Ahmadinejad in Latin America

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has begun a four-nation tour in Latin America that will include Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador.

In part, the trip is for propaganda purposes. With the European Union joining in an Israeli-inspired US boycott of Iran’s Central Bank, which in essence translates into a boycott of buying Iranian petroleum, Tehran is desperate to underline that it still has friends in the world. Most of these are in Asia, but Latin America still does have regimes that will defy the US attempt to isolate Iran.

In one sense, these are not important countries geopolitically or economically. But an embargo strategy of the sort that the US is pursuing depends heavily on there being no significant leaks.

Venezuela has $4 billion worth of joint projects with Iran. (This article stresses a military dimension, with Revolutionary guards posted to the Iranian embassy in Caracas and a comparison to Soviet policies in Latin America, which led to the Cuban missile crisis. I see these Iranian moves more as an aid to espionage than being military in character.) Venezuela is also significant because in 2009 it established a joint bank with Iran, which allows Iranian financial institutions to interface with other banks via Caracas. Some in the Israel lobbies in the US Congress have urged financial sanctions on Venezuela in order to close this loophole. But that step would make it difficult for the US to pay for Venezuelan petroleum, a significant source of America’s oil imports.

As it is, the US Government won’t accept contracts from the Venezuela state petroleum company because the latter helps Iran with gasoline production. I doubt the US government itself did much business with the company so it sounds to me like another symbolic sanction.

The US just expelled the Venezuelan consul in Miami over a Univision investigative report alleging a Cuban-Venezuelan-Iranian plot to hack US nuclear facilities. (Note to the Cuba and Israel lobbies: This story is not very plausible and you wouldn’t want one of its members to be in the US — hackers can be anywhere and like anonymity.)

Iran has sought similar banking cooperation with Ecuador, and has more than 30 economic projects planned there, including building power plants. In 2008, Ecuador’s national bank concluded an agreement with Iran’s central bank and extended it a $120 mn US credit line. Ecuadoran businessmen are afraid that the US sanctions regime will be extended to Ecuador as a result.

Forcing the US and the Europeans to try to close off banking ties not just with Iran but with a large number of countries in order to cut down on leakage makes the boycott policy increasingly unwieldy and unworkable. China, Russia, and Turkey are much more important in this regard, but for Iran, the more friends it has the better.

Iranian trade with Latin America has also expanded significantly, though it is hard to quantify its importance and many memoranda of understanding remain on paper. It has offered Nicaragua a $230 million loan to build a hydroelectric plant, and the Iranian ambassador in Managua says this trip will much expand such projects.

Finally, Iran is wooing Latin America diplomatically because it wants to thwart possible US moves against it at the UN General Assembly, where a global south solidarity against Northern power is often an important dynamic.

Iran is also very much aware that the US views Latin America as its sphere of influence, and so there is a certain amount of taunting involved in this diplomatic and economic push.

Some have read a lot into the absence of Brazil on Ahmadinejad’s itinerary. I am not sure an absence can be seen as firm evidence. You would want to look at bilateral trade and especially financial relations, and at how Brazil votes at the UN. I doubt Brasilia much likes the idea of a US-Europe financial and energy boycott of a country of the global South.

This analyst from Colombia argues that Brazil has correct but not warm relations with Iran. It has not signed on to any big joint projects, unlike Venezuela and Ecuador. President Dilma Roussef is clearly not as eager to support Iran as her predecessor, Lula, had been. In part, she has moved closer to Argentina, which has bad relations with Tehran because it blames Iran for the bombing of a synagogue in the early 1990s. Some Brazilian intellectuals nevertheless argue that Brazil could play an important role in Iran diplomacy, given its own history of developing and then abandoning a nuclear program, and given its closeness to Russia, India, China & South Africa (the BRICS), which reject the US approach of harsh sanctions and boycotts.

In any case, a combination of anti-imperialism, a desire for independence from the US, and Iran’s oil wealth is giving Tehran a continued opening in parts of Latin America.


