[R-G] Iran in Latin America, as Seen Latin and Iranian Liberals

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Tue Jul 15 12:49:42 MDT 2008

Iran in Latin America: No More than a Nearby Nuisance, for now
Negar Mortazavi and Caroline Tarpey
Jul 14, 2008

Washington, DC — Latin American countries are sidling up to a new
ally, and they're finding one—in Iran. Last week, panelists in the
conference "Iran in Latin America: Threat or Axis of Annoyance?" at
the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars considered
whether these relationships are trivial partnerships of convenience or
budding bosom friendships that could threaten U.S. interests.

The panelists pointed out that the rapprochement between Iran and
Latin America did not originate under current Iranian president
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, due to his "aggressive" foreign policy,
which aims to defy attempts by the US and its allies to isolate Iran,
Tehran now solicits Latin American support much more intently than

Panelists concurred that Venezuela is the vital vein in Iran's
relations with Latin America. Farideh Farhi, current Public Policy
Scholar at the Wilson Center, mentioned that the Iran-Venezuela
alliance is "publicly touted as a poke in the eye of the United
States;" it is a relationship that "annoys great Washington

Iran wants to show the world that it is not isolated, Farhi continued,
and relations with Venezuela, which has a shared opposition to the
United States, build Iranian leverage. Elodie Brun, doctoral candidate
in political science at the Institute d'Etudes Politiques echoed this
statement in her presentation, pointing to a "shared hostile discourse
about the U.S." However, "Iran is not in the driver's seat" in this
relationship, Farhi underscored, and concluded that it is "too soon to
say" if Iranian involvement with Venezuela or anywhere in Latin
America will truly threaten U.S. interests.

Félix Maradiaga, former Secretary General of Nicaragua's Ministry of
Defense, characterized the relationship between Iran and Nicaragua as
one similarly grounded in "profoundly anti-U.S. discourse" that, like
Iran's relationships with other Latin American countries, takes its
cues from Iran's dealings with Venezuela. Yet, for now, U.S. aid may
buy Nicaragua's loyalty. "There is no indication that [Iranian
support] will be a short-run substitution for aid from Europe and
North American empires," Maradiaga argued.

Hugo Alconada Mon, U.S. Bureau Chief of the Argentine newspaper, La
Nacion, was more apprehensive about the implications of Iran's
regional involvement. Recalling the 1992 bombing of the Israeli
Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish
community in which Iranian-supported Hezbollah has been implicated, he
commented that suspected Iranian support of terrorism in the
tri-border region is a serious "source of concern for Washington."

Argentina is wary of both a third terrorist attack and of provoking
the U.S., so it avoids close ties with Iran, Mon commented. At the
same time, the U.S. is not a fast friend of Argentineans: 62% of
Argentineans have an unfavorable view of the U.S. while only about
half have a negative image of Iran, Mon said.

In contrast, Iran-Ecuador relations "have not been used to advance
anti-Americanism," argued César Montúfar, professor at Quito's
Universidad Andina Simón Bolίvar. Montúfar emphasized that the
alliance is not unwavering, with Ecuador refraining from publicizing
it much, while Iranian authorities have been vocal about their ties
with Ecuador to emphasize their ability to overcome U.S. attempts to
isolate Iran.

Were U.S.-Iran tensions to escalate, most of Iran's Latin American
allies would offer little more than vocal support for Iran or
condemnation of U.S. military action, Maradiaga and Farhi agreed.
"Venezuela is the only Latin American country that could take actual
action if a U.S.-Iran conflict unfolds," Maradiaga contended. In terms
of tactical support Farhi said, "Iranians presumably have other easier
to access tools in the rest of the world."

The Iranian-Venezuelan relationship, and by extension Iran's other
regional relationships, are bolstered by what Brun called a "shared
criticism of the U.S.," but most countries in the region also share a
"dependency" on U.S. aid and support, which tempers their enthusiasm
for dealings with Iran.

Yet, Iran's visibility in Latin America has clearly grown in recent
years. According to Montúfar, Iran pursues relations with Latin
American states as a sign of solidarity; "a gesture to [other]
countries who feel attacked by the U.S."

Ultimately, Iran's desire for strategic alliances and political clout
drives its actions. "Iran wants regional power and recognition," Farhi
stated, "but it is not a large-scale threat." The trend of Iranian
activity in Latin America may produce anti-U.S. rhetoric, but the
panelists largely concluded that at least for now, Iran remains merely
an "axis of annoyance."

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