Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

The Carnival of Latin America and the Caribbean

Monday, July 20th, 2015

The most consequential news story of the week: the U.S.-Iran deal. We can distract ourselves with Jenner, Trump, and whatever else is the equivalent of drinking ourselves under the table to avoid reality, but the fact is that the U.S.-Iran deal carries serious implications for our hemisphere even if Iran doesn’t develop a nuclear weapon.

Because of that, rather than the usual LatAm news roundup, here is Mary O’Grady’s column:

A Richer Iran Will Target the Americas

Last October police in Lima found detonators and TNT in the home of a Hezbollah operative.

The deal provides for winding down international restrictions on trade and investment with Iran. It is also expected to gradually liberate more than $100 billion in Iranian assets frozen by the U.S. and other countries.

This means that even if the agreement prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, it will make the world less safe. National Security Adviser Susan Rice admitted as much last Wednesday when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked if “support [for] international terrorism” might be one use for the liberated assets. “In fact,” Ms. Rice said, “we should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we have seen in the region up until now.”

And not only in the Mideast. One likely destination for some of that money will be the Islamic Republic’s military, ideological and terrorist activities in the U.S. backyard. As Joseph Humire, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society, put it to me last week, “if Iran gets access to the global financial system, they’re going to double down in Latin America.”

Iran has targeted Latin America since the mid-1980s by establishing mosques and cultural centers to spread the revolution. An arm of Hezbollah, Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist proxy, took responsibility for the 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. Argentine prosecutors named Iran as the mastermind behind the 1994 terrorist attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in the same city.

Iran has “observer” status in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, a coalition of pro-Castro governments in the hemisphere launched during the Venezuelan presidency of Hugo Chávez. ALBA’s members include Cuba, six other Caribbean countries, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The alliance relationships with Iran mean Iranian and Hezbollah operatives now move about the Americas easily. A 2014 paper published by Mr. Humire’s center notes that intelligence officials in the region believe Tarek El Aissami, Venezuela’s interior minister from 2008-12, provided new identities to 173 Middle Easterners.

None of the above comes as a surprise to long-term readers of this blog, because as you know, Congressional reports and testimony I have linked to point to the evidence.

Iran’s strategy on Latin America does not hinge on developing nuclear bombs; you could actually make a case that its not developing a bomb is more dangerous for our hemisphere since it would free up more money to pursue its military, ideological and terrorist activities.

O’Grady continues,

Iranian investment in the region is not about securing food or economic growth but rather about meeting strategic goals. There is solid evidence that since 2007 Iran has invested in uranium exploration—presumably tied to its nuclear interests—in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Iranian military has at least one joint venture with Venezuela, located in the state of Aragua, where Mr. El Aissami is now governor.

Propaganda is an Iranian priority. HispanTV, launched in 2011, is a Spanish-language channel run by Iran. It has partnership agreements with state-run television in a number of ALBA countries. In his 2014 book, “Remote Control,” the respected Bolivian journalist Raúl Peñaranda alleged that Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad donated $3 million to President Evo Morales to finance and equip Bolivia’s state-owned television station Abya Yala.

Gen. Douglas Fraser , former head of the United States Southern Command, testified to Congress three years ago that Iran was backing at least 36 Shiite Islamic cultural centers in Central America, the Caribbean and South America. This year Gen. John Kelly, who now runs Southern Command, testified that there are more than 80.

Last October a Hezbollah operative was arrested in Lima on suspicion of plotting terrorism in Peru. Press reports said that police discovered detonators and TNT in his home, and evidence that he may have been scouting out the Jorge Chávez International Airport for a possible attack.

Go read the full article.

A lot of future CoLAatC news will have to do with the U.S.-Iran deal.

Cuba: “What next” would mean

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

In yesterday’s post, Cuba: What next?, I posited,

I have been predicting for quite a while that the Obama administration’s next goal regarding its foreign policy on Latin America is to gift the Guantanamo naval base to the Castro’s communist regime.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) explains the consequences this will have for America:

Aside from further demonstrating weakness, relinquishing the base at GTMO would be a strategic misstep of epic proportions for the United States. It would have significant national security and military implications. GTMO is the oldest overseas U.S. naval base and only permanent U.S. defense base in the region. Its location enables U.S. forces to maintain full advantages across a wide spectrum of military operations. It plays a critical role in migrant operations assistance missions and is a logistics center for U.S. ships and aircraft, allowing these assets to maintain tactical advantages and freedom of movement in strategic waters in a region with limited U.S. military presence.

