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New Nexus Of Narcoterrorism: Hezbollah And Venezuela – Analysis

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Written by: FPRI
December 22, 2011
By Vanessa Neumann

Press stories, as well as a television documentary, over the past two months have detailed the growing cooperation between South American drug traffickers and Middle Eastern terrorists, proving that the United States continues to ignore the mounting terrorist threat in its own “backyard” of Latin America at its own peril. A greater portion of financing for Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, is coming from Latin America, while they are also setting up training camps and recruiting centers throughout our continent, endangering American lives and interests globally. Some Latin American countries that were traditional allies for the U.S. (including Venezuela) have now forged significant political and economic alliances with regimes whose interests are at odds with those of the U.S., particularly China, Russia and Iran. In fact Iran and Iran’s Lebanese asset, “the Party of God,” Hezbollah, have now become the main terror sponsors in the region and are increasingly funded by South American cocaine.

Venezuela

Venezuela

Venezuela and Iran are strong allies: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly call each other “brothers,” and last year signed 11 memoranda of understanding for, among other initiatives, joint oil and gas exploration, as well as the construction of tanker ships and petrochemical plants. Chávez’s assistance to the Islamic Republic in circumventing U.N. sanctions has got the attention of the new Republican leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, resulting in the May 23rd, 2011 announcement by the US State Department that it was imposing sanctions on the Venezuelan government-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as a punishment for circumventing UN sanctions against Iran and assisting in the development of the Iran’s nuclear program.

Besides its sponsored terrorist groups, Iran also has a growing direct influence in Latin America, spurred by three principal motivations: 1) a quest for uranium, 2) a quest for gasoline, 3) a quest for a base of operations that is close to the US territory, in order to position itself to resist diplomatic and possible military pressure, possibly by setting up a missile base within striking distance of the mainland US, as the Soviets did in the Cuban Missile Crisis. FARC, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda all have training camps, recruiting bases and networks of mutual assistance in Venezuela as well as throughout the continent.

I have long argued that Latin America is an increasing source of funding for Middle Eastern terrorism and to overlook the political changes and security threats in the region with such geographic proximity to the US and its greatest source of immigrants is a huge strategic mistake. It was inevitable that South American cocaine traffickers and narcoterrorists would become of increasing importance to Hezbollah and other groups. While intelligence officials believe that Hezbollah used to receive as much as $200 million annually from its primary patron, Iran, and additional money from Syria, both these sources have largely dried up due to the onerous sanctions imposed on the former and the turmoil in the latter.

A recent New York Times front-page article (December 14, 2011) revealed the extensive and intricate connections between Hezbollah and South American cocaine trafficking. Far from being the passive beneficiaries of drug-trafficking expats and sympathizers, Hezbollah has high-level officials directly involved in the South American cocaine trade and its most violent cartels, including the Mexican gang Los Zetas. The “Party of God’s” increasing foothold in the cocaine trade is facilitated by an enormous Lebanese diaspora. As I wrote in my May 2011 e-note, in 2005, six million Muslims were estimated to inhabit Latin American cities. However, ungoverned areas, primarily in the Amazon regions of Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, present easily exploitable terrain over which to move people and material. The Free Trade Zones of Iquique, Chile; Maicao, Colombia; and Colón, Panama, can generate undetected financial and logistical support for terrorist groups. Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru offer cocaine as a lucrative source of income. In addition, Cuba and Venezuela have cooperative agreements with Syria, Libya, and Iran.

Some shocking revelations into the global interconnectedness of Latin American governments and Middle Eastern terrorist groups have come from Walid Makled, Venezuela’s latter-day Pablo Escobar, who was arrested on August 19, 2010 in Cúcuta, a town on the Venezuelan-Colombian border. A Venezuelan of Syrian descent known variously as “El Turco” (“The Turk”) or “El Arabe” (“The Arab”), he is allegedly responsible for smuggling 10 tons of cocaine a month into the US and Europe—a full 10 percent of the world’s supply and 60 percent of Europe’s supply. His massive infrastructure and distribution network make this entirely plausible, as well as entirely implausible the Venezuelan government did not know. Makled owned Venezuela’s biggest airline, Aeropostal, huge warehouses in Venezuela’s biggest port, Puerto Cabello, and bought enormous quantities of urea (used in cocaine processing) from a government-owned chemical company.

After his arrest and incarceration in the Colombian prison La Picota, Makled gave numerous interviews to various media outlets. When asked on camera by a Univisión television reporter whether he had any relation to the FARC, he answered: “That is what I would say to the American prosecutor.” Asked directly whether he knew of Hezbollah operations in Venezuela, he answered: “In Venezuela? Of course! That which I understand is that they work in Venezuela. [Hezbollah] make money and all of that money they send to the Middle East.” A prime example of the importance of the Lebanese diaspora in triangulating amongst South American cocaine and Middle Eastern terrorists, is Ayman Joumaa, a Sunni Muslim of the Medellín cartel with deep ties with Shiites in the Hezbollah strongholds of southern Lebanon. His indictment made public on Tuesday “charges him with coordinating shipments of Colombian cocaine to Los Zetas in Mexico for sale in the United States, and laundering the proceeds” (NY Times, Dec. 14, 2011).