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21 Responses

  1. It is impossible for the US to take part in Iran’s oil explorations ( and the benefits from them!) because of its own-bound sanctions, so it does not let anybody else to be able to use the benefits as well that’s the main reason behind US’s actions. US can not tolerate a country standing in its face for over 33 years, so it wants to crush the spirits of Iranians to no vain… All these sanctions will finish some time in future, Rome once was the greatest empire on the face of world, now who cares about Rome anymore? it’s gone as the US will be gone..

    • I care about Rome anymore. After the fall of Rome the Republic disappeared from the face of the earth for centuries, replaced by various forms of monarchy, aristocracy and despotism; all of which necessitated various degrees of bondage, servitude and slavery. America was a return to republicanism and representative democracy. In America the concept of property was expanded from simple land holding to tools, a trade, skills, education, etc. While “enlightened” Europe maintained every other level of bondage and servitude except slavery America ultimately eliminated all of them making every person’s labor his own property. So everyone in the world, not of an aristocratic class, should be very worried about the end of America. Talk about voting against your own interests.

      • excuse my being pedantic, but the Roman empire pretty much ran on slave labor, actually making the dark middle ages look good by comparison (I’d rather be a serf than a slave…)

        as you state yourself, slavery was (re-)instituted mostly in the colonies, including what became the US of A…

        if you really think America eliminated every form of bondage and servitude you may want to check in with the local unemployed, working poor, and the prison population as well as reflect on what happened to those of us who have begun to stand up and sit in against debt bondage, the oldest form of them all…

        • To call oneself a pedant implies that one is ostentatiously learned. To quip that Rome utilized slave labor is hardly revelatory of a depth and breadth of knowledge of the history of the Roman empire. The negation of all of Greek or Roman history due to the use of slave labor ignores their contribution of republicanism and government of the people. It ignores how the history of Rome influenced our form of government. Or perhaps not. It does seem from your comment that you would actively engage in establishing a monarchical government as your preference. FYI- Bondage by birth status is much much older than the bondage of debt since historically credit was only made available to those highly born. That aspiration to serfdom means no Visa card for you.

          It is extremely unfortunate that the prevailing myth is that employment = bondage/servitude/slavery. No person in this country is legally held in bondage of any kind. Debt is a choice. Credit is a means of advancing one’s wealth. What use of credit one makes is a choice. Obtaining credit to buy a home, start a business or obtain an education will, in most instances increase one’s wealth. Using credit to go to Cancun for spring break or buy material goods will not. Making a choice to go into debt is not the same as being bonded in servitude to a lord by birth status.

          It is also extremely unfortunate that the persons of letters in contemporary society would, as you say, rather give up independence and liberty and their burdens to be taken care of as a serf. In a republic the greatest gift one can give to one’s fellow man is to assume responsibility for oneself so that one’s fellow man does not have to take care of you. The give away is the lowest form of compassion doled out by the highly born to the lowly, with noses pinched, noblesse oblige. Your comment forces me to assume that, rather than a serf, you would prefer to be a middling aristocrat, an Oblomov, supported by the labors of indentured muzhiks and tenants, with no personal responsibilities except to present oneself as a gentleman, such that it is actually the independence and liberty of others you are willing to sacrifice to serfdom, taking away their ownership of their own work and their lives in order that you not be required to exert much energy in life. How noble.

          I am working poor, or at least I was until I invested in an education to become an RN and spend most of my adult life working at least 2 jobs. I maxed out at 5 jobs several years ago. I teach nursing assistant courses at a technical college. And I am a home care and hospice nurse in rural Wisconsin tending to the needs of every group of society, death being the great equalizer. I am in my second decade as an RN and still paying off my student loans. I am the daughter of a truck driver. I am a single, that is SINGLE, mother, no child support or 50% placement, shared custody or any of the perks of divorce. So don’t attempt for one second to throw the travails of the working poor at me since you would take away my freedom and independence, my social mobility, in order that you might be free from the responsibility of owning your own life, demonstrating unequivocally that you have no understanding of what the working poor are working for.

