Ahmadinejad rolls through Latin America

After Venezuela and Nicaragua, he headed to Cuba, on his fifth trip to the region since 2005,

In Nicaragua,

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega lashed out at Israel and condemned the killing of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi while being sworn into office yesterday alongside Iran’s president.

From Cuba, A’jad headed to Ecuador. The WaPo editorial board calls it a meeting of international pariahs.

The Economist speculates, and concludes it may all be political theater:

The Obama administration, to the ire of many in the Republican Party, has downplayed the potential threat posed by Venezuela’s alliance with Iran. It gently warned that “now is not the time to be deepening ties.” But it also chose the occasion to expel the Venezuelan consul in Miami, Livia Acosta, who was accused in a documentary aired last month by Univision, a Spanish-language American channel, of involvement in an alleged cyber-plot against the United States featuring Iranian diplomats and Mexican computer hackers.

Mr Chávez called the report “lies” and the expulsion “bullying”. As ever, he and Mr Ahmadinejad swore eternal friendship. What does that amount to? The two governments have signed hundreds of agreements, on everything from agriculture to tourism. But the most visible initiatives have flopped. Typical is a cement factory in the eastern state of Monagas. Due to open in 2007 and produce 1m tonnes a year, it is still under construction. Mr Chávez claims Iran has built 14,000 prefabricated houses. Not for the workers building the cement plant, who this week staged a protest over claims by a chavista union leader that they were well housed.

Suspicion attaches to agreements under which Venezuela might potentially help Iran evade sanctions over its nuclear programme. After Iran’s Export Development Bank set up a subsidiary in Caracas in 2007, the United States’ Treasury department imposed sanctions on it. Last year the Treasury applied largely symbolic sanctions against PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, for exporting refined products to Iran. (The United States continues to be PDVSA’s main export market.) Venezuela denies that it is mining uranium or exporting it to Iran.

The murkiest areas are military and intelligence links, including the alleged presence in Venezuela of the Quds force, the foreign arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Some American analysts claim that Lebanon’s Hizbullah, an Iranian ally, is involved in cocaine trafficking from Latin America. Under Mr Chávez, Venezuela’s armed forces have adopted the doctrine of “asymmetric warfare”, which explicitly endorses acts of terrorism in the event of an American attack.

But there is little reason to believe that Mr Chávez would risk international isolation by allowing Iran to launch attacks against American targets from Venezuela.

Isolation? By whom? Certainly Chávez has a lot to lose if the US stops being its primary oil customer. But beyond that, Chávez will do whatever Chávez thinks will consolidate power around himself.

Jaime Darenblum sees Iran differently,
Iran Seeks Lifeline in Latin America
An increasingly desperate regime hunts for friends

Much like its Syrian ally, Iran becomes more and more of a global pariah every day. Outside of Venezuela, it has hardly any true allies. The Islamic Republic clearly views Latin America as a region that can provide an economic lifeline amid global sanctions and also enhance its perceived diplomatic legitimacy. If the radical, anti-American regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua want to help the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, that’s one thing. But no respectable Latin American democracy should join them.

A former Venezuelan ambassador points out which countries Ahmadinejad did not visit:

As Darenblum said, there are two key words: respectable, and democracy. On that hinges the future of our hemisphere.


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