The shows highlight Argentine veterans’ difficult postwar adjustment process. A repressive military government mobilized the veterans, often conscripts from working-class backgrounds, for Argentina’s 1982 invasion of the islands in a last-ditch bid to rally popular support. Argentina’s leadership hadn’t expected the British to dispatch its own invasion force to retake the islands. Argentine troops were left underequipped and with only an improvised plan to confront the professional U.K. army.
In 2007, Mexican authorities raided the home of Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman who is believed to have supplied meth-precursor chemicals to the cartel, and discovered $206 million, the largest cash seizure in history. And that was the money Zhenli held onto — he was an inveterate gambler, who once blew so much cash in Las Vegas that one of the casinos presented him, in consolation, with a Rolls-Royce. “How much money do you have to lose in the casino for them to give you a Rolls-Royce?” Tony Placido, the D.E.A. intelligence official, asked. (The astonishing answer, in Zhenli’s case, is $72 million at a single casino in a single year.)
Martin Arostegui, reporting for the Miami Herald, writes on Latin America’s school for dictators in Bolivia where the Iranians, Cuban, Russians, and Hezbollah meet the leftist governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and now, possibly, Argentina (emphasis added)
A year ago this month, Bolivian President Evo Morales inaugurated the College for Defense of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) with a speech in which he called for the expulsion of U.S. intelligence agencies, a new military doctrine based on “asymmetrical war” against “imperialism” and the “abolition” of the U.N. Security Council. He also attacked the press, calling CNN a “tool of capitalism”,
Morales spoke in the presence of Iran’s defense minister, Gen Ahmed Vahidi, who had to be rushed from the ceremony when it was learned that Argentine prosecutors were issuing an international arrest warrant over his alleged role in the 1994 Hezbollah bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
ALBA is a Venezuelan-led association of anti-U.S. governments which also includes Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and some Caribbean island states dependent on Venezuelan oil subsidies. The fledgling alliance has been given little importance by U.S. intelligence analysts, who tend to dismiss it as a purely ideological entity.
Its 5,000-square-meter military facility outside the city of Santa Cruz, built at the cost of $2 million, remains empty, according to Bolivian defense spokesmen who say that they are awaiting “input” from other member states. One Bolivian army officer ventures to say that it is on “standby,” pending the elections in Venezuela.
Despite ALBA’s vacant real estate, it is becoming increasingly clear that member governments are in the process of forming a military and intelligence network aided and influenced by Iran that could leverage events in the hemisphere, in the absence of effective U.S. leadership.
Thousands of Cuban security advisors have played a critical role in consolidating the regime of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and have similarly assisted leftist governments in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and now, possibly, Argentina.
A Pentagon report released in 2010 also warned about the growing presence of Iranian elite Revolutionary Guard Al Qods officers in Latin America. Small Iranian advisory teams are operating with the security services of Venezuela and other ALBA nations, according to U.S. State Department officials speaking off the record.
Bolivia’s ex-defense minister, Maria Chacón, has said that the ALBA school seeks to form leadership cadres for civilian militias. The strategy of “people in arms” has long been promoted by Fidel Castro and Chávez for the ostensible purpose of resisting a U.S. invasion.
But a more immediate role for politically directed paramilitary organizations like Venezuela’s growing Bolivarian Militia may be keeping hard-line factions in power should internal struggles result from an opposition election victory or Chávez’s much anticipated death from cancer.
A Venezuelan official blacklisted by the U.S. government as a member of Hezbollah, Ghazi Nasr Al Din, directed Circulos Bolivarianos teams that disrupted opposition rallies, in many cases shooting government opponents, prior to assuming diplomatic postings in Lebanon and Syria.
The interface between ALBA and its Middle Eastern allies is such that Cuba has used its Russian-built electronic listening station to jam satellite broadcasts by U.S.-based Iranian opposition radio stations.
Bolivian legislator Norma Piérola has denounced the existence of five Venezuelan military installations in the countryside. Piérola, member of the Convergencia Nacional (National Convergence party), asserted that the military bases have existed since at least 2010.
Piérola made the statement during a session of the Legislative Assembly, in the presence of Defense Minister Rubén Saavedra and Government Minister Carlos Romero. Saavedra denied the military bases’ existence but declared that there are Venezuelan army personnel in Bolivia as part of an “educational exchange program” with friendly countries.
The Bolivian Constitution forbids any military installations from a foreign country.
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.
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.
With nearly 50 percent of voter support and an 18-point lead over his nearest challenger in the most recent poll, Ortega could end up with a mandate that would not only legitimize his re-election but allow him to make constitutional changes guaranteeing perpetual re-election.
