US-Latin America: HR3783 and the Mega-Embassy That Never Was

Source: Quixote Center

In May of 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave voice to rumors that had been circulating in Washington DC for months. She discussed some ‘very troubling’ developments in Managua: “The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua, and you can only imagine what that’s for.” Imagine indeed!  From the Washington Post:

It is not clear where the report of the embassy in Managua began. But in the past two years, it has made its way into congressional testimony, think tank reports, press accounts, and diplomatic events in the United States and elsewhere.

“Iran recently established a huge embassy in Managua,” Nancy Menges of the Center for Security Policy told a House committee last year. “Iran’s embassy in Managua is now the largest diplomatic mission in the city,” wrote Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

Clinton and other prominent figures in town started talking about the mega embassy as a ‘beachhead’ for Iranian influence in the Americas, and comparisons were drawn between Iran and Nicaragua on one hand, and the Soviet Union and Cuba on the other. Here’s the thing: there was no mega-embassy in Managua. No construction site, no land set aside, nothing.

Flash forward to March 9, 2012: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs endorsed HR 3783: “To provide for a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s growing presence and hostile activity in the Western Hemisphere, and for other purposes.” In the bill, Iran’s diplomatic relations with ALBA countries are classified as ‘hostile activities’; Hezbollah and Iran are viewed as the same entity; and the language used is reminiscent of Cold War applications of the Monroe Doctrine.

It seems that Congressional assessments of Iran’s relationships with Latin American governments are based on a report from the American Enterprise Institute (see the quote above for a sample of their work) titled ‘The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America.’ This report, in turn, was based primarily on a 2002 report on organized criminal activity in the Tri-Border Area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The AEI report dangerously overstates both the connection between Hezbollah and Iran and the sphere of influence Hezbollah has achieved in the Americas.  The author also fails to mention that much of the data used is nearly twenty years old. These are dangerous errors given the war fever that has gripped Washington DC in recent months.

Recent analysis confirms that while Hezbollah is indeed active in the Americas, the threat to the United States is minimal compared to other criminal groups operating in this hemisphere. If HR 3783 is passed, it could give members of Congress the opportunity to examine more recent data, but there is also the risk that the State Department will return a highly politicized and inaccurate report in order to appease the audience that requested it. If that happens, the United States could be facing a very costly search for more State Department phantoms in the South.