If Castro achieved control of GTMO, what would happen? The all-too-obvious answer is that it would allow him to extend an invitation to one of the close allies of Havana, such as the Putin regime in Moscow or the mullahs in Tehran. If any of the actors interested in taking over the lease of GTMO does move into the warm Cuban waters off Florida’s southern coast, this would provide a direct military threat to the U.S. homeland. Consider for a moment the depth of waters and potential ability for nuclear submarines to conduct intelligence operations or worse.

Two years ago, the Russian Defense Minister stated that Russia wants to build military bases in several countries in the Western hemisphere, including Cuba. Press reports of Russian intelligence ships operating in the waters around Cuba, most recently earlier this year on the eve of U.S. talks with Cuba in Havana, prove that Russia is deadly serious about making good on those intentions.

Duncan does not exaggerate; Last year Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Russia is planning to expand its permanent military presence outside its borders by placing military bases in a number of foreign countries:

the list includes Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles, Singapore and several other countries.

“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” Shoigu told reporters in Moscow.

The minister added that the negotiations cover not only military bases but also visits to ports in such countries on favorable conditions as well as the opening of refueling sites for Russian strategic bombers on patrol.

Duncan continues

Remember what Russia is doing in its own neighborhood for a moment. Vladimir Putin brazenly acted to annex the Crimean Peninsula, ignoring the international outrage, and Ukraine is worried about a “full-scale” Russian invasion. If the U.S. gave way on GTMO, Putin would likely welcome the opportunity to have warm-water lodging for his navy only 90 miles from the United States.

And let’s not forget Iran,

Similarly, Iran continues to test the patience of the international community with its nuclear operations and refusal to cooperate with international inspectors. If things go badly for Iran with any nuclear deal, having a deeper presence in Latin America through Cuba offers Iran options for retributive action should they want it.

Dr Ely Karmon, in his report Iran in Latin America: President Rouhani’s Era points out,

On April 30, 2014, the State Department issued its Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, which stated that “Iran’s influence in the Western Hemisphere remained a concern,” but that “due to strong sanctions imposed on the country by the United States and the European Union, Iran has been unable to expand its economic and political ties in Latin America.”[2]

Whether Iran gets what it wants on the nuclear deal (which it does) or not, by lifting sanctions, the U.S. has given Iran every incentive to continue its ongoing economic and political expansion into Latin America. You can expect that making a deal with the Castros on Gitmo is part of their plans.

Related:
1. The Deal Wasn’t About Iran’s Nukes

The administration readily caved on Iran’s nukes because it viewed the matter only as a timely pretense for achieving other cherished aims. These were: (1) preventing an Israeli attack on Iran; (2) transforming the United States into a more forgiving, less imposing power; (3) establishing diplomacy as a great American good in itself; (4) making Iran into a great regional power; and (5), ensuring the legacies of the president and secretary of state as men of vision and peace.

Items 2-5 will play well with that Gitmo gift.

2. Raul Castro calls for new Cuba-US relationship (emphasis added)

In a speech to the National Assembly, Mr Castro said that, for normal relations to resume, a US embargo on Cuba would have to be lifted.

He also called for the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay to be returned to Cuba.

The die is cast, now we just wait for it to roll.

Argentina: Cristina, Iran, #Nisman, and The New Yorker and The Tower reports

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Six months ago, prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead of a bullet to the head on January 28 in his Buenos Aires apartment, on the eve of the day when he was scheduled to testify to congress on his findings regarding a civil lawsuit he had filed the week prior accusing president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of colluding with Iran to obscure the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing.

Nisman’s civil lawsuit was dismissed.

The investigation into his murder is still pending.

Three days ago, president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner tweeted a transcript and video of her interview with The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins,

Cristina may have been hoping for a puff piece like Vogue magazine’s infamous profile of Asma al-Assad.

Filkins met her at the Quinta Olivos, asked questions, and let her talk (which she did – boy, did she ever, for over two hours).

Rather than a puff piece on the self-absorbed Cristina, Filkins wrote an excellent article on the Nisman case,
Death of a Prosecutor
Alberto Nisman accused Iran and Argentina of colluding to bury a terrorist attack. Did it get him killed?
This is what Filkins had to say about his conversation with Cristina,

Pesident Kirchner works in an ornate mansion in central Buenos Aires known as “the Pink House”—for the tint of its walls, once supplied by horse blood—but her official residence, in a northern suburb, is called Quinta de Olivos. Dating to the sixteenth century, Olivos, as it is known, is a white three-storied palace that resembles an enormous wedding cake.

