A picture that has been creating an uproar in Venezuela shows Adel El Zabayar, a Venezuelan legislator and member of the ruling United Socialist Party, holding an assault rifle and posing with two armed soldiers in Syria.
El Zabayar was born in Venezuela, but his parents are from Syria. In a recent interview with CNN
, he said he’s gone to the country of his ancestors to fight on behalf of embattled President Bashar Assad and that he is prepared to fight the United States if it goes to war against the Syrian strongman.
El Zabayar accompanied the late President Hugo Chavez when he met with Assad in Syria in 2009. The Venezuelan National Assembly granted El Zabayar a leave of absence to travel to Syria, and President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, praises him as a hero.
"He has decided to give his life for his land, the land of his grandparents, for the peace and dignity of the Syrian people. Well done, Mr. Legislator. You have followed your conscience," Maduro said on Venezuelan national television last week.
Venezuela has a sizable population of ethnic Arabs with significant clout and political power. Tareck El Aissami, who has Syrian and Lebanese parents, is the governor of Aragua state and a former minister of the interior and justice. Favored by Chavez, he has remained powerful under the new administration.
Just like El Aissami, a large portion of the Arab community in Venezuela has aligned itself with the socialist government. Members of the Arab-Venezuelan Union and the Sheik Ibrahim Mosque in Caracas marched last September to support Chavez's re-election.
A group of Venezuelans of Arab origin protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Caracas last week. They chanted "Long live Syria!" and "Down with the empire!" They were waiving Syrian flags, and one demonstrator displayed a picture of Chavez and Assad holding hands up in a sign of victory.
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