A wave of arrests for alleged corruption in Venezuela has put the spotlight on a powerful, shadowy player in Caracas: Tareck El Aissami. Until last week the country’s oil minister, El Aissami is believed to be responsible for forging links between the Venezuelan government and Iran, Hezbollah, drug-trafficking groups and others.
El Aissami was not arrested or accused in the corruption scandal. He resigned after people close to him were among the more than 20 government officials and businesspeople detained in an investigation into billions of dollars of revenues missing from PDVSA, the national oil company. In a televised speech by President Nicolas Maduro after the arrests, he urged Venezuelans to “go on the offensive against the corrupt, the bandits, the delinquents, the criminals.”
It’s unclear whether the events amount to a genuine campaign against corruption or an internal power struggle within the regime. But it is likely that El Aissami, one of the most influential figures in chavismo going back to the days of the late President Hugo Chavez, is an important piece of the puzzle.