When I met Kirchner there, two months after Nisman died, the mystery was still dominating the news. I was ushered into a wide split-level room that had been set up as a television studio. Kirchner entered a few minutes later, in a flouncy dress and heavy makeup, followed by two dozen aides, nearly all of them men. With the cameras running, Kirchner reached over, before the interview began, to fix my hair. “Is there some girl who can help him with his hair?” she asked. “We want you to be pretty.” Then she began to straighten her own. “I want to primp myself a bit,” she said. “Excuse me, I’m a woman, besides being the President: the dress, the image—”

“Divine!” one of her aides called from off the set.

While Filkins did not refute any of Cristina’s lies, his is not a puff piece at all,

Over time, Kirchner has grown more dictatorial and, according to muckraking reports, more corrupt.

The article must be read in its entirety.

Likewise, Eamonn MacDonagh reports at The Tower on Alberto Nisman’s Secret Recordings, Revealed
Before he was murdered, the Argentinian prosecutor investigating the massive 1994 Buenos Aires bombing wiretapped over 40,000 phone calls. His one question: Did the Argentinian government conspire to cover up Iran’s involvement in the attack?

An idea of the importance of the recordings can be gleaned from a February 2013 conversation between alleged Argentine government intelligence operative Ramón Héctor “Allan” Bogado and Khalil. In that call, which was widely reported in the Argentine press, Bogado told Khalil, “We have a video of the [AMIA] attack,” leading Khalil to reprimand him for not being more careful when speaking on the phone. Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure who Bogado meant by “we,” but one distinct possibility may be that the AMIA bombing was filmed by Argentina’s intelligence services, or that a video recording of it, perhaps containing vital evidence about the identity of the terrorists who carried out the attack, fell into their hands.

Both Filkins’s and MacDonagh’s articles are indispensable reading on the Nisman case.

Investigative journalist Jorge Lanata, in his show Periodismo Para Todos (Journalism For All), continues his coverage of the Nisman murder, and commissioned forensic expert Cyril Wecht for his opinion on whether Nisman’s death was a murder or a suicide. You can watch the report here.

Wecht’s interview starts 35 minutes into this YouTube; the show is in Spanish but Wecht’s portion is in English,

One of the world’s foremost forensic experts, Wecht asserts that Nisman’s death is most likely a murder.

Which comes as no surprise.

Also in Lanata’s report: The man in charge of internet security at Nisman’s apartment building has been in charge of cyber defense for Argentina’s military since January.

Tom Clancy would have had a field day.

Today’s big story: Iran’s nukes

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Drudge juxtaposes:

IT’S A DEAL…
‘Smile diplomacy’ secures…
OBAMA WARNS CONGRESS: HANDS OFF…
Gambles on foreign policy legacy…
May Take Years to Pay Off…
NETANYAHU: ‘Historic Mistake for World’…
‘Surrender by West’…
Iran given ‘license to kill’…

‘VULNERABLE TO UNRAVELING’…
Death to America; Deal with America…
KRISTOL: This cannot stand…
House Intelligence Chairman: Paves Way for Bomb…
ROUHANI: ‘God has accepted nation’s prayers’…
Centrifuges Continue to Spin…

IRAN CELEBRATES

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement,

When you are willing to make an agreement at any cost, this is the result. From the initial reports we can already conclude that this agreement is an historic mistake for the world.

Far-reaching concessions have been made in all areas that were supposed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. In addition, Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine and its expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East and across the globe.

One cannot prevent an agreement when the negotiators are willing to make more and more concessions to those who, even during the talks, keep chanting: ‘Death to America.’

We knew very well that the desire to sign an agreement was stronger than anything, and therefore we did not commit to preventing an agreement.

We did commit to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands.

Venezuela’s moola from the mullah: Iran’s new $500million credit line

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Half a billion, “for peaceful purposes”:

Venezuela, Iran Sign Economic Cooperation Deals; Venezuela Signs $500M Credit Line With Iran

The agreements include pledges to cooperate in economic, financial, technological and scientific fields. Venezuela also signed a deal with Iran for a $500 million credit line to fund the development of joint projects and help Venezuela secure goods that Maduro said were “necessary for the Venezuelan people,” including drugs and surgical equipment, Reuters reported. The two nations also agreed to fund a joint research program in nanotechnology.
. . .
Iran’s Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh reportedly said on Iranian television that the agreement was preliminary and would be reviewed by Iran’s finance ministry sometime in the future.

At El Nuevo Herald,

Reza Nematzadeh señaló que además de esta media docena de acuerdos la comitiva persa sostuvo conversaciones con otros ministerios y con el presidente del Banco Central de Venezuela, Nelson Merentes, quien, dijo, “estaba muy interesado para aumentar y profundizar” las relaciones bilaterales.

