Did you hear the one about the 49-year-old Venezuelan politician who became a volunteer in President Bashar al-Assad’s army?
No, really. Abdel el-Zabayar is the most unlikely combatant in Syria’s bloody civil war. His family is of Syrian descent, but he was born and raised in Venezuela, where he now serves as a congressman for the ruling socialist party.
El-Zabayar made headlines at home a few weeks ago in Venezuela when he asked Congress in Caracas for permission to stay in Syria, where he had travelled to visit family. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gave him his blessing, and the lawmaker became a soldier. He has kept his countrymen informed of his activities through his Twitter account, where he posts political statements and photos of himself and his comrades armed with AK-47 assault rifles. He also regularly tweets updates to President Maduro.
Gracias Presidente @NicolasMaduro y extraordinario hermano. Es importante para el mundo castigar y frenar aquí la arrogancia imperialista
— Adel El Zabayar (@Zabayar) September 4, 2013
“Thank you president and extraordinary brother @NicolasMaduro. It’s important for the world to punish and stop the imperialist arrogance here.”
“The truth about what happens in Syria must come to light!” he tells Vocativ. “Whatever the Americans may do, they have already lost the political battle.”
With Syria still in the U.S.’s crosshairs despite talks of a possible deal involving Assad handing over his chemical weapons, el-Zabayar’s presence on the ground is a sign of the persistently amicable ties between Venezuela and Syria, a relationship established by Hugo Chávez and cemented by Maduro. The bond between both nations is not so much based on common ideological grounds, as it is on a shared hostility towards the U.S.
To Assad, Venezuela is one of the few allies he has left. Despite the Syrian strongman’s political isolation and the international sanctions against his government, Venezuela continues to ship oil to the regime and maintains that any American intervention in the war is illegal. Last May Damascus confirmed it had received 35,000 tonnes of Venezuelan diesel, one of at least three shipments sent this year.
Los cristianos SIRIOS alzan su voz y piden al PAPA q condene los atentados contra los cristianos en manos d los mercenarios aliados de EEUU
— Adel El Zabayar (@Zabayar) September 5, 2013
“The Syrian Christians raise their voice and ask the Pope to condemn the attacks against Christians by the hands of mercenaries allied to the U.S.”
But el-Zabayar is more of an ideological soldier than an actual one. Though he brandishes a firearm, the Venezuelan congressman has no combat experience and lacks any real weapons training. Consequently, he has not yet seen real war and most of his tasks have been more administrative in nature. “I am stationed near the Jordanian border, some 90 kilometers south of Damascas and around 20 kilometers from the front line,” he tells Vocativ. “My unit is in charge of maintaining a control point near the border, to avoid mercenaries getting into the country.”
Despite his lack of experience, el-Zabayar says he is not afraid of the rebels or of Washington, despite the ongoing possibility of a U.S. strike. “They can pick whatever weapon they like, they cannot defeat us,” he says. “I am confident victory will be ours.”
In other words, there are allies and then there are allies.