The growing routes linking South American cocaine to Middle Eastern terrorists are primarily from Colombia through Venezuela. According to an April 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the most prominent country of origin for direct cocaine shipments to Europe, with the cocaine coming mainly from Colombia, primarily the FARC and ELN terrorist groups. Shipments to Africa, mostly West Africa, gained in importance between 2004 and 2007, resulting in the emergence of a new key trans-shipment hub: centered on Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, stretching to Cape Verde, The Gambia and Senegal, thus complementing the already existing trafficking hub of the Bight of Benin, which spans from Ghana to Nigeria. As the cocaine is transported through Africa and into Europe, its safe passage is guaranteed (much as it was in Latin America) by terrorist groups—most prominently, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. The cocaine can also travel from Latin America’s Tri‐Border Area (TBA)—bounded by Puerto Iguazu, Argentina; Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; and Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil—to West Africa (particularly Benin, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, with its poor governance and vast archipelagos) and then north into Europe through Portugal and Spain or east via Syria and Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s traditional continental home has been the TBA, where a large, active Arab and Muslim community consisting of a Shi’a majority, a Sunni minority, and a small population of Christians who emigrated from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian territories about 50 years ago. The TBA, South America’s busiest contraband and smuggling center, has long been an ideal breeding ground for terrorist groups, including Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda—the latter since 1995 when Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad first visited.

Hezbollah is still active in the TBA, according to Argentine officials. They maintain that with Iran’s assistance, Hezbollah carried out a car‐bomb attack on the main building of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, protesting the Israeli‐Jordanian peace agreement that year. Today, one of the masterminds of those attacks, the Iranian citizen and Shia Muslim teacher, Mohsen Rabbani, remains not only at large, but extremely active in recruiting young Brazilians, according to reports in Brazilian magazine Veja. This region, the third in the world for cash transactions (behind Hong Kong and Miami), continues to be an epicenter for the conversion and recruitment of a new generation of terrorists who then train in the Middle East and pursue their activities both there and in the Americas.

According to Lebanon’s drug enforcement chief, Col. Adel Mashmoushi, as cited in The New York Times, a main transportation route for terrorists, cash and drugs was aboard a flight commonly referred to as “Aeroterror,” about which I wrote in my May 2011 e-note for FPRI. According to my own secret sources within the Venezuelan government, the flight had the route Tehran-Damascus-Caracas-Madrid, where it would wait for 15 days, and flew under the direct orders of the Venezuelan Vice-President, according to the captain. The flight would leave Caracas seemingly empty (though now it appears it carried a cargo of cocaine) and returned full of Iranians, who boarded the flight in Damascus, where they arrived by bus from Tehran. The Iranian ambassador in Caracas would then distribute the new arrivals all over Venezuela.

I wrote in my May 2011 e-note that reports that Venezuela has provided Hezbollah operatives with Venezuelan national identity cards are so rife, they were raised in the July 27, 2010, Senate hearing for the recently nominated U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Larry Palmer. When Palmer answered that he believed the reports, Chávez refused to accept him as ambassador in Venezuela. Thousands of foreign terrorists have in fact been given national identity cards that identify them as Venezuelan citizens and give them full access to the benefits of citizenship. In 2003, Gen. Marcos Ferreira, who had been in charge of Venezuela’s Department of Immigration and Foreigners (DIEX) until he decided to support the 2002 coup against Chávez, said that he had been personally asked by Ramón Rodríguez Chacín (who served as both deputy head of DISIP—Venezuela’s intelligence service, now renamed SEBIN—and Interior Minister under Chávez) to allow the illegal entry Colombians into Venezuela thirty-five times and that the DISIP itself regularly fast-tracked insurgents including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. The newly-minted Venezuelan citizens during Ferreira’s tenure include 2,520 Colombians and 279 “Syrians.” And that was only during three of the past twelve years of an increasingly radicalized Chávez regime.

While Chávez has done more than anyone to strengthen these relationships with Middle Eastern terrorists, in an attempt to use what he calls “the International Rebellion” (including Hezbollah, Hamas and ETA) in order to negotiate with the US for power in Latin America, the coziness of the seemingly strange bedfellows dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union, when the USSR abandoned Cuba. At the Sao Paulo Forum of 1990, prominent Venezuelans and international terrorists were all in attendance, including: then-Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez (against whom Chávez attempted a coup in 1992); Alí Rodríguez, then-President of PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company); Pablo Medina, a left-wing Venezuelan politician who initially supported Chávez, but has now moved to the opposition; as well as Fidel Castro, Moammar Qaddafi and leaders of the FARC, Tupamaros and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The extent to which these alliances have deepened and become institutionalized is exemplified by the Continental Bolivarian Coordinator, the office that coordinates all the Latin American terrorists. According to a well-placed Venezuelan military source of mine, they are headquartered in the Venezuelan state of Barinas—the same state that is effectively a Chávez family fiefdom, with their sprawling family estate, La Chavera, and their total control of local politics. Their extreme anti-Semitism is not ideological, but simply out of convenience: to court and maintain Iranian support.

