The relationship is part of Iran’s effort to gain a foothold in the region by courting Bolivia, Venezuela and other left-leaning countries in Latin America with aid and business partnerships. The new ties help give both Iran and Bolivia greater international recognition as Iran seeks to challenge U.S. influence, experts say.
“The basic motivation is that Iran and a handful of governments in Latin America are looking for opportunities to counter and attack U.S. influence in the world,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “As Latin American countries try to diversify their international partners, Iran offers itself up.”
There is much speculation in Bolivia and in U.S. policy circles – but few hard facts – about the relationship between Bolivia and Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Bolivian President Evo Morales for the first time in September 2007. Iran pledged $1.1 billion to help industrialize Bolivia, and the two leaders signed “memos of understanding” related to cooperation in agriculture, trade and energy.
The countries recently exchanged ambassadors, and Morales expressed interest in buying Iranian-built planes and helicopters when he visited Tehran in October. Iran has funded a milk factory and the hospital in El Alto.
But because the two countries have little chance of establishing meaningful trade – and unlike Iran and Venezuela, don’t have oil in common – the relationship remains mostly political.
What remains to be ascertained is exactly what is behind all this largesse. Lithium?