Ortega’s well on his way – readers of this blog may remember that last year he insisted that the Nicaraguan Supreme Court declare term limits unconstitutional.
A retired right-wing general promising a crackdown on violent crime won Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday and will be the first military man to take power since democracy was restored in 1986.
Otto Perez had 54.2 percent support with results in from 98 percent of polling stations while his rival, wealthy businessman Manuel Baldizon, trailed with 45.8 percent.
Guatemala’s electoral tribunal declared Perez the winner late on Sunday, and his supporters began celebrating in the streets.
It was a clear move to the right for Central America’s largest economy and came after leftist President Alvaro Colom failed to contain violent crime or protect the country from Mexican drug cartels using it as a key smuggling route.
“Sunday’s so-called ‘election’ in Nicaragua was a complete sham. Daniel Ortega made sure of it.
“According to the Nicaraguan constitution, Ortega was not eligible to run for another term as President. But he forced his way onto the ballot through a corrupt scheme that trampled over Nicaraguan constitutional mandates.
“And once he forced his way onto the ballot, Ortega pulled out more tricks to make sure that he would win. He denied countless Nicaraguans the right to vote in order to stack the deck in his favor. He has clearly learned from his dictatorial buddies in the region, like Chavez, who is an expert at trampling democracy.
“Last month, I sent a letter to the Department of State urging the Administration to stand up to Ortega’s scheme to cling to power. The U.S. and other responsible nations cannot recognize the outcome of this stolen election.”
Nicaragua’s general election is scheduled for tomorrow: Voters will elect a president, plus 90 seats in the national Congress and 20 in the Central American Parliament are at stake.
While The Economist thinks that Daniel Ortega is set to win an unconstitutional third term and the Miami Herald’s asking if Ortega may be headed for a fall, both agree that it is Hugo Chávez’s oil-fueled largesse that keeps Ortega in power. Chávez’s bonus, in the form of low-interest, long-term loans for half of the money Nicaragua spends on Venezuelan oil, amounts to 7-8% of Nicaragua’s GDP. That’s after Venezuela sells the oil at below-market prices, which Nicaragua then sells at full market value.
But, as the election nears, Chávez sent Ortega more: The Miami Herald reports, in Spanish (my translation: if you use this please credit me and link to this post)
Ten days from the election, Ortega announced a number of financial incentives from Venezuela, including 1,700 stoves with gas tanks to be distributed to families, a $30 payroll bonus to 130,000 public employees, and building materials for 25,000 homes.
This means that Chávez, at the last moment, sent Ortega at least $3,900,000 – and this amount doesn’t include the cost of purchasing and transporting the stoves and the unspecified “building materials”, if the even exist.
The story begins with the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, an example of the way Tehran uses proxies such as Hezbollah to carry out its aims while giving it plausible deniability. Iran later got a boost when Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela and began seeding the top ranks of his government with Iranian sympathizers. In October 2006, a group called Hezbollah América Latina took responsibility for an attempted bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, Iran has increased the number of its embassies in Latin America to 11 from six.
The largest embassy is in La Paz, Bolivia.
All this has served a variety of purposes. Powerful evidence suggests that Iran has used Venezuelan banks, airliners and port facilities to circumvent international sanctions. Good relations between Tehran and various Latin American capitals—not just Caracas but also Managua, Quito, La Paz and Brasilia—increase Tehran’s diplomatic leverage. Hezbollah’s ties to Latin American drug traffickers serve as a major source of funding for its operations world-wide. Hezbollah has sought and found recruits among Latin America’s estimated population of five million Muslims, as well as Hispanic converts to Islam.
And then there is the detail that Latin America is the soft underbelly of the United States.
In September 2010, the Tucson, Ariz., police department issued an internal memo noting that “concerns have arisen concerning Hezbollah’s presence in Mexico and possible ties to Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTO’s) operating along the U.S.-Mexico border. The potential partnership bares alarming implications due to Hezbollah’s long-established capabilities, specifically their expertise in the making of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED’s).” The memo also noted the appearance of Hezbollah insignia as tattoos on U.S. prison inmates.
Stephens was in John Batchelor’s show last night. Batchelor, who is very knowledgeable about Iran, recognizes that this is not a trivial issue.
In addition to Stephens’s article,
As I have reported for Real Clear World, Iran’s current defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, is wanted by Interpol for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires. Italian newspaper La Stampa reported in 2008 that Iran is using Venezuela to duck UN sanctions.
It’s about time someone tells Hillary Clinton, whose reaction was, “nobody could make that up, right?”