        • A self-described “pedant” who sums up the accomplishments of the Roman Empire with one aspect–slavery–and compares it unfavorably to the Dark Ages, is an oxymoron–a contradiction in terms. No serious pedant would make such a statement. Anyone who believes such twaddle has to be operating from an ahistorical frame of reference, completely divorced from the historical reality.

      • The Roman Republic was a slave state. It was more honest than our republic in that it openly made the rich into first-class citizens, openly expected them to serve both as politicians and generals, and openly gloried in conquest for profit. It was more advanced than our republic in that it would grant citizenship to any conquered person who pledged to obey its laws and pay its taxes. But all of that continued under the Empire. The Republic was a plutocracy, as dominated by its big landowners as we are by Wall Street today.

        And how can you forget that England banned slavery decades before the US, and so did Mexico? The sharecroppers of the Jim Crow south were debt serfs, just like peasants anywhere else in the world. Stop with this American exceptionalism and recognize that America was full of all kinds of oppression before WWII, things that made Europeans cringe.

    • America and its republican form of government will be around long after Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the other Iranian tyrants (who seem to disagree with each other as much as they disagree with the U.S. and the West) are gone. If your question, “Who cares about Rome anymore?” is meant to reflect America’s future, you obviously are unaware of or ignore the phenomenon that the rest of the world votes with its feet in an attempt to gain entry into the U.S. The U.S. is oversubscribed for immigrant applicants for years in the future. And with good reason, as it is a country with some of the fewest restrictions on individuals pursuing their own self-interest and happiness.

      “…the U.S. will be gone..” Not a chance, and the world is better off for the fact that it will still be around long into the future.

      • Touching faith, Bill.

        This American, raised in the Midwest as a Presbyterian Boy Scout, who enlisted in 1966 in part to protect your “republican form of government,” and got to see a bit of a “land war of choice in Asia,” and got to see what that “do my duty to God and my Country” is really all about, will gently disagree totally that this Shining City on a Hill has any kind of permanence, however important that notion is to your sense of self, as a place that fits the magical notions that grim-jawed, chicken-hawk, or testosterone-poisoned “patriots” often pretend to or actually do hold as one part of their cognitive dissonance inventory.

        The category “United States” may outlive your Iranian (and Chinese and BRIC and whatever) bogeymen, but the place that exists in your mind or your politics ain’t there anymore, if it ever was.

        There will no doubt be a land mass, maybe still labeled “United States,” here, with lines on maps and maybe electrified fences and interlocking fields of fire, maybe with the weapons pointed inward, to mark its boundaries, and maybe even some pro-forma pseudo-“democracy,” not much different from what is developing every day, lobbyist by ALEC memo by Christianist general officer, under the wonderful incentives of greed and power, but it ain’t gonna be the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

        We, unfortunately, are all in this together, whether we want to be or not. There may be loci of privileged wealth in the future, but then there’s the underlying story of the Soylent Corporation that ought to inform us what that apotheosis of corporate kleptocracy and consumption really portends for the most of us. We are all in this together, and I’m not so sure we are capable of making much out of that ineluctable reality except as an opportunity to take MORE for our individual selves and our little tribes of ethnicity or cupidity or both.

        There is enough, of everything that matters, to go all the way around the whole table, except for the pig-brigands in suits who stuff their faces and eat the plate clean except for one lonely cookie, and then sucker the rest of us into fighting each other to the death over that last, forlorn cookie.

        As to the attractions of the US for foreign nationals, it might be worth googling “trends in immigration US” and following some of the links.

        By the way, Ronnie Reagan is dead these several years, and was missing for quite a while before that… And in case you have not figured it out yet, NOTHING is ever what you think or believe it is.

        • “Faith,” touching or otherwise, has nothing to do with it, JTMcPhee. I have spent a career, and then some, in the fields of Foreign Affairs and National Security, and I know of what I write and stand by every word. And if you do not think that many categories of U.S. immigration law are oversubscribed for years, you simply display your ignorance of the subject.