According to the Congressional Research Service, with enactment of the sixth FY2011 Continuing Resolution through March 18, 2011, (H.J.Res. 48/P.L. 112-6) Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

Yet for all this massive spending on fighting terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to them here, on a number of fronts. First and foremost, the United States is under territorial threat through its Mexican border. Hezbollah operatives have already been smuggled, along with drugs and weapons, in tunnels dug under the border with the US by Mexican drug cartels. Only a week after my October 5th interview by KT McFarland on Fox, where I specifically warned of a possibility of this resulting in a terrorist attack carried out inside the US with the complicity of South American drug traffickers, the global press revealed a plot by the elite Iranian Quds Force to utilize the Mexican gang Los Zetas to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a bombing that would have murdered many Americans on their lunch hour.

Second, American assets in Latin America are under threat. Embassies, consulates, corporate headquarters, energy pipelines and American- or Jewish-sponsored community centers and American citizens have already been targeted by terrorist groups all over Latin America for decades: FARC in Colombia, Sendero Luminoso and Tupac Amaru in Peru and Hezbollah in Argentina. Al Qaeda is also rumored to have a strong presence in Brazil.

Third, while American soldiers give their lives trying to defeat terrorists and violent insurgents in the Middle East, these same groups are being supported and strengthened increasingly by Latin America, where they receive training, weapons and cash. This makes American military engagement far more costly by any metric: loss of life and financial cost.

Indeed over the last decade, Latin America is a region spiraling ever more out of American control. It is a region with which the United States has a growing asymmetry of power: it has more importance to the United States, while the United States is losing influence over Latin America, which remains the largest source of oil, drugs and immigrants, both documented and not. Latinos now account for 15 percent of the US population and nearly 50 percent of recent US population growth, as well as a growing portion of the electorate, as seen in the last presidential elections. The discovery of huge new oil reserves in Brazil and Argentina, that might even challenge Saudi Arabia, and the 2012 presidential elections in Venezuela, make Latin America of increasing strategic importance to the U.S., particularly as the future political landscape of the Middle East becomes ever more uncertain, in the wake of the Arab Spring and the political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in previously secular Arab governments. The growth of transnational gangs and the resurgence of previously waning terrorist organizations pose complicated new challenges, as violence and murder cross the U.S. border, costing American lives and taking a huge toll on U.S. law enforcement. The United States needs to develop a smart policy to deal with these challenges.

So while the US is expending vast resources on the GWOT, the terrorists are being armed and reinforced by America’s southern neighbors, making the GWOT far more costly for the US and directly threatening American security. Even though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez may be removed from the presidency either through an electoral loss in the October 7, 2012 presidential elections or through his battle with cancer, certain sectors of the Venezuelan government will continue to support international terrorism, whose activities, bases and training camps have now spread throughout this region. By understanding the dynamics of the increasingly entrenched narcoterrorist network, the U.S. can develop an effective policy to contend with these, whether or not President Chávez remains in power.

Author:
Vanessa Neumann
is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is co-chair, with FPRI Trustee Devon Cross, of FPRI’s Manhattan Initiative.

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Update: Iran Conducting Anti-U.S. Operations from Latin America

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Israel Ortega and James Phillips

December 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Iran is conducting anti-U.S. operations from Latin America, including military training camps in Venezuela, and expanding its reach across the border from the U.S. in Mexico, according to footage unveiled late Thursday by the largest Spanish-language network in the United States, Univision. The documentary showed a former Iran senior official accepting a plan to launch from Mexico a cyber war on the United States, one that would cripple U.S. computer systems, including the White House, the FBI, the CIA and several nuclear plants. The official, former Iranian Ambassador to Mexico … More

Iran Conducting Anti-U.S. Operations from Latin America – Atlas Shrugs

Iran Twitter Flag

Obama is neither inept nor stupid; he is, in fact, dangerous. Obama’s sanction of Iran and aiding and abetting in the putdown of the freedom revolution in Iran in 2009 ranks, IMAO, as his most monstrous failure, among countless others.

A small number of us in the blogosphere (those concerned with the global jihad) have been documenting the increasing ties between Iran and Venezuela, Brazil, and Cuba. Further, the infiltration of Hezb’allah in Latin America and particularly in Mexico is well known. Hezb’allah exploits the drug cartels’ narco-transit routes in Mexico…..

Iran Conducting Anti-U.S. Operations from Latin America – Atlas Shrugs.

