International News

Hugo Chavez Considering Asylum Request From Syrian Strongman Bashar al-Assad, Report Says

If you're a hated, blood-soaked Middle Eastern tyrant whose nation has been ripped asunder by a devastating civil war that's about to topple you from power, where on Earth do you flee?

In the case of Syria's Bashar Al-Assad, the answer might just be Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has remained a steadfast friend. Officials in Turkey have confirmed that al-Assad has sent a letter to Chavez asking for asylum.

Chavez, of course, has his own crisis at the moment. He's ceded most of his day-to-day power to his deputy, Nicholas Maduro, as he recovers from another bout of cancer treatments in Cuba.

It's not clear at all how healthy the Bolivarian revolutionary is after the latest procedures; Maduro said this week that Chavez was up walking and talking, but many doubt the reports.

So it's unclear how much Chavez has considered al-Assad's request. But Turkish papers are reporting today that Venezuelan officials there have received a letter from al-Assad asking about the possibility of a safe-haven in South America if his regime falls.

Chavez has remained tight with al-Assad even as the world has turned their backs on him after mounting atrocities against his own people during the civil war. Earlier this year, he pledged to ship oil to the Syrian government if they needed it during the conflict.

Al-Assad certainly has reason to worry. Rebels continue to assail his regime's forces, and the highest ranking military commander yet defected this week.

Caracas might just have another strongman on its hands in the new year.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink