Iran ramps up courtship of Latin America

By Bernd Debusmann
December 30, 2011

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

For decades, American foreign policy on Latin America has gone through cycles of neglect and concern. It’s in a cycle of concern again, prompted by an Iranian campaign to make friends and influence people in the American backyard. Washington’s message to Iran’s Latin friends – don’t get too close – does not appear to impress them.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in unusually strong language, sounded the first warning on December 11: “I think if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them. And we hope that they will think twice.”

President Barack Obama followed up eight days later with a message focused on Venezuela, Iran beachhead in Latin America. Ties with Iran had not served the interests of Venezuela and its people, he said in an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper. “Sooner or later, Venezuela’s people will have to decide what possible advantage there is in having relations with a country that violates fundamental human rights and is isolated from most of the world.”

Since those warnings, Iran’s Latin American friends have made clear that they are not thinking twice, as Mrs. Clinton suggested. Instead, the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador are preparing to play host to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the second week of 2012. In another move to poke the “great Satan”, Iran’s label for the United States, in the eye in its own backyard, Iran launched a Spanish-language satellite TV channel, HispanTV, to break the dominance of international broadcasters that are “muzzled by imperialism, hiding the truth and twisting the facts.” So said Iranian Radio and TV executive Mohamed Sarafraz when he launched the new channel on December 21.

There is more than a little irony in that assertion, given that state-run Iranian media are no strangers to hiding the truth and twisting the facts, not to mention that the government imprisons journalists, jams foreign broadcasts, and engages in Internet censorship. The new Iranian channel aims beyond the countries run by anti-American leaders and is meant to convince Latin Americans of “the ideological legitimacy of our (Iranian) system to the world, ” in the words of Ezzatollah Zarghami, head of Iran’s state radio and TV. That’s easier said than done. Latin Americans dissatisfied with news and information from their own countries can turn to the Internet and to international networks already broadcasting to the region in Spanish — Britain’s BBC, TVE of Spain, Germany’s Deutsche Welle, Voice of America and CNN.

Iran’s entry in what Hillary Clinton has called a war of information speaks volumes about Ahmadinejad’s ambition to confront the United States not only in the Middle East but globally. It’s an ambition he shares with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has portrayed himself as the leader of a global “anti-imperialist” alliance since he came to power 13 years ago.

DELUSIONAL RHETORIC

The two have much in common, from shared hostility to the United States to rhetoric so outrageous it beggars belief. Ahmedinejad has called the holocaust “a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim” and he startled an audience in New York in 2007 by insisting there were no homosexuals in Iran. Chavez is given to elaborate theories involving U.S. assassination plots. After news this week that Argentine President Christina Kirchner had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Chavez speculated that the United States might have developed a way to give Latin American leaders cancer. He himself underwent cancer surgery in June.

Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo, Dilma Roussef of Brazil and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva have all battled cancer. Delusional statements aside, Chavez has been the key facilitator for Iran’s attempt to weaken U.S. supremacy in Latin America. Both Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales have declared Iran a “strategic ally” and have signed a slew of joint venture deals. Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega is a close ally, as are Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Cuba’s Raul Castro. For all of them, Iran’s nuclear program is not an issue: they accept Tehran’s assurances that it is for peaceful purposes.

The United States and its Western allies suspect that Iran is working on nuclear weapons and have imposed successively harsher sanctions to get the theocratic rulers to drop the program. The sanctions, Obama said this month, had succeeded in isolating Iran. They also had an unintended consequence Obama didn’t mention – Iran looking for friends wherever it can find them, from sub-Saharan Africa to America’s backyard. Obama and Clinton have yet to spell out the consequences of flirting with Iran against Washington’s wishes.

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)

9 comments

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Why does everyone in Iran look the bad guys in a cartoon? It’s like they do it on purpose. Did the revolutionary council sit in a room at some point with a slide show of bankrobbers and jewel thieves from Scooby Doo and say to itself…. These are the people we will be, in building our new nation. Grow your stubble, men. Blacken your eyes and your clothes. If the pressure is on, prepare to hide inside of a mummy coffin.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. Debusmann,

If you think that Chavez is so delusional, how do you compare with the real, documented Project Northwoods.

