Via LGF linkreader, op-ed in the LA Times by John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism official,
Iran’s Latin America push
As Washington ignores the region, Tehran has been making friends and influencing nations, most notably in Venezuela, Paraguay and Bolivia:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for instance, has held up his close ties with Iran as an example of what his revolution can do for the region. He has much to show for it, including an Iranian ammunition factory, a car assembly plant, a cement factory and other such examples of Iranian involvement. And just to make sure the U.S. can’t interfere (as it has in the past), Iran Air initiated direct air service between Tehran, Damascus and Caracas.
Then there’s Paraguay’s new president, Fernando Lugo Mendez, who was lauded in the Iranian media as “an enemy of the Great Satan” after naming Hezbollah sympathizer and fundraiser Alejandro Hamed Franco as the country’s new foreign minister. Hezbollah — which is Iranian funded and supported — already has a well-documented presence in Paraguay, and the U.S. State Department has banned the minister from entering the United States or from flying on a U.S. airline.
Bolivian President Evo Morales jumped into Iran’s lap even more quickly than his neighbors, ordering his foreign minister to lift visa restrictions on Iranian citizens in exchange for a $1.1-billion Iranian investment in Bolivia’s gas facilities. Morales then gushed that Bolivia would move its only embassy in the Middle East from Cairo to Tehran. Iranian state television even agreed to provide Bolivian state television with Spanish-language programming, making it that much easier for every Bolivian to receive Iranian-produced news and documentary shows — i.e. propaganda.
Iran’s largest embassy in our hemisphere is in Bolivia.
This will continue to be an ongoing problem regardless of whether Ahmadinejad is in power.
Kiriakou points out,
The real danger here doesn’t have to do with an arcane diplomatic battle over who has more friends in Latin America. The problem is visa-free Iranian travel and the potential creation of a terrorist base of operations in the United States’ backyard. If anyone with an Iranian passport may enter Bolivia without a visa or any further documentation, the country will soon be open to covert officers of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, its Islamic Revolutionary Guard, which the State Department recently declared a terrorist organization, and the Quds Force, an Iranian military group whose mandate is to spread Islamic revolution around the world.
A further danger is if other Latin American countries follow the Bolivian lead and lift visa restrictions. Iran already has proved what it can do in Latin America with visa restrictions. In 1994, Iranian agents worked with Hezbollah terrorists to bomb a Jewish association’s community center in Argentina, killing 85 people and wounding hundreds. An established Iranian intelligence presence traveling freely throughout Latin America would make counter-terrorism efforts in the region much more difficult.
Compounding the problem there is the Iranian nuclear program, which, as I have mentioned is well under way – the French conclude that the Iranians will have one bomb, or many bombs. The National Council of Resistance of Iran Foreign Affairs Committee claims that
As of mid-2007, the Iranian regime had transferred a series of missiles to Venezuela, and negotiations got underway for the production and assembly of more missiles in Venezuela.
Prior posts on Iran here