Just how much should we be worried about Iran’s activity in Latin America? Consider a few recent news items:
* Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani took a brief tour of South America last week, visiting Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. He got a warm reception at each stop. Indeed, his Brazilian counterpart, Maria Edileuza Fontenele, went so far as to say that Iran is one of her country’s “most important partners.” According to the Latin Business Chronicle, Iranian exports to Brazil increased by a whopping 29.1 percent in 2009, hitting $19 million, while Brazilian exports to Iran jumped by 4.1 percent to reach nearly $1.3 billion. Iran does more trade with Brazil than with any other country in Latin America.
* In early August, Iran formally agreed to build 10,000 homes in Venezuela, which is experiencing a major housing shortage (not to mention food, water, and electricity shortages).
* The day before Mullen delivered his remarks, Gen. Francisco Contreras, Peru’s former military chief of staff, gave a sobering interview to the Jerusalem Post. “We definitely need to be concerned with the growing presence of Iran in South America,” he said. “It appears that Iranian organizations provide support to other terrorist organizations, and that there is cooperation between them.”
* July 18 marked the 17th anniversary of a terrorist bombing that destroyed the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and killed 85 people. It was — and remains — the single worst act of terrorism in Argentine history. The evidence that Tehran planned this attack is overwhelming, and Interpol has issued arrest warrants for several past or present Iranian officials. On the eve of the anniversary, Tehran informed Argentina that it was “ready for a constructive dialogue” about the AMIA bombing, yet it still refused to acknowledge Iranian culpability, and it still refused to extradite the Interpol suspects. One of those suspects, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, is now serving as Iran’s defense minister.
* In late May, the Bolivian government hosted an official visit by General Vahidi, who subsequently left the country after Argentina protested. Upon arriving back in Tehran, Vahidi declared that “Latin America is no longer the U.S. backyard,” adding that “Iran will continue expanding its constructive relations with this region’s countries, especially the countries of the ALBA alliance.” (ALBA — otherwise known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas — is the leftist trade group led by Venezuela.)