ATbar Generating complicities: Iran´s inroads in South America 2010-2011

Generating complicities: Iran´s inroads in South America 2010-2011

22/12/2011 | by Witker, Ivan  

First published in Letras Internacionales, ORT University in Montevideo, Uruguay

The ongoing deployment of extra-hemispheric powers in the region is not exactly a gentle breeze across the region. Among Latin America’s policy-makers and scholars two contradictory visions have erupted when evaluating these deployments. On one side are those who assess it just in accordance with the globalizing tendencies that would span the world in despite of country, culture, economy or society features. On the other side are those who assess it sceptically differentiating intensities of the pursued objectives by one or other extra-hemispheric power. Indeed, China, India, Russia and Iran, by far the most active ones, have shown different goals and motivations. The receptivity has been also uneven. However, in the niches and interstices where the extra-hemispheric influence circulates the relative absence of the once ubiquitous U.S. influence as common feature is also expressed.

In this context, full of multidirectional factors, it seems that the Iranian penetration is very inextricable due mostly to the lack on reliable sources. Notwithstanding, since 2005 onwards it features a steadfast trend, getting visibility and being complex.

Taking into account its features it could be said that the main motivations for the Iranians are both obtaining influence in the US backyard and building strike back capabilities at the US in his own hemisphere as well. To get influence in the area, Tehran is deploying capabilities in several countries of the hemisphere, but focused in five South American countries: Argentine, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela. With each of them Iran is undertaking a many-sided relationship containing a fair amount of sui generis drives, which have sparsely along with the traditional diplomacy. Consequently the task of identifying these drives might contribute to fathom why for the first time in its long history are the Persians so interested in this remote area of the world.

Iran’s deployment combines skillfully drives of both, soft and hard power employing a wide array of others of mixed features as well. Let them categorize as:

i. Straight soft power drives (as diplomatic ties or such pure friendly cultural –twinning cities, signing university agreements- and so on),
ii. Mixed featured drives (such as humanitarian relief, material and spiritual support to Shii communities in the region, to mosques and other religious centers using them to propagate opinions of Islamic revolutionary perspective) and
iii. Hard power drives (such as military or industrial agreements linked to security and defense matters or business topics related to them or directly covert activities supporting Hezbollah). Priorities are defined according to the development of the own strategy and the local receptivity. These trends speak out clearly: Iran's relationship with Latin American countries is becoming increasingly a key issue of hemispheric security agenda.

The diversity of the drives has led scholars to take two positions toward Iran’s deployment throughout the region, both benign. Some of them are looking at with relatively indifference assessing it rather as a by-product of the Ayatollah’s eccentricities while others are primarily looking at as an inevitable outcome of the globalization and thus geopolitically associated to the relative loss of U.S. influence in South America. However, none of them realize either its nature or its consequences[1].

Nature and consequence go together. The first is defined by its fundamental feature: its entire strategy is under supervision of Pasdaran. As known it is the main instrument for penetration abroad. All Tehran’s strategic imperatives are attached directly to Pasdaran[2]. That means that nuclear plans as well as the strategic competition with the US, the construction of bases capable of retaliatory strike at the heart of America and last but not least, the whole strategy of promoting Islamic fundamentalism and the aim of isolating Israel, depend on Pasdaran[3]. In other words, Iran's deterrence capability is subordinated to this state-in-the-state body. Seen in that context, the generation of complicities with like-minded governments is in extremis essential.

A lot from the latest Tehran’s officials trips throughout the region can be deduced. Indeed, quasi-parallel to the tour of President Barack Obama through Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in March 2011, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Behrouz Kamalvandi made an own tour stopping in Quito, Bogota and La Paz. A few weeks later, in early June 2011 arrived in Caracas the influential and highly controversial Iranian Defense Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, who flew later to La Paz.

These steps weren’t soft power drives. They could only be directly connected to the forecasts of Argentinean analyst Pepe Eliaschev, who holds the view that by the end of 2011 Iran will complete the designation of 150 staff positions dedicated to Latin America. He added that a bulk budget of U.S. $ 4,500 million should have been already allocated for the deployment in the region. Thereof $ 87 million should have been already transferred to the on-the-ground field under direct supervision of the Pasdaran commandant Qassem Soleimani. And much more, some US$ 7 mills have gone straight to Hezbollah.

