|Distorting Iranian-Latin American Relations|
|Written by Belén Fernández|
|Thursday, 18 November 2010 22:12|
According to an article in the Israeli daily Haaretz entitled “Iran, Venezuela plan to build rival to Panama Canal”, the current border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua—in which the former country has accused the latter of sending military troops into its territory along the San Juan River during a river dredging project—is a “trial balloon” for a new Iranian-funded “‘Nicaragua Canal’ linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.” The article takes care to specify that Costa Rica is “a country without an army” but does not suggest whether the announcement earlier this year regarding U.S. naval militarization of the Central American nation might also have constituted a trial balloon for something.
While the article goes on to state that “[t]he plan has aroused concern in Washington, and the U.S. has started behind the scenes efforts to foil it,” this information is curiously juxtaposed with other details such as that “[a] U.S. State Department official told Haaretz's Washington correspondent Natasha Mozgovaya on Wednesday that the U.S. is not aware of any plans to build a new canal in Latin America”.
Iranian “penetration” in Latin America has in recent years become a pet issue of Israeli Foreign Ministry officials and American neoconservative pundits, many of whom take offense at the perceived failure of the U.S. government to adequately appreciate the security threat posed by, for example, the inauguration of a weekly flight from Caracas to Tehran with a stop in Damascus. Never mind that flights from Latin America to Israel resulted in crimes such as the 1983 training of future Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño Gil in that country.
The 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires are often invoked as evidence of what unchecked Iranian power in the hemisphere can lead to. Argentine prosecutors claimed the latter bombing was planned by Iran out of revenge for Argentina’s cancellation of nuclear technology contracts. As investigative historian and journalist Gareth Porter points out in his thoroughly researched report for The Nation, however, a head official from an Argentine nuclear firm confirmed that negotiations to resume cooperation with Iran continued throughout the period in which the bombings occurred and that it appeared the outcome would be favorable to Iran. This raises the possibility that revenge may have instead been the priority of a non-Iranian party.
Countless other manifestations of Iranian penetration and its accompanying dangers have been highlighted by "concerned parties". These include:
*the presence of Iranian embassies in Venezuela and Bolivia. It is not clear why these are inherently more threatening than Iranian embassies in the UK and Canada.
*the option to study Farsi at Venezuelan universities. This threat has been publicized by Ely Karmon, Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, who has also warned that a number of Iranian engineers have learned basic Spanish and that Iran may deploy long-range missiles in Venezuela at the request of President Hugo Chávez.
*an alleged collaborative plan between Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Venezuelan airport workers to capture Jewish travelers in South America and smuggle them to Lebanon. Knowledge of the plan is attributed in a Los Angeles Times article to “a Western anti-terrorism official” who does not explain why the one-stop flight to Tehran is not thus a nonstop to Beirut.
*the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent more time in Latin America over a 12-month period than then-U.S. President George Bush, a statistic revealed by Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald, who does not speculate that it might be more indicative of Bush’s travel habits.
*Venezuelan and Bolivian plans to supply uranium to Iran, confirmed by “secret Israeli government reports” and by former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, who writes in the Wall Street Journal: “According to a report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in December of , Venezuela has an estimated 50,000 tons of unmined uranium”. What the report actually says, however, is that “[f]ormer Venezuelan officials have estimated that Venezuela could have 50,000 tons of uranium, although this amount has not been reliably assessed”.
*a Venezuelan scheme to create an indigenous version of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, revealed by former Costa Rican ambassador to the U.S. Jaime Daremblum of the Hudson Institute in his dispatch entitled “An Iranian Satellite in Latin America”.
*Iranian acquisition of Venezuelan corn-processing plants, which is merely one of many alerts sounded by Norman A. Bailey, former Mission Manager for Cuba and Venezuela under Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, in his October 2009 presentation to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
In his presentation paper “Iranian Penetration into the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela”, Bailey remarks:
Given the respective histories of the U.S. and Iran to date, however, it would seem that the former continues to pose a significantly greater threat to the region. The real threat in hyping the Iran threat, meanwhile, is that it will justify increased militarization of friendly states and vilification of governments and groups opposed to U.S. hegemony—a combination that does not bode well for regional stability.