          You speak of my “sense of self”? It is your sense of self you should be questioning. Ascribing to others “touching faith,” “Iranian (and other) bogeymen,” “pig-brigands in suits,” etc. reveals a deep well of what psychologists call “Projection.” It is a condition in which someone, recognizing inadequacies and insecurities in himself, attempts to project those very inadequacies and insecurities onto others. I suppose a psychologist would define it as a defense mechanism that, unfortunately, precludes the individual from correcting the problem in himself. He is constantly projecting it onto others.

        • Lots of foreigners wanted to become a part of Rome too, Bill.

          Question is, if we hadn’t stolen all that Indian land, and used black slavery to keep the country solvent until stolen British technology triggered the Industrial Revolution in the US, how many foreigners would covet our goodies today?

          You’re no different than anyone else who hints that America is “special” and “unique” and “irreplaceable” as a smokescreen for justifying US control of global resources by infinite war spending. That’s what JTMcPhee hates. Wasn’t it projection when George W. Bush invaded Iraq promising freedom at the very time he was dismantling its legal basis at home?

        • And Bill, pride goeth before a fall. Get a copy of Kevin Phillips’ “American Theocracy”, published in 2006, where he predicted most of the disasters that befell Bush’s empire in 2008. Phillips was the Republican strategist behind the Southern Strategy, who came to regret his success because he saw it breeding arrogance and madness in his party. Every empire thinks it is unique and immortal at the very moment of its doom.

  2. Possibly wrong, but don’t I remember CITGO being a Venezuelan company today [ayup, the same CITGO as that great historically protected neon sign in Boston] and an active provider of home heating oil at reduced prices for New Englanders under a Kennedy family initiative? Is this a baby to be thrown out with the bath water?

  3. “I see these Iranian moves more as an aid to espionage than being military in character.”
    Can you expand on that a bit? Espionage by and against whom, towards what goal, and conducted where?

  4. i feel so sad that the successive US governments behave in such an illegal, boorish, manner. Lots of nations have possessed atomic weapons in the past sixty years. Not a one of them, except the US, has used those weapons. Even N. Korea, which is about as looney a nation as you can be, hasn’t. Further, Israel is filled with Persian speaking people, so the government people there absolutely know that Ahmadinejad’s threat was to get rid of Zionism, and not the people of Israel.

    Therefore, to me, the only rational conclusion is that Israel is planning a military adventure just to keep the public a home from facing an absurd government. Throughout history people have invented diversion to avoid facing undesirable realities. That the US is going along with this is truly amazing. How totally corrupt we have all become.

    • Hi Warren.
      You say that you feel sad that US governments are behaving in an unpleasant manner? What do you mean by that? When I first read that, I’m thinking, you’re talking about SOPA, NDAA, the strong number of incorrect, racist, and incredibly inaccurate statements that many of our lawmakers get away with today, etc- but you start talking about Israel vs Iran instead.

      For what exactly are you critiquing the US government for?- the sanction on Iran, the idea behind nuclear weapons, what exactly?
      If Iran actually did get nuclear weapons though, I do believe that Americans have a very legit right to be concerned. Ahmadinejad and Iran have put themselves in a rather negative spotlight according to a lot of the world- it’s just not Israel and America saying this. Saddam Hussain in Iraq was able to get away with bombing his OWN people for years and it wasn’t until America came that he really stopped. I think the American fear is that if a country like Iran got nuclear weapons, what would stop them from using it on others? Saddam blew up his OWN people and was never really had any strong opposition from any Arabian country; thus, I think it’s very legitimate for Americans to be afraid of Iran with nukes.

      Also, I’m trying to find where you’re getting the Israel/Farsi speakers from, but I can’t really find that (Wikipedia says 135k people in Israel have Persian descent- that’s the most I can find). From what I’ve personally read, I also don’t believe that Ahmadinejad has threatened to get rid of Zionism or Israel and most definitely not Jewish people, which I believe he restates at numerous interviews many times (Wikipedia has like a whole page on Ahmadinejad and Israel too if you’re interested).

