The PJ Tatler

Iran's Influence in Latin America Not Likely to Fade with Chavez's End

Of the many breakout sessions offered at AIPAC, one yesterday focused on the troubling relationship between Iran and nefarious elements in Latin America.

And that isn’t likely to cease even with the expected death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, José Cárdenas of Visión Américas warned.

“There are too many other actors on the international stage that have a vested interest in the continuation of Chavismo,” said Cárdenas, who has extensive regional experience with the State Department, the National Security Council and USAID.

He cited a number of instances demonstrating Tehran’s continued involvement in the region, including Iran’s uranium mining in Venezuela since 2005 (and suspected similar activities in Ecuador and Bolivia, both with leftist leaders), the interception of weapons and bomb-making materials on cargo ships from Venezuela bound for Hezbollah, conspiring with drug cartels, training, establishing networks and proselytizing.

“This is not speculation,” Cárdenas said. “This is not conjecture. This is fact.”

He said that Chavez and Carlos the Jackal, a Venezuelan member of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine behind bars for murder, have become “pen pals as of late.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), also on the panel, said that increasingly international pressure and isolation had contributed to the alliances.

“It is little wonder that the Iranians look for opportunities to find allies anywhere they can,” Deutch said.

An audience member asked if blocking domestic oil production, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, was contributing to propping up regimes such as Chavez’s.

Deutch countered that domestic oil production wasn’t being hampered. “The fact that we’re importing as much oil from Venezuela as we do is a travesty,” he said. “First we end dependence on foreign oil, then on oil all together.”

Cárdenas noted that consumers can help nick the regime by bearing in mind which oil company is owned by the Venezuelan government.

“If you all want to do your part, don’t buy gas from Citgo,” he said.

Cárdenas stressed that the U.S. buys about 10 percent of its oil, a very heavy crude for which the Chinese are trying to development refinement capabilities, from Venezuela — “which makes Hugo Chavez a very rich man with unaccountable spending privileges.”

Cárdenas and fellow Visión Américas associate former OAS Ambassador Roger Noriega detailed the mounting Hezbollah threat in Latin America in an October paper, among other forums.

He’s also written extensively about what’s next for Venezuela after Chavez, who announced Sunday that his cancer has returned, is gone.

“I believe that there are actors who absolutely want to protect their interests in Venezuela,” Cárdenas said. “We may wind up with a very undemocratic regime.”