Halliburton: Moving Quickly on the Global Shale Boom

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Source: Halliburton

The world’s largest oil-field services company is preparing for the boom in shale gas and oil development to spread beyond North America in the coming years, likely heating up in 2013.

Poland is already moving quickly to exploit gas reserves using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies. Many more promising basins have been located in Latin America and the Eastern Hemisphere, and drillers and well completion companies will probably see a major growth in international business related to shale extraction from 2013 and into 2014, a Halliburton executive told industry peers at an analyst event.

“Things are moving quickly, probably a little more quickly than we originally anticipated,” said Tim Probert, president of Halliburton’s strategy and corporate development division. The evolving situation beyond the United States and Canada, he said, promises a “robust outlook for the oil service industry.”

In the past year, Halliburton has discovered “a fairly sizable population” of shale basins and other unconventional oil and gas reserves that could be tapped using new and improving technologies, Probert said at a two-day event sponsored by the investment firm Jefferies.

Halliburton technology teams have been dispatched to do assessments in the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and Europe. The results they are reporting are raising eyebrows with regard to the potential for international business growth.

A total of 150 separate basins have been analyzed so far, Probert noted, and 60 have been assessed in detail. And although market and regulatory conditions will make many of those basins infeasible or impractical for oil and gas development, many more will eventually to opened up to exploration and exploitation, Halliburton predicts.

A more international operating environment will also probably force the industry to adapt new technologies and techniques for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that cause less concern among environmentalists and regulators, Probert added.

Halliburton is working on techniques that employ “clean” fracking fluids that use chemicals commonly found in the food-processing industry, he said. The company is investing millions of dollars in research in the hopes of creating the “frack of the future,” more environmentally friendly and less controversial fracking techniques, Probert said.

Halliburton also sees growing interest in the Middle East and other major historic oil patches to employ other enhanced extraction technologies aside from fracturing, to arrest future declining output from mature oil fields.

The company maintains that Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] producers, in particular, are not investing enough in existing fields. That trend, the company said, will reverse as pressure builds in those nations to keep government revenues from oil and gas production flowing.

The company also sees business in the offshore sector perking up in the coming years. Many new rigs are seen coming online beyond the Gulf of Mexico. East Africa is an especially promising market, Probert said, adding that his company is moving to build the infrastructure in that region that will be necessary to support a robust offshore oil and gas industry there.

“We are more enthusiastic today than we were two quarters ago,” Probert said.

Source: E&E News.  E&E News is published by Environment & Energy Publishing.  For more news on energy and the environment, visit  http://www.eenews.net/

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Iran Opens 500mln euro Credit Line for Cuba

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TEHRAN (FNA)- Iran has allocated a credit line of 500 million euros (about 685 million US dollars) to Cuba.

Abel Salas, vice president of Cuba‘s National Institute of Water Resources, announced the allocation Wednesday at a meeting with Iran’s deputy energy minister in Tehran, Tehran Times reported on Thursday.

Salas expressed the hope that some parts of the credit line would be used for the reconstruction of Cuba’s energy system.

Iran and Cuba signed a protocol for economic and trade cooperation in September during Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi‘s visit to Havana. The protocol stipulated that Iran would expand its credit to Cuba from 270 million to 680 million US dollars.

It also included accords on the two countries’ collaboration in industry, energy, trade, health, finance, biotechnology and hydraulics.

Iran has been producing equipment for rail systems and synthetic media for the Cuban market under a 2009 agreement. The expansion of credit will also support the program.

Iran has in recent years expanded friendly ties with Latin America, specially in economic, trade and industrial fields.

Since taking office in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expanded Iran’s cooperation with many Latin American states, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Cuba.

The strong and rapidly growing ties between Iran and Latin America have raised eyebrows in the US and its western allies since Tehran and Latin nations have forged an alliance against the imperialist and colonialist powers.

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Mexico: Cal Dive to Install Subsea Pipeline in Abkatun Offshore Field

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Cal Dive International, Inc. announced today that it has been awarded a contract by Pemex Exploración y Producción for the installation of an 8 inch subsea pipeline located in the Abkatun Field in 47 meters of water. The contract will generate total revenue of approximately $27 million and will utilize two of the Company’s key assets. The offshore construction is expected to commence in April 2012.

Quinn Hébert, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cal Dive, stated, “We are pleased to announce our first contract win in Mexico for 2012. We expect 2012 to be a very active year in Mexico as the capital spending by Pemex is expected to be at a higher level than in recent years.”

Cal Dive International, Inc., headquartered in Houston, Texas, is a marine contractor that provides an integrated offshore construction solution to its customers, including manned diving, pipelay and pipe burial, platform installation and platform salvage services to the offshore oil and natural gas industry on the Gulf of Mexico OCS, Northeastern U.S., Latin America, Southeast Asia, China, Australia, the Middle East, India and the Mediterranean, with a fleet of 29 vessels, including 19 surface and saturation diving support vessels and 10 construction barges.

