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Iran’s Push Into Nicaragua: Why Is No One Concerned?

Iranian "diplomats" in Nicaragua sure aren't studying the banana industry. A PJM report from the ground.

by
Todd Bensman

Bio

March 17, 2009 - 12:00 am
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I am pretty sure that I remain the only American reporter to have traveled to leftist President Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua to find out what the Iranian government is doing there. I apologize if I missed something out there. While I appreciated having the exclusive at the time, more than a year after my travels I continue to wonder why there there is such a persistent lack of curiosity from my mainstream press corps colleagues.

The press, quite rightly, has swarmed like migrating wildebeest all over the the Islamic Republic of Iran’s burgeoning economic and diplomatic ties to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and, to a certain degree, Iran’s spread to other anti-U.S. countries in South America, such as Bolivia. But with the exception of my own coverage, there’s been hardly a peep about the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planted the Iranian flag so far north in Nicaragua as soon as the time-tested American nemesis Daniel Ortega took office in January 2007. In fact, Ahmadinejad considered Ortega’s ascension so important that he was in Nicaragua to attend the inauguration. Within months, Iran was promising hundreds of millions in economic projects — and quickly set up a diplomatic mission in a tony Managua neighborhood where it could all supposedly be coordinated. Now Iran is extending its reach even further north, right into Mexico City with equally under-covered proposals to vastly expand tenuous ties to America’s immediate southern neighbor.

The national security implications of Iran forging paths throughout America’s southern sphere of influence are striking. Iran has long been known for using Hezbollah — the U.S.-designated terror organization it sired — to sow mayhem against its perceived enemies from the diplomatic cover provided by Iranian embassies. When considering Iran’s move to Nicaragua, it is important to remember that Iran had Hezbollah blow up the Israeli embassy and a Jewish center in Argentina not so long ago, killing and wounding hundreds. This is according to a recent 800-page Argentine indictment and still outstanding arrest warrants for top Iranian officials and Revolutionary Guards who carried out the bombings under diplomatic cover provided by Iran’s Buenos Aires embassy.

But unlike those fairly distant countries, Nicaragua is close to the U.S. southern border and also to Mexico’s vast oil and gas infrastructure, which a small home-grown Mexican militant group was easily able to bomb at least half a dozen times in 2006 and 2007. Thousands of Nicaraguan laborers routinely cross the Mexican border and make their way over the U.S. border in search of work. It’s a pretty doable trip. And the mullahs, in addition to pushing for a greater presence in Mexico, keep on expanding in Nicaragua even now. If Iran ever got mad again about anything, couldn’t the ruling mullahs stage an Argentine repeat performance closer to home?

With all this in mind, and Bush saber rattling over the Iranian nuclear program, I persuaded my newspaper to send me to Nicaragua in October 2007. What I found should have been enough to pique the imagination of other reporters, more investigation, or even just some shallow coverage. But to date, there has been nothing more about Iran in Nicaragua, while there’s still plenty about Iran in distant Venezuela. The Iranians must be thrilled to operate in such a blackout.

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