Iran's Vice President Mohsen Rezaee (2nd from L) in Nicaragua with leftist Larin American leaders, January 10, 2022

Iran's Vice President Mohsen Rezaee (2nd from L) in Nicaragua with leftist Larin American leaders, January 10, 2022

Iran Making Plans For Latin America As Nuclear Deal Nears

Friday, 08/26/2022

Author: Mardo Soghom

“Iran’s play in America’s backyard” is the headline by the official government news website IRNA heralding new hopes of expanding influence in Latin America.

The article tried to give credit to hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi for making more inroads in Central and South America, particularly drawing attention to the election of a leftist president in Columbia.

IRNA publishes several articles daily to praise the accomplishments of the president who is under fire even by some hardliners for having failed to deliver any of his promises when he got elected last year.

The article about Latin America published on August 25 is no exception, presenting as a victory a trip by one of Raisi’s aides to Columbia in early August to take part in the inauguration of Gustavo Petro, a former anti-American leftist guerrilla fighter. IRNA said that Petro had condemned the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani in January 2020 on the orders of former US President Donald Trump, saying, “America always empowers the worst in the Middle East.”

The article mainly speaks about Latin America’s economic and diplomatic potential and makes no mention of Iran’s long-running overt and covert operations to build influence and networks in the region, together with its proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah.

“Experts believe areas of cooperation with Latin American countries can include energy, particularly oil, food production industries, chemical industries, infrastructure, dam construction, electricity generation and hydroelectric power…,” IRNA said, adding a few other options.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with Iran's Ebrahim Riasi in Tehran, June 10, 2022

Iran already closely cooperates with Venezuela in fossil fuels and security matters.

However, since 2005 when Iran’s attempts to expand its foothold in Latin America gained more momentum, Tehran has made plenty of economic promises to the region’s countries, but few have materialized because the period since has been marked by crippling international and US sanctions on Tehran.

With a possible nuclear deal on the horizon, these sanctions will be lifted, and Iran will get hold of tens of billions of dollars it can spend in Latin America. The IRNA article seems to be oriented toward making investments in countries friendly with the Islamic Republic.

But some countries are a bit careful about Iranian activities. In early June, Argentina grounded a Boeing 747 that Iran provided to Venezuela to launch an air cargo company. The plane was carrying at least five Iranians all with IRGC (Revolutionary Guard) ties.

Gerardo Milman, an Argentine lawmaker, told Iran International on June 23 that Iranians aboard the Venezuelan plane planned “attacks on human targets.” The aircraft itself had belonged to an Iranian airline with ties to the IRGC and had been sanctioned by the United States.

Secret Iranian and Hezbollah networks are involved in illicit activities, allegedly including the drug trade for generating funds.

Iran also converts locals to Shiite Islam and sends some to its seminaries in the religious city of Qom to be trained and indoctrinated.

US Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio were concerned over Iranian activities as far back as in 2012 and held hearings to assess the threat of Tehran launching anti-US operations from its backyard.

Two experts in 2020 offered a grim prospect on Iran’s influence in the region. “Iran has penetrated the governmental structure of many Latin American nations, especially the nations of the already left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Saint Kitts, and Nevis), and this is not only unconventional but also very dangerous.”

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