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The Mottled Relationship: Iran and Latin America

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by admin
September 27, 2011

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to visit President Hugo Chávez on September 24, but the trip was postponed as the Venezuelan head of state recovers from cancer.
• Ahmadinejad partially empties UN Hall with some of his harshest statements.
• Iranian influence in Latin America is sometimes more fiction than fact.
• Befriending Iran’s repressive regime is somewhat contradictory for Latin American governments that openly crow their respect for democracy and human rights. Does Brazil really mean to have a creditable relationship with one of the most disreputable players and human rights violators?
• In an ironic twist, Chávez is credited for mediating with the Iranian government to free two American hikers.
• The attacks against Israeli centers in Argentina in 1992 and 1994 continue to be a source of tension, but in Buenos Aires, business comes first.

The Islamic Republic of Iran and Latin America have been fostering closer relationships for more than a decade, working towards building cohesive diplomatic relations and strengthening economic agreements. These ties began with Cuba’s championing of the 1979 Iranian revolution, and today those connections also extend to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and the ever-controversial Venezuela, with these amplified ties being sedulously cultivated by Tehran. Due to Iran’s internal politics, such as its controversial nuclear program, its contemptible human rights record, and its often tense, if not minatory, relations with the U.S., initiatives between Tehran and the Western Hemispheric states have come under heavy critique. As a result, there is speculation and differing interpretations over the existing level of influence that Iran currently enjoys in several nations of Latin America.

A Brief Overview

Ironically, as relations with the U.S. and European countries have deteriorated, Iran’s relations with the Global South have, if anything, noticeably progressed. Perhaps as a direct result of the U.S. placing Iran within the ‘axis of evil’, the Persian state began pursuing relationships with African governments and, within the last decade, an increasing number of Latin American countries, as a strategy to counteract U.S.-backed ostracism and efforts to diplomatically isolate Tehran. The apparent reasons for these alliances are:

(a) to gain economic advantage as well as much-needed relief and collegiality to cope with the consequences of U.S.- imposed sanctions;
(b) to counterbalance the geopolitical effect of U.S. policy in both the Muslim World and Latin America;
(c) to garner a sympathetic attitude and support for its nuclear program;
(d) to gain recognition in an increasingly prominent part of the Western Hemisphere, and in Washington’s sphere of influence, in order to achieve political prestige in the international community. This also helps, in part, divert the attention among the Iranian people, particularly in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian election fraud that prompted massive repression of the dissenting democratic opposition.

The most pertinent questions, however, remain to be answered: Has the long term impact of these increasingly intimate relationships, such as the one between Caracas and Tehran, been fully analyzed? Are the initiatives and maneuverings carried out by some Latin American governments solely due to their impetuousness and lack of long-term goals? Notwithstanding the immediate economic advantage of gaining new markets, the long-term political ramifications and disadvantages of doing business with what the free world considers a horrendously corrupt regime places the Latin American region into a precarious situation. Latin America’s good will initiatives and human resources could be more wisely expended in dealing with nations that do not carry out egregious abuses towards its own citizens.

Case Study: Argentina

In March 1992, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was the subject of a bomb attack. It has been established that a pickup truck loaded with explosives, and driven by a suicide bomber, smashed into the front of the embassy, killing thirty-three and wounding as many as 242 persons. In July 1994, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires was the target of an attack that killed eighty-five people, while scores more were injured.

The violent Islamist militant organization Hezbollah has been regarded as the culprit behind these attacks, but there have been rumors that the Iranian government, including some members of the current administration in Tehran, may have been more directly involved. The Persian state has repeatedly declared its innocence regarding its involvement in both attacks. In July 2011, Iran’s Foreign Ministry stated that “the Islamic Republic of Iran, as one of the major victims of terrorism, condemns all acts of terror, including the 1994 AMIA bombing, and offers sympathy with the families of the victims of the explosion […] Iran’s Foreign Ministry expresses regret that 17 years on from the occurrence of this crime, the truth behind it has not been revealed yet and the identities of its real perpetrators are still shrouded in mystery.” Furthermore, an article published by Press TV (a semi-official Iranian news agency) in July argues that, “under intense political pressure from the United States and the Israeli regime, Argentina formally accused Iran of carrying out the attack on the Jewish community.” Most independent observers, however, dismiss this rhetoric merely as tactical method to confuse the subject.

Tensions between Iran and Argentina took a new twist in early June 2011, when Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi visited Bolivia. General Vahidi is wanted by Argentina for allegedly masterminding the 1994 bombing. Buenos Aires asked La Paz to apprehend the Iranian official, but he returned to Tehran before any decision by the Bolivian government could be made. As Iran continues to promote its influence in Latin America, the controversy over the Argentine bombings will continue to be a sore point for the foreseeable future. The Argentine-Persian relationship, or lack thereof, presents a fascinating case study of a state trying to improve relations with another while at the same time attempting to overcome a violent recent past that includes state-sponsored terrorism.