My translation: [Iran’s Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mohammad] Reza Nematzadeh indicated that, in addition to the half a dozen agreements, the Persian delegation held talks with other ministries and with Venezuela’s Central Bank president Nelson Marentes, who, he said “was very interested in increasing and deepening” bilateral relations.

At PressTV (emphasis added)

Moreover, Iran agreed to transfer its expertise to Venezuela in combating an “economic war” on the Latin American country, Maduro said, apparently referring to Iran’s experience in facing years of US-led sanctions.

The line of credit is part of a larger framework of six economic cooperation agreements with Venezuela.

Back in 2012, when Iran was banned from SWIFT banking transactions, which could have actually kept it out of much of the international markets and made the sanctions even more effective,Iran easily bypassed the problem with an alternative, rogue financial system it help set up with some South American countries, including Venezuela.

The system had already been set up by Iran in anticipation of the SWIFT ban.

For background information on Iran-Venezuela relations, if you can read Spanish, I highly recommend Emili Blasco’s Bumerán Chávez: Los fraudes que llevaron al colapso de Venezuela.

Morgenthau on the Iran-terror connection

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Robert Morgenthau, Manhattan district attorney from 1975 to 2009, writes in the WSJ, Obama Ignores the Tehran-Terror ConnectionA nuclear deal will mean billions for Iran, but no means for curtailing its support for terrorism.. Specifically, on Latin America,

Tehran also has growing influence in several South American countries, including Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The apparent murder of Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman in January focused the world’s attention on a deal that Nisman said he uncovered between Argentina’s government and Iran to cover up Iran’s role in the 1994 terrorist bombing of 85 people in the Jewish Center in Buenos Aries. In March, a report in the Brazilian magazineVeja—based on testimony of defectors who were close to Hugo Chávez—accused Venezuela of brokering the cash transfer in that deal, which included sharing Argentine nuclear technology with Iran.

Iran and Venezuela have signed mutual-assistance agreements on commercial, financial, technological and military matters. Iran has even constructed a military base in Venezuela to house Iranian unmanned aerial drones. According to Iranian officials cited in the Jerusalem Post, these drones, called Mohajers, are capable of aerial surveillance and can be retrofitted to deliver advanced weaponry.

In the context of the current U.S.-Iran deal, it would be unrealistic to assume that Iran will curtail its role as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Related: Venezuela’s deadly colectivos.



Venezuela’s deadly colectivos

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Readers of this blog may be familiar with Venezuela’s colectivos, the government-sponsored marauding motorcycle gangs doing the dirty work, that I’ve written about in the past.

Panampost has an article on how Venezuelan Paramilitaries Wreak Havoc with Cuban, FARC Support

Studies Reveal Colectivos with 10,000 Active Members

Studies released by the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies(ICCAS) at the University of Miami have revealed that the Cuban regime is training Venezuelan paramilitary groups, including Los Tupamaros, La Piedrita, Simón Bolívar, and Alexis Vive. These groups have killed more than 25 students during protests, and injured over 300.

These studies show that for years the Venezuelan government has sent regime supporters to Havana to learn repression tactics in order to help their leaders stay in power. Furthermore, there is evidence that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a group designated as a terrorist organization by the US government, also trains these groups on Venezuela’s border with Colombia.

Remember Raul Reyes‘s computer? Not only did it reveal that the Venezuelan government may have had the FARC act as hit men against political opponents, Panampost adds that (emphasis added),

In 2011, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, on behalf of the Colombian Defense Ministry, conducted an independent analysis of the computers of Raúl Reyes, a member of FARC’s Central High Command who was killed in an ambush in 2008. The investigation revealed important intelligence material on the guerrilla, including information that linked senior members of the Venezuelan army with drug trafficking.

The IISS also found evidence of that the FARC had trained Venezuelan colectivos in exchange for the campgrounds Hugo Chávez allowed the guerrilla to establish on the border.

The ICCAS report concludes,

The most troubling aspects of this relationship are the growing drug trafficking and the continuous opposition to U.S. policies. The inclusion of Iran in rounding out this triumvirate, has added a dimension of strategic importance. The proximity of Cuba and Venezuela to the U.S. makes the two countries ideal platforms for anti-American activities, specifically in the event of a U.S. conflict with Iran. These two allies may be called upon to support Iranian policies and objectives.

You can read the ICCAS’s Cuba Transition Project report by Pedro Roig below the fold:
(more…)

Venezuela: Next stop on the Obama administration’s “normalizing” with dictators?

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Thomas Shannon (left in the above photo), a senior counselor to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, met with Venezuela’s National Assembly president Diodado Cabello (right) in Haiti earlier this month.

As you may recall, Diosdado is being investigated by the U.S. Justice department for drug trafficking and money laundering.