      I’m guessing from your last paragraph you’re implying that Netanyahu’s playing this game to get people focused off upcoming election, and in favor of him? Correct me if I’m wrong because that’s the only thing I can think of. If it is true, I think you’re totally right.

    • Lots of nations have possessed atomic weapons in the past sixty years. Not a one of them, except the US, has used those weapons. Even N. Korea, which is about as looney a nation as you can be, hasn’t.

      So you’re perfectly comfortable with nuclear proliferation?

      You know, there are a lot of countries that would love to have nuclear weapons, and would be willing to pay good money. Meanwhile, the United States is suffering from elevated unemployment and has a large trade deficit. We could put many thousands of people to work if we established a nuclear arms export industry. Why not?

      Also, you say that Not a one of them, except the US, has used those weapons. It’s true that nobody has fired them off in the modern nuclear era (that is, since atomic weapons went from the small ones in 1945, which were only marginally worse than the other bombardment weapons of the day, to the world-destroying monsters we have today), but that’s not the only use to which a weapon can be put. They can be used to make an aggressor invulnerable to counterattack. They can be used for extortion.

      I am NOT OK with nuclear proliferation, even as I agree with you that Iran would almost certainly be a rational actor with its nukes. I think it’s a big mistake to downplay the dangers of nuclear weapons and proliferation just because it’s momentarily convenient for a specific political debate.

      • I have no need for the country I live in, the US, to have a single nuclear weapon. I just consider it sheer hypocrisy for the US which has thousands to tell Iran it can’t even have one; especially when it does nothing, not even a threat, with a looney country like North Korea having now several.

        As far as I am concerned, this is exclusively about very childish grudge holding, because of the actions of certain Iranians back in 1979; which, from my view, were perfectly reasonable, given how much we had messed with them from wwii until 1979. And for grown men and women, who are highly educated to act in such a grudgeful manner for now over 3 decades is a travesty. No wonder our country is currently in such a mess.

      • Joe, modern nuclear weapons are quite small. The trend towards bigger nukes reversed in the middle ’60s when the Russians were believed to have 100-megaton h-bombs. The problem was, they worked too well as a deterrent; the military-industrial complexes of both superpowers – mainly us – became obsessed with “counterforce”, which means destroying the other guy’s missiles with small, super-accurate nukes. Which simply means Pearl Harbor the other guy and dictate terms. Which means the other guy must either develop an ABM system or build more warheads.

        Which made the military-industrial complexes very happy.

        So modern nukes are not very different in power than the Hiroshima weapon, and ironically by being designed to destroy enemy nukes has undermined the deterrent effect once provided by Mutually Assured Destruction. Thank God for Admiral Rickover and his untouchable submarines, the last clear deterrent.

  5. Re: Brazil, where I have relatives & visit quite frequently. One reason Ahmadenijad is being kept at arm’s length has to do with the nastier, anti-democratic aspects of the Iranian regime. After suffering through the repression of a military-led government until the mid-1980s, the Brazilian people – IMHO, among the nicest you’ll find anywhere – have little sympathy for Ahmadenijand’s antics, ranging from his infintile holocaust-denying statements to the violent crackdown on domestic dissent. Dilma knows from first-hand experience what it means to suffer inside of a jail for a political “crime.”

  6. The US has made itself ineffective by pursuing such a blatant double standard in the Middle East and more and more countries are becoming dissidents to US global hegemony. A ruler has to have a sense of justice in order to be accepted, not only raw muscle and bullying. By flouting international law, providing unconditional support and turning a blind eye on a nuclear armed apartheid state – the US has lost any moral high ground it may have had and undermined its own case.

    • If this is true, then why were the Libyan people waving American flags?

      Don’t overstate your case here. America is still quite effective. The Bush years certainly took some luster off our shine, but American soft power still seems to pretty compelling to an awful lot of people.

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