Trade and Investments

During recent years, Iran has expanded its economic cooperation with many Latin American states, entering into substantial trade agreements with Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and, somewhat surprisingly, Argentina. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated in a report issued in December 2009 that Brazil is Iran’s largest trade partner in Latin America. Last year, Iran’s state radio announced that bilateral trade with Brazil had increased to more than USD 2 billion in 2009-10, an increase from USD 500 million in 2005, and was forecast to reach USD 10 billion in the next 5 years.

Argentina is Iran’s second largest trading partner in the region, despite the fact that Buenos Aires has accused Tehran of the 1992 and 1994 bombings. Trade relations remained at marginal rates throughout the 1990s, but commercial activity never ceased entirely, and by 2008 bilateral trade had soared to USD 1.2 billion, dramatically overshadowing the 2007 figure of USD 30 million.

In addition, relations between Iran and Venezuela are a mixed bag of actual achievement and diplomatic rhetoric. According to the IMF report, and in spite of highly cordial political and diplomatic relations, bilateral trade between Venezuela and Iran did not advance in the same way as it did for other Latin American countries. For example, while Brazilian and Argentine trade with Iran has increased by 88 percent and 96 percent since 2007 respectively, Venezuela’s trade increased by only 31 percent in the same period. Following the increase in trade with Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela became Iran’s fifth largest trade partner in the region.

Moreover, Iran has pursued deeper trade and diplomatic relationships with Bolivia as well. Trade and energy agreements between La Paz and Tehran, signed in September 2007, confirmed the increasingly friendly nature of ties between the two countries. Iran’s involvement in the Bolivian economy extends to investment in and technological support for industrial projects such as dairy factories, agriculture, mining, and hydroelectric dam construction. Additionally, in July 2009, Tehran agreed to provide USD 280 million in low-interest loans to La Paz. Finally, Peru is also a growing importer of Iranian products, as is Ecuador. The expansion of trade ties follows an overall regional trade ‘offensive’ by Iran in recent years. IMF data analyzed by the Latin Business Chronicle indicates that Iran-Latin American trade skyrocketed by 209 percent in 2008, totaling a robust USD 2.9 billion. What this data tells us is that there is certainly a potential for trade to grow between Iran and several Western Hemisphere states, however Iran’s trade numbers are dwarfed by the region’s other trade partners, like the U.S., China and Europe.

Geopolitical Interests

To Washington’s increasing concern, the Brazilian Deputy Foreign Minister Maria Louisa met with her Iranian counterpart, Ali Ahani, in Brazil in early August 2011. The Brazilian official described Iran as one of “the important partners of Brazil” and an “influential” country. Louisa noted that Tehran and Brasilia would attempt to increase the level of mutual ties “considering the developments of the two countries in different fields.” The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, for his part, hailed “the friendly and good relations” between both states and said that the governments of Iran and Brazil are eager to expand ties. Given the grim status quo between Washington and Tehran, at some point in the near future, the White House is bound press the issue, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may have to choose whether her government will pursue closer relations with Washington, or with Tehran.

According to the Iranian International Newspaper Ettelaat, Iran has nearly doubled the number of embassies and cultural centers it maintains in Latin America. The number of embassies increased from six in 2005 to ten in 2010, and Tehran is building cultural centers in seventeen Latin American countries. Additionally, Iran has successfully negotiated no-visa agreements with Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia. It can also be argued that although relations have been strained with Argentina since the terrorist bombings, the continued trade between the two countries is a signal that geopolitical interests have gradually taken precedence over efforts to apprehend the perpetrators of the attacks. Argentina’s reaction to the visit of Defense Minister Vahidi to Bolivia does point out that Buenos Aires has not forgotten Iran’s alleged role, but that ultimately other initiatives have taken priority.

Nevertheless, if we consider Iran’s repressive regime, its brutal crackdown on dissenting voters, and the continued suppression of what most nations, particularly in the West, consider a wholly organic and legitimate uprising, it is difficult to comprehend the continued warming of relations with its Latin American partners. Nations are certainly free to pursue close relations with any states they wish, but it is baffling, considering the Iranian government’s repressive record when it comes to its own population, that Latin American governments, many of which repeatedly publicly proclaim their respect for human rights, want to befriend a thoroughly toxic nation like Iran. So what could be the reasons why Latin American countries continue to welcome the Iranian government’s overtures? Simply put, Latin American nations want an alternative to what some regional players see, at times, as U.S. imperialism. This is exemplified by the Chávez and Ahmadinejad pact signed in 2007 to formulate an “Axis of Unity”, particularly against the U. S.

