There has been a lot of discussion recently of Iranian involvement in Latin America, especially with the recent plot involving an assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Of course, a lot of people are going to Latin America these days: the Russians, the Chinese— and even the Europeans. That’s because the region is abundant in natural resources, especially energy, and it offers the potential of emerging markets. Unfortunately, Iran is looking to make a less-than-friendly mark in Latin America, especially for the United States.
Tehran has economic ties with Latin America, especially Venezuela, where Iran claims it has invested $4 billion to $5 billion. But according to some analysts, the economic ties are likely a cover-up for more troubling endeavors.
For instance, Venezuela is helping Iran evade punitive economic sanctions by providing international banking services for the Iranian regime, which is increasingly isolated due to its nuclear weapons program.
But the Tehran–Caracas axis goes deeper than this.
According to press reports, the two nations also inked a Memorandum of Understanding, pledging full military support and cooperation that likely includes weapons sales and the exchange of Iranian advisors. One could easily see Tehran using Caracas as a stepping-off point for attacking U.S. or other (e.g. Israeli) interests in this hemisphere—or even the American homeland, especially if there is military action taken against Iran’s nuclear program.
There is concern that Iran and Venezuela are already cooperating on some nuclear issues. There have been reports that Iran may be prospecting for uranium ore in Venezuela, which could aid both countries’ nuclear programs, should Caracas proceed with its nuclear program. While still prospective, of course, there is the possibility that Tehran, which has an increasingly capable ballistic missile program, could sell or help Caracas develop ballistic missiles capable of reaching American shores.
It is noteworthy that the distance from Caracas to Miami is about 1,400 miles, which nearly corresponds with the current range of Tehran’s medium-range Shahab-class ballistic missile. (Iran, of course, is also developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.)
But it is not just Venezuela that Iran is courting.
Iran has also enhanced its relations with other elements of the anti-American Latin left in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, which are countries run—not surprisingly—by leaders close to Venezuela.
Experts suggest that these relationships are still managed largely by the Chavistas, who seek to develop an alliance that will serve as a counterweight to Washington in the region.
As a gesture to these new alliances, Bolivia, like Venezuela, has reportedly lifted visa requirements for passengers arriving from Iran, opening the door to an influx of troublesome travelers.
According to congressional testimony, Iran is providing “diplomatic training” of 30 to 90 days in Tehran to government workers from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the Communist Party of El Salvador. Instead of the art of negotiating, international relations theory, and how to work a room at an embassy soiree, the Latin visitors are reportedly instead being taught intelligence, counterintelligence, and crowd control.
The largest base for Hezbollah, the Iran- and Syria-backed terror group, outside the Middle East was previously concentrated in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, but experts now say Venezuela has become the largest. Other observers believe the Chavistas may be welcoming Hezbollah operatives to assist the narcoterrorist group FARC, which has found refuge in Venezuela and has been fighting U.S. ally Colombia for decades.
The Venezuelan regime would certainly welcome Hezbollah’s help in dealing with the United States—and Hezbollah, for its part, would certainly appreciate a secure operating space close to American interests and territory.
In fact, Hezbollah is believed to have a growing relationship with Mexican drug cartels, including benefiting from their smuggling routes into the United States.
The notion that Iranian involvement in this region is not a threat is a foolish one. Revolutionary Iran has had a hand in shedding American blood for more than 30 years, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A failure to take measures to check Iran’s efforts in the Western Hemisphere will only allow anti-American, terror-supporting, oppressive, non-free market agendas to take root in our neighborhood.