Paranoia over Venezuela's ties to Iran —real and imaginary
According to a report out last month by the German daily Die Welt, Tehran is moving forward with building missile launch bases on Venezuela's Paraguaná Peninsula (in the Guajira region, just south of Aruba—see map). The same German paper also claimed last November that Caracas and Tehran had signed an agreement to establish a joint military base in Venezuela. Die Welt's November report stated that the base is to be staffed by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The agreement reportedly calls for Iranian Shahab 3, Scud-B, and Scud-C missiles to be deployed at the base—missiles with a trajectory range of up to 900 miles. The report was echoed earnestly by various neocon think-tanks in the US. (Jewish Policy Center, Jerusalem Post, May 17)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez later mocked the reports—in sarcastic terms. Speaking at a nationally televised meeting with his cabinet, Chávez said with a straight face: "They [the missiles] are pointing towards Washington. Every missile launcher can shoot three missiles and all three of them, each one of them, are at ninety-degree angles from each other, which means that one can be pointed towards Washington, the other towards New York, and the third one, where would it be? Miami?" He then added that the source of the misinformation was probably confusion due to misreading of satellite images: "What they saw was the wind energy park of Paraguana from a satellite." Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro rejected the claim more forthrightly, calling the report "an extravagant lie." He added that "there is an international war machine against the prestige of Venezuelan democracy, against the prestige of the Bolivarian Revolution."
Washington also rejected the claims. "We have no evidence to support this claim and therefore no reason to believe the assertions made in the article are credible," the US State Department said in a statement. But the State Department also announced sanctions against Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA for "activities related to the supply of refined petroleum products to Iran." (CNN, June 1; Bloomberg, May 24)