In order for Iran to gain the geopolitical strength that its revolutionary leaders so fervently aspire to obtain, the country continues to play its U.S- as-an-imperial power card as aggressively as possible. It also plays a powerful role in pushing its Latin American partners into recognizing Palestine as a counterbalancing force against U.S. and Israeli influence. When it comes to assessing geopolitical gains, the common denominator between Latin America and Iran is economic advancement, rather than the counterbalancing of geopolitical power. Venezuela’s President Chávez is the exception to this rule, as, even though Venezuelan-Iranian economic relations are fairly robust, a major factor for this close rapprochement is that Chavez and the Iranian government are fairly ideologically aligned (at least regarding their views on Washington).

Support for Iran’s Nuclear Program

Venezuela, Cuba, and Syria were the only three countries that supported Iran’s nuclear energy program when the UN voted on it in 2006. However, there is little doubt that support has been increasing throughout Latin America due to Iran’s diligent pursuit of such backing. Now Bolivia and Brazil are also offering their measured support for Tehran’s civilian nuclear program. In addition, the ever-vociferous Venezuelan leader has officially stated that Iran has a legitimate right to its nuclear program and that Venezuela supports Tehran’s quest for peaceful nuclear technology.

The Future of the Iran-Latin America Alliance

Chávez’s present personal medical issues, and the recent U.S.-imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil company PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. – Venezuelan Petroleum S.A) for dealings with Iran, could serve to weaken the Venezuelan-Iranian nexus. This is because Venezuela’s current ideological views – particularly its foreign policy – ultimately derive from Chávez, and it is unclear what a post-Chávez Venezuela would look like. Would his political party maintain its unity and continue Chávez’s ideology, or would another course be taken? In addition, the Venezuelan military has declared its support for Chávez to the point that some organizations are concerned as to what would happen if another political party were to win the upcoming presidential election. What this means for Tehran is that its closest ally in Latin America is not Venezuela but rather its leader, and it is difficult to foresee how diplomatic ties would be affected by a transition of leadership.

Late September 2011 saw an interesting development, as the Iranian government recognized mediation initiatives by Chávez to free two American hikers held in an Iranian prison since 2009. According to statements by the Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Temir Porras, the Venezuelan government agreed to help Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal after receiving a request for help from the hiker’s friends. It has also been reported that Noam Chomsky signed a letter asking for Chávez’s help.

Although various news sources have reported an increase in the establishment of Iranian embassies in Latin America, a Latin daily source indicates that, at least in the case of Nicaragua, such plans have failed to come to fruition. This is particularly interesting as there had been rumors circulating that Iran’s embassy in Managua is, or was supposed to be, some kind of massive intelligence hub involving an unusually large number of staff, which, by default, would put U.S. interests in the region at risk. In reality, the Iranian Embassy in the Central American country may be nothing more than somewhat large.

In mid-June, an Iranian analyst published a piece in the Iranian newspaper Jaam-e Jam entitled “Failure of the United States to break relations between Iran and Brazil.” The analyst explains that Iran’s initiatives in Latin America “change the quiet backyard of the United States to a dangerous backyard for that country, because the expansion of Iran’s economic and political relations with the countries of that region is indicative of the failure of U.S. efforts to impose sanctions and threats on Iran.” The analyst also discusses how relations between Tehran and Latin America affect Israel:

Changing the United States’ quiet backyard to a dangerous backyard has also created major concerns for Tel Aviv, in addition to Washington. Such worries have intensified to the point that Shimon Peres, the head of the Zionist regime, left for a visit to Latin America, which is considered the first official visit of this sort to Latin America in the course of several decades, only a few days before the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The bottom line seems to be that Latin America sees Iran’s involvement in the region in terms of economic interests. Additionally, it may allow the region to gain a foothold in the Muslim world, with the secondary benefit (at least possibly in Venezuela’s case) of reducing U.S. influence in the region. Meanwhile, as interpreted by the aforementioned Jaam-e Jam analysis, Tehran sees its rapprochement with Latin America mostly in terms of its impact on Washington and Tel Aviv.

Finally, it is interesting to observe that Brazil, Latin America’s powerhouse and a nation that is currently attempting to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nation Security Council, has also increased the pace of diplomatic ties with Iran. Brasilia has gone on record to declare its support for Tehran’s civilian – albeit controversial – nuclear program. It may soon become apparent to Itamaraty diplomats that they will have to choose between Washington and Tehran as their primary overseas partner.

Conclusion

In the interest of creating a just and prosperous hemispheric community, it is important for regional nations to continuously evaluate the scope and breadth of the burgeoning economic aid pacts and political gains being devised between Latin American countries and Iran. This survey must also include a gauging of the inherent merits of these gains and an evaluation of whether they are more fictive than real. A closer examination of the Islamic Republic of Iran depicts an undemocratic governing body heavily burdened by religious dogma, underdeveloped financial standards, institutional corruption and self-imposed non-transparency, a legal system hardly worthy of the name, the absence of any civil liberties, and atrocious human rights violations.

