In 2017, CICIL advertised a monetary reward on social media for the best review of a book titled "Advice for a Good Government," which is published by IslamOriente, an Iranian cultural institute that runs CICL, according to a Foreign Policy magazine report in 2017.
IslamOriente is, in turn, controlled by Mohsen Rabbani, a former Iranian diplomat to Venezuela who was implicated as the mastermind of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina, according to a 2015 report by late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
As of December 2016, Rabbani was an advisor at the Qom headquarters of Al Mustafa International University, according to the university's website.
Edgardo Ruben Assad, one of Rabbani's "favored Argentinian disciples,” was the president of CICIL in Venezuela as of 2017, according to local media reporting and Congressional testimony.
Nasr al Din, the former Venezuelan diplomat, used his position as the president of a Caracas-based Shi'a Islamic center to provide financial support to Hizballah, according to the 2008 U.S. Treasury Department designation statement.