Other indicators show a set of mixed featured drives. Among them, for instance, is the number of Iranian newly opened embassies in the region. Tehran held until 2007 only five embassies in Latin America, of which only three of them in South America. By 2011, the number of embassies leaded by a resident ambassador has grown significantly. In the middle of 2011 they increased to eleven. Excepting Guyana and Suriname, Iran’s already got diplomatic representation in all South American countries. Only in Paraguay doesn’t have a mission’s chief. However, the concurrent ambassador from Montevideo visits the Paraguayan capital Asunción utterly infrequent once a month, not to mention the constant visits of high officials from Tehran. A relevant leaked new on Iran's relations with Paraguay was the alleged request of M. Ahmedinejad early April 2011 to Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo asking for asylum for Muammar Gaddafi[4].

Nevertheless, the implementing timing and emphasis of the Iranian deployment will ultimately depend mostly on the receptivity of each South American country. For that reason, it seems to be useful to analyze the specific developments occurred during 2010-2011.

a) Iran-Argentine: caught by the past

During 2010-2011, the Argentine-Iranian relations have continued to be very strongly marked by the reverberations of the brutal attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA in 1992 and 1994, respectively[5].

An attempt to reverse the deteriorating relations took place in September 2010 on the edge of President Cristina Fernandez´s speech to the UN General Assembly, where she launched a proposal of a solution à la Lockerbie to the judicial process against the Iranians officials accused to instigate the AMIA bombing. It should mean that by mutual agreement the whole trial should be transferred to a third country. However, it remains unclear the purpose of the proposal, because it provoked a bitter response from Iran as it might be expected.

Next to that, the period 2010-2011 was featured by an in-depth report of Pepe Eliaschev in the Buenos Aires´ daily Perfil[6]. According to Perfil´s story during a meeting between Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Mohalem and Syria´s president Bashar al-Assad on January 23 in the Syrian city of Alepo, the Argentinean official suggested that his country is no longer interested in investigating the two bombing attacks in order to reinforce the commercial ties with Iran[7]. The alleged meeting took place during President Cristina Fernandez´s official trip to Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey in January 2011. The report also indicates that Iran believes Timerman´s comments could mean Argentina will stop asking Interpol for ordering the arrests of Iran’s current Defense minister Ahmad Vahidi as well as other officials suspected of having some grade of participation in the attacks[8]. According to Eliaschev´s report in September 2010 and February 2011 there were direct talks although discrete between little-known officials of Argentine and Iran. These explosive revelations threaten to cancel a visit of Minister Timerman to Israel scheduled for late March. The reason was the obvious irritation among Israeli officials. Subsequently, statements by Timerman denying that Argentine would be willing to forget the on-going investigations helped to mitigate the tensions and minister Timerman did finally fly to Jerusalem.

A second highly significant bilateral issue was given by media reports early April 2011 stating that recruiting and fundraising shadowy activities are carried out jointly by Hezbollah and Hamas in the Brazilian side of the notorious Tri-Border zone. It was also mentioned that the former Iranian diplomat Moshe Rabbani held several visits there using a false passport. Shortly afterwards, Rabbani, accused to be the mastermind of the attack on AMIA, gave an interview to a Buenos Aires based broadcast radio station, considered to be next to the pro-Iran Kirchnerite Luis D'Elía, denying the version of his travels through Brazil. Additionally, the controversy surrounding the shadowy activities of the Iranian embassy in the Argentinean capital has continued. Judge Rafael Rafecas, for example, reported that the embassy has continued funding many anti-Jewish groups especially this leaded by activist Luis D'Elía.

