US takes aim at Hizbollah’s sanctuary in Venezuela

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Gideon Long in Caracas and Michael Stott in Bogotá

In the days after the US drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last month, a condolence book lay open 11,000km away at the Iranian embassy in Venezuela, in a leafy district of Caracas.

Among the visitors who signed the book was Diosdado Cabello, one of the most powerful men in Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuelan government. Tareck El Aissami and Tarek William Saab — senior state officials — expressed their outrage at the assassination of the general blamed by the US for commanding Iran’s foreign proxy forces.

For the Maduro government, these were simply expressions of solidarity from one embattled nation to another. Venezuela and Iran are both oil producers — founding members of Opec — both are labouring under US sanctions, and both are implacably opposed to what they regard as Washington’s interference in their internal affairs.

But the US and the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaidó accuse Venezuela of supporting not only Tehran but its Lebanese-based proxy Hizbollah, which the US regards as a terrorist organisation.