Jackson Diehl asks, why?

Cabello and his nominal boss, President Nicolás Maduro, were quick to trumpet their versions. The meeting, Maduro said, was part of a “normalization” of relations between his increasingly beleaguered regime and the Obama administration. Cabello offered it as proof that the reports that he is a U.S. criminal suspect are false. U.S. officials, meanwhile, sounded confused. Both the White House and State Department spokesmen said they were unaware that Cabello had met with Shannon.I heard another story: that the meeting was part of what has become an increasingly urgent attempt by the administration to broker a soft landing for a collapsing Latin American state.

Diehl speculates that Kerry intends to prolong Leopoldo Lopez’s life, and aim for “fair elections” (whatever that means in Venezuela at this point, since there is no reason why the Venezuelan regime would want a real election). Mary O’Grady has more,

A State Department official told me last week that the issues discussed with Mr. Cabello in Haiti included the treatment of the Maduro government’s political prisoners, the importance of setting a date for parliamentary elections this year, and providing internationally credible observation.

While Shannon has traveled twice to Venezuela this year,

when asked at a State Department briefing about Mr. Cabello’s role in Port-au-Prince, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said “I was not aware of a meeting with him.”

And yet,

A State Department spokesperson told me in an email last week that the [Haiti] meeting was “positive and productive.” Translation: Nothing to see here; move along. In fact there’s a lot riding on these negotiations. The end of the chavismo dictatorship would be a good thing. But a descent into chaos of African proportions would take with it the frail democracy movement.

Venezuela News and Views agrees,

The fact of the matter is that Venezuela is a problem big enough that negotiations are a must because the alternative, not negotiating and waiting to see what happens is even worse.

There is a lot riding on these negotiations, for both Venezuela and Cuba.

And then there is a fourth party not mentioned by Diehl and O’Grady: Iran.

Emili Blasco, in his book Bumerán Chávez: Los fraudes que llevaron al colapso de Venezuela, details the many and extensive ties between Iran and Venezuela. Not to be ignored is how Iran milks the difference between the black market and official bolivar-dollar exchange rates and drains Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves. An easing of commercial ties between the U.S. and Venezuela will benefit Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves.

Iran, for one, will be watching closely.

Cars: Private enterprise vs. government-owned

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Private enterprise vs. government-owned: A consumer economy beats a command economy, all the way down the road.

Read my article here

Venezuela: And now for the Iranian cars

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Venezuela, where gasoline is almost free but the cars are lousy.

Jesus Silvia’s report on Press TV:

Iran’s car industry has shown signs of enhancing its share in Venezuelan market. The sale of US cars in Venezuela’s market has decreased dramatically since President Nicolas Maduro banned American automakers from using dollars for transactions. Iranian vehicles made by Venirauto group seem to be an alternative to Venezuelans in times of a troubled market.

VENezuela + IRan + AUTO = Venirauto, which is also a handy pun for “coming by car” (venir en auto)

Video:

At the 0:40 mark, Francisco Espinoza, president of Venirauto group, “Our achievement is based on inspiration given by our late commander, Hugo Chavez. He wanted Venezuela to ally with Iran, and we’re doing so.”

Compare and contrast the very low-tech plant shown in the video with a Hyundai assembly plant at Kancheepuram district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu October 4, 2012,

or the Volvo trucks assembly plant in South Carolina

One of the reasons Iran is willing to build cars in Venezuela when foreign automakers are leaving is that, as early as 2007, Iran agreed to build platforms in a US$4 billion development of Orinoco delta oil deposits in exchange for Venezuelan investments.

As you would expect from a government-forced monopoly, the cars don’t look jazzy (emphasis added),

The company Venirauto, which is 51% Iranian and 49% Venezuelan, is producing two different models. The first model, the Turpial at a price of Bs. 17 million (US$7,906), is a 4-door sedan based on the old Kia Pride model. The second is the Centauro, at a price of Bs. 23 million (US$11,069), and is based on the Peugeot 405 given that the French firm is the main supplier of engines and technology to the Iranian company. Both models are exempt from Venezuela’s sales tax IVA (Value-added tax), due to a government program to subsidize cars that include Venezuelan production.

The goal is to eventually produce 100% of the cars in Venezuela.

The Peugeot 405 was introduced on 1987 and, according to Wikipedia, is still produced under license in Iran and Egypt but ceased production in France in 1997. The old Kia Pride (not to be confused with the Kia New Pride) was in production from 1987 to 2000.

Don’t expect to find those in Kelley’s Blue Book Top 10 anytime soon.

Parting question,
Can the Venirautos be bullet-proofed?