From Wikipedia, for US flim flam:
“Operation Northwoods was a series of false-flag proposals that originated within the United States government in 1962. The proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or other operatives, to commit acts of terrorism in U.S. cities and elsewhere. These acts of terrorism were to be blamed on Cuba in order to create public support for a war against that nation, which had recently become communist under Fidel Castro.[2]”

Many more details of this preposterous plan, which got up to the highest levels of our government, are provided at Wikipedia, including references for originally secret Army Joint Chiefs of Staff descriptions of the project [Don't miss pp 8-14 of Ref. 1,
northwoods.pdf].

And, does anyone doubt that the US government played a major role in the short-lived coup engineered against Chavez?

Presumably planning has become more sophisticated. With the Neocons in charge, so-called realists, anything goes. Actually, we assassinate people throughout the world on kind of a regular basis these days.

“DELUSIONAL RHETORIC” you say: They probably have a lot more right about the US than you seem to acknowledge.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

“Obama and Clinton have yet to spell out the consequences of flirting with Iran against Washington’s wishes.” I am not sure threats work, I think carrots work better.

Posted by Pedro07 | Report as abusive

The colonies want independence and the US does not want to let them go. Expect a raft of fixed elections coups and invasions as the US tries to regain control over Latin America.

In the last ten years since the US has been to busy in the Middle East to worry about South America they have bloomed, their economies are booming and poverty is in decline. It will not be easy to get them to go back into poverty under US control.

They are friends with Iran because Iran is the enemy of my enemy, just pragmatic politics no ideology involved.

Posted by Sinbad1 | Report as abusive

The U.S. has made a mess of its relationship with Latin America, and yet that area has SO much to offer the U.S. Surprisingly, if you actually visit, the people are still friendly to the U.S., although with the ‘rise of the rest’ we are increasingly irrelevant to them. Brazil alone has 2/3 of the population of the U.S. and a faster growing economy. Buenos Aries is more cosmopolitan and civilized than N.Y. or D.C., and an easier place to live. It is packed with good universities, and an educated workforce. Chavez is considered a nut, but they like his money. Also, he insults us so they don’t have to. Iran is a tool for them, but the real issue is the reason why they feel they need one. Still, there is a large Jewish population in Buenos Aires, with a long history of acceptance. They’ve experienced anti-Israeli acts of terrorism, and there is apprehension of Ahmadinejad.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Does this sound like a not so veiled threat to you?

“”U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I think if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them. And we hope that they will think twice.””

Posted by libertadormg | Report as abusive

The Monroe Doctrine prohibits Eastern Hemisphere nations from colonizing Western Hemisphere nations.

Posted by Lataroo | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann is another paranoid in the style of the neo-cons and irrational Israeli leaders. So, what if Iran has close ties with Latin American countries? It is no any business of the US. The Monroe Doctrine is dead and buried. So, please stay out of other people’s business.

Mr. Debusmann spouts so much nonsense in this article that it is not even funny. He repeats all the statements attributed to the caricature of President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who never denied the Holocaust and never said that there are no homosexuals in Iran. These stupid claims once they rise in the American media never die. He has only said that since the Holocaust occurred in Europe, why should the Palestinians pay for it? About homosexuals, he only said that Iran does not have the magnitude of the problem that exists in the US. All these silly claims and lies about Iran only show the lack of knowledge and insensitivity to what is going on in the rest of the world.

Posted by Logical123 | Report as abusive

Debusmann said “Chavez is given to elaborate theories involving U.S. assassination plots”

What about the US-sponsored “Chamber of Commerce” coup in 2002, when Chavez was taken prisoner? Had there not been a revolt against the coup, Chavez certainly would have been killed.

Sure the guy is bombastic… but delusional? No.

As the US and Israel prepares for war with Iran, there will be no shortage of US bullying any country that opposes the “Project for a New American Century”.

Hopefully first world bankruptcy or depression will prevent another war.

Posted by upstater | Report as abusive

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