6 June 2011

Iranian missiles in Venezuela?

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Have been doing some digging on the recent claim that suggests that Iran and Venezuela are building a missile base in Paraguana. This piece of news is problematic. The claim was first made in November last year, by a German journalist who works for Die Welt, called Clemens Wergin. On 13 May, the piece was reprinted again by Die Welt, by the same author. Upon publication, some news outlets around the world quickly launched into the let's-bash-Chavez-regardless-of-whether-or-not-what's-being-reported-can-be-independently-verified mode. Thing is, unlike nearly all of those commenting on the issue, I have been to desert-like Paraguana, many times, and I have also been chronicling the Chavez revolution for almost 9 years now. So, I do have a problem with this claim.

Trouble, for Mr. Wergin's credibility that is, is that I am not alone in my incredulity towards his breaking news. The U.S. State Department basically called Mr. Wergin's report incredible. It must be borne in mind, that the U.S. has a military base in neighbouring Curaçao, and the area is heavily monitored not only from there, but from satellites and other bases in Colombia, and Puerto Rico, through joint military intelligence and cooperation. The DEA and the U.S. Navy are also very active in the area. Perhaps Mr. Wergin would like the world to take his word at face value. Problem is, without presenting a single piece of verifiable evidence, only conspiracy theorists, and lazy journalists and analysts will risk reputation by echoing his claim. It appears that CNN challenged Mr. Wergin, who stated:
"I can't say anything more than that they are sources from Western security circles with whom I have worked for 10 years, for which I believe they are credible... My guess is that this is information that is interchanged in Western security circles."
However, the U.S. DoS is cited by CNN as stating "...that it reviews all information pertaining to Iranian military involvement in the hemisphere, but that it could not vouch for the report...", which was deemed as not "credible."

I thought I would do the sensible thing, which is of course to contact Mr. Wergin to ask him for further explanations. Alas Mr. Wergin has not replied to any of the messages I have sent for his attention to Die Welt, his blog, or his Facebook page. So which is it? How can anyone give credence to unverifiable and unsubstantiated claims made by a German journalist who is not even an expert in Latin America? How come his editors at Die Welt, after the hugely embarrassing and equally incredible claim of Colin Powell on the existence of "mobile factories of WMD" in Iraq, are allowing publication of such claims?


Roberto N said...

"How come his editors at Die Welt, after the hugely embarrassing and equally incredible claim of Colin Powell on the existence of "mobile factories of WMD" in Iraq, are allowing publication of such claims?

Because it sells newspapers? They had a slow news day? The dart landed on "screw with Chavez" on the newsboard?

Or, work it backwards. What would cause the DOD and State to deny such claims, if they are true? Discovery of sources/methods? Not politically convenient?

I don't think there is a missile issue, at this point in time. I do believe there is help from Venezuela in purchasing components as straw men for the Iranians, and you have to wonder about Conviasa flying to Teheran once a week (if memory serves) I mean, Teheran ain't Miami, so tourism is not the motive. And do we really do that much business with Iran to justify those flights?

I agree with you Alex, there's no there there.

AB said...

Hey Roberto,

I don't think the US would, in possession of or privy to evidence proving the point, go to the extremes of actually publicly deny the report. Too delicate an issue.

My problem though is not with the US DoS, but rather with Wergin, who, to this day, remains the only voice in the world to have insisted on such a claim. He's the source who would refuse to reveal his source. Why? There's nothing in Gaceta, chavista media, aporrea... Do you not think there are a great deal of journos out there that would kill to get their hands on some dirt like that? Do you not think that there are enough Assange-like opportunists on this side of the divide that would plaster all over the place evidence that could compromise Chavez? So how come whatever this Wergin guy has heard, no one else has?

I don't buy it mate. Aside from that, his assertion ignores crucial practical aspects, such as the sheer uselessness of chavistas at building anything (Iranians I reckon are on a par), the characteristics of Paraguana, its vicinity to heavily patrolled areas, geopolitics...

It seems to me like a whole load of crap.

Roberto N said...

So I guess it's that the dart landed on "screw with Chavez" then.

I have never read Die Welt, so I don't know if they are a serious publication or a tabloid, but since I've never heard of them being a tabloid I will suppose they are somewhat serious.

That being the case, you would think they wouldn't publish without the editors at the very least seeing some kind of proof that they considered "good enough" to publish a piece, not once but TWICE.

If indeed they are more tabloid than newspaper, then my whole reasoning sucks, and you can jot it down to "selling paper". But you don't mention them as such in your article, so I guess they have a modicum of respectability at the very least.


I guess the question to ask is, would Chavez risk becoming the new Noriega? Because I am fairly certain that if this was true, and that the work was advancing, that the US would take Chavez out in a heartbeat, and not be criticized (by most) for it. Even Chavez' allies (Ortega, Correa, and Evo) would secretly applaud it.

AB said...

...would Chavez risk becoming the new Noriega?

The answer is, obviously not. Look how diligent he's been lately with Santos over FARC issues. He knows the Gringos know he's up to his ears, he knows no one believes his bullshit about the Reyes files being fake, and I am sure the cachaco conveyed the message very clearly: carry on supporting the FARC at your political life's peril, for we will come for you, and you'll end, justifiably, as pineapple face.

Kepler said...

Die Welt is not really a "tabloid", but neither are the NYT or the WSP and yet you can see many types of articles there, from serious journalism to the articles of people who seem to be pure PR agents for a government X or Y.

If you check out the link Alek put, this journalist did his civilian service in Israel, of all places...with a Christian group. German Christian pro-Israel, I met a couple of them.
Funny...the article was mentioned particularly by Jewish newspapers, but now the references seem to have gone down in the Google hits.
There is some interesting thoughts about PR and Israel here. Perhaps this is something of the sort.

(also see here)

I would say: let's keep an eye on Chavismo and yet be cautious about journalists like this.