Iran’s current leadership can hardly be described as providing a suitable alternative to traditional U.S. domination and a sphere of influence. Even if counterbalancing U.S. power in Latin America can become more than a fantasy, and grow into a viable plan to amplify the resonance of democracy in the region, the advantages derived from an arrangement with Iran must be weighed against the costs of introducing another form of despotic influence into the democratically fledgling Latin American region.

Original Article

The Up-and-Coming Presence of India in Latin America

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By Jaime Daremblum

The competition between China and India – the world’s largest dictatorship and the world’s largest democracy – will be a defining feature of 21st-century geopolitics. Because China opened its economy more than a decade before India did, the Middle Kingdom has a clear head start in the global battle for economic influence. Yet the South Asian giant is rapidly gaining ground on its northern neighbor, and over the long term its democratic system seems far more stable than the autocratic Chinese model. When assessing U.S. grand strategy in Asia, American policymakers view India as an important counterweight to China. Closer to home, India may also serve to balance Chinese economic clout in Latin America.

“China’s rise in bilateral trade with Latin America is the greatest of any region in the world – an astonishing 18-fold increase over the past decade,” Agence France-Presse reports. Chinese commodity demand has greatly boosted GDP growth in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and other resource-rich countries, thereby lifting millions out of poverty. These economic benefits are worth celebrating. Yet Beijing’s burgeoning hemispheric footprint has prompted security concerns in Washington, since Chinese military and political ambitions remain so murky. Moreover, China is helping to prop up the Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela, and it is also expanding cooperation with Chávez acolytes in Bolivia and Ecuador while strengthening ties with the Castro government.

Whereas Beijing’s newfound interest in the Western Hemisphere has understandably raised some eyebrows, India’s growing activity is unambiguously good for both Latin America and the United States. In a recent issue of Americas Quarterly, political scientist Jorge Heine and Indian diplomat R. Viswanathan observe that trade between India and the Latin America/Caribbean (LAC) region increased eightfold between 2000 and 2009, reaching about $20 billion. To be sure, that figure is dwarfed by overall Chinese trade with the LAC region, which totaled roughly $140 billion in 2008 (according to the Latin Business Chronicle).

But as The Economist noted a few years ago, Indian companies “have begun to make significant investments in software, pharmaceuticals, business software and natural resources.” (By contrast, Chinese investment in Latin America “has hitherto amounted to less than meets the eye.”) Since 2000, write Heine and Viswanathan, Indian companies have poured $12 billion worth of investment into six key LAC economic sectors: agrochemicals, energy, information technology (IT), manufacturing, mining, and pharmaceuticals. Indeed, many Indian firms have established a big presence in the region, including ONGC Videsh (an oil giant), Tata Consultancy Services (an IT powerhouse), and United Phosphorus (a massive agrochemical company).

Indian investment is helping Latin America to diversify its sources of economic growth, making the region relatively less dependent on commodity exports. But what about low-wage Indian manufacturing? Doesn’t it pose a competitive challenge to Latin America, where manufacturing wages are higher? To a certain degree, yes. Broadly speaking, however, “Indian exports to the region are not a threat to Latin American industries,” as Heine and Viswanathan stress. “Over half of them consist of raw materials and intermediate goods such as bulk drugs, yarn, fabrics, and parts for machinery and equipment, which can help Latin American industries cut production costs and become globally competitive.”

In a 2010 study (“India: Latin America’s Next Big Thing?”), Inter-American Development Bank economist Mauricio Mesquita Moreira concluded that, while “the fundamentals exist for a strong trade relationship between the two regions,” economic cooperation is being hampered by tariffs and other trade barriers. The hope is that incremental progress on trade expansion will discourage protectionist policies. “More trade is likely to strengthen the virtuous circle in which trade boosts incentives for cooperation while cooperation creates even more opportunities to trade,” explains Moreira.

The recent growth of trade and investment ties between India and Latin America has encouraged warmer diplomatic relations. By 2009, note Heine and Viswanathan, LAC countries had 18 diplomatic missions in New Delhi, and India had 14 missions in the LAC region, up from twelve and seven, respectively, in 2002. The single most important bilateral relationship is that between India and Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy and most populous country. In 2003, the two nations joined with South Africa to sign the Brasília Declaration, which launched the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum, or IBSA. The goal of this trilateral mechanism is to promote greater three-way cooperation on issues such as trade, investment, education, poverty reduction, and the environment. “Brazil has what India lacks: a large and fertile land mass with abundant water that can significantly increase the production of food – something India will always need, be it soybean oil, legumes or sugar,” write Heine and Viswanathan.

As Indo-Brazilian economic links continue expanding, we can expect the two governments to pursue closer collaboration on non-economic matters, including military affairs. This will unnerve the Communist rulers in Beijing, who fashion themselves the undisputed leaders of the developing world and fear the rise of India. Washington won’t always agree with New Delhi’s foreign-policy decisions, but it should welcome a robust Indian presence in Latin America. After all, on the biggest economic and strategic issues of the day, India and the United States are natural allies.

Original Article

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