All these facts featured the period 2010-2011 confirmed that the Iranian-Argentine bond is altered in its foundations. The intensity of the reverberations of the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and AMIA continue to emanate and has put necessarily the question about the further development of that problem whose solution seems to be too far in the horizon.

b) Iran-Bolivia: teetering on the abyss

Although Bolivia and Iran established full relations only in 2007, President Morales and his Iranian peer have celebrated several reciprocal visits. 2010-2011 were years especially fruitful for the bilateral relations. Looked from the standpoint of the Iranian strategy, the developments suggest a consolidation of Bolivia as his second most important partner in the region. On the other hand, Bolivia has been rewarded by the Iranian assistance, which has rising in various fields such as agriculture, industry, health, hydrocarbons, communication and lately defense including aircraft- to U.S. $ 1200 million becoming Iran Bolivia’s second assistance donor surpassing the European Union. Mid September at the edge of UN General Assembly, the Bolivia’s government speaker Ivan Canelas announced for beginning 2012 the next visit Ahmedinejad to La Paz[9].

Documentary evidence put Bolivia midst in the Iranian deployment[10]. First of all, the opening of the Iranian embassy in La Paz in September 2010 and President Morales's trip to Tehran a month later and the travels made by several high officials of the Iranian government for Bolivia during the first half of 2011 are milestones[11]. Furthermore the Morales´ trip to Tehran and Tabriz can be celebrated as a big media success, because both countries pompously announced on the edge of the trip the determination to “reciprocal assistance” in order to build a nuclear power plant in Bolivia[12]. It is well known that the absolute absence of critical mass and general precariousness of Bolivia to launch up such ambitious project. But the announcement could be useful as coverage for subsequently activities of Iranian specialists and officials throughout South America. For that reason it should be very suspicious the approval of a bill by the Bolivian Congress in June 2011 to facilitate tourism between the two countries. Virtually it does not exist, and will not take any form in the next years.

Further drives of hard power were shown on the joint statement between Iran and Bolivia issued after the trip Morales stating that for both countries, the U.S. is “a common enemy” and also, the announcement of creating a binational bank for the management of future projects in Bolivia. Advances in that direction were seen a month before the Morales´ visit, when the Minister of Industries and Mines of Iran Ali Akhbar Mehravian attended the presentation of credentials by Ambassador Alireza Ghozeilee in La Paz, that also coincided with the opening of the Iranian embassy in La Paz. The portfolio held by minister Mehravian indicates the emphasis that Iran is giving to this bond. Consequently, during his visit, both countries signed agreements related to the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. Furthermore, Mehravian opened the Bureau of the Iranian Oil in Santa Cruz and offered a new line of credit for U.S. $ 254 million that will expand existing projects and review new ones around the extraction of lithium as well[13].

First hints of the strategic position of Bolivia within the Iranian deployment began to become clear during 2010, when the Minister of Economy and Finance of Bolivia, Luis Arce made public in October 2010 an agreement between the two countries for both, the purchase of Iranian military equipment and the maintenance of aircraft of the Bolivian Air Force (FAB), and an agreement for military training as well[14]. This ministerial announcement was made public just two weeks after Morales came from Iran, where he paid visit Tehran and Tabriz. In the latter he was guest of a tractor enterprise, which plans to build a factory in Cochabamba.

Strongly provocative towards the US in connection with the Iranian issue, was the speech at the opening of IX biannual conference of the Americas defense ministers in Santa Cruz attended by US Defense secretary Robert Gates late November 2010. “Nobody will stop me from negotiating with any country. Bolivia, under my leadership, will have agreements and alliances with everyone” told Morales as reply to Gates, who had warned previously about dealings with Tehran.

Subsequently, in March 2011, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Behrouz Kamalvandi paid a visit to Bolivia outstanding “the strategic role that Bolivia is taking in the unfolding of Iran in the region”. Kamalvandi announced both the creation of a Geoscientist Centre oriented to study geological data from Bolivia and a network of antennas for a national television channel as well. The central objective of the Geoscientist Centre is to localise uranium deposits. So far, studies on location and characteristics of Bolivian uranium deposits are obsolete and not accurate. Uranium may exist in the Cordillera de Los Frailes in Cotaje (Potosí) and Mammon, the east region near the Brazilian border, in the Noel Kempff Mercado Natural Park and in the Chiquitano Forest (both later known also as Pantanal ecosystem). After visiting Mehravian´s, Bolivian Planning Minister, Viviana Caro couldn’t formulate it better: "we intend to perform work, but what is needed is an updated geological map in which Iran will work”. It will be argued too that lithium could be used as accelerator alternative uranium enrichment. Kamalvandi has signed during his visit supplementary agreements to exploit lithium (exploring were guaranteed primarily during the previous visit of Ghozeilee). Additionally, Kamalvandi has committed an open credit line of $ 270 million to build dams.

However, the most significant issue of the period was the arrival to La Paz and Santa Cruz in early June 2011 of Iranian Defense Minister and AMIA bombing suspect Ahmed Vahidi, who arrived offering “all types of military aid”. The high official attended the inauguration of the first educational ALBA Military entity confirming thus, the hypothesis about the strategic character of the Iranian deployment in Bolivia. Nevertheless, Vahidi was abruptly invited to abandon Bolivia due to the Argentinean government’s disappointment while attending a graduating ceremony of cadets from Bolivia, Venezuela and Panama at the Military Aviation School (COLMILAV). The Casa Rosada threatens to cancel the following week scheduled visit of Morales to Buenos Aires. Promptly, Bolivia apologized for the diplomatic incident. Interpol issued an arrest for Vahidi and five other Iranian officials in 2007 after a Buenos Aires court accused them of being involved in the terrorist attacks against Israel’s embassy and AMIA. Vahidi enjoys diplomatic immunity, which complicates the efforts to bring him to trial, although in 2007 Interpol notified law enforcement bodies in other countries according to the Argentine arrest warrant against him. Both Morales and his Defense minister Cecilia Chacón, who invited him, dodge to comment the disgraceful incident with journalists. Vahidi refuses likewise to comment it directly but welcomed its passage through Bolivia and reiterated that full cooperation with Latin American countries is reckoned still as priority for Iran.

Bolivia’s stance toward Iran was reiterated during the visit to Tehran of Galo Silvestre Bonifas, chair of the Bolivian Parliament Foreign Policy Commission mid October during which he met Majlis´s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi and other officials. Silvestre voiced there his country’s “full support” for Iran in the international arena. In return, Majli´s speaker Ari Larijani praised the Bolivia’s revolutionary stance[15].

Summing up, the bilateral relations have entered during 2010-2011 into a qualitatively new era, acquiring strategic overtones, although, the enthusiastic receptivity of Morales´ government should take care of some formal aspects. Otherwise it could lead to unexpected frictions with third parties as it was the case of Argentine’s complaints due the Vahidi´s visit. The distasteful moments experienced by the key Pasdaran official in Bolivia will force Iran to act more cautious too.

Iran-Brazil: getting neolulism

Hard reverberations of President Ahmedinejad's 2009 trip to Brazil have got the relation between the two countries in early 2010. But quickly the optimistic point of view has melted away. It has got changing signals[16].

Along 2010 prevailed the pragmatic spirit of President Lula da Silva, who paid big attention to the Iranian issue by both, wanting to play a negotiator role, and expressing harsh criticism to the imposed sanctions against the Tehran regime as well. Zenith of it was Lula’s attempt to arrange with Turkey, on the edge of the summit of the G-15 in Tehran, which he attended, a swap deal with Iran, where Turkey would act as an intermediary for Iran in order to get highly enriched uranium from abroad[17]. But the deal didn’t gain traction and was overshadowed by US and other sanctions. Another positive signal of Lula’s pragmatism happened shortly before, in April 2010, when Petrobras announced it would keep offices in Tehran and will develop new investments in the Caspian Sea, despite the unfavourable international climate. It went on in June 2010 when, in a divided voting, the Security Council adopted sanctions against Tehran (Resolution 2040) with the negative votes of Brazil and Turkey (both non-permanent members of the body at the time). This pragmatic approach underlay the Lula’s vision of international affairs favouring the maintenance of the dialogue with all sorts of regimes and rejected a priori the imposition of sanctions. Lula stated that sanctions affect the poorest at the end of the day. Furthermore he stressed the need to respect the culture, customs and laws of all countries, arguing that otherwise there will be fed chaos in the international system[18].

However, with the takeover of Dilma Rousseff´s as new Brazil’s President gradually a new atmosphere between the two countries was set. Dilma has a little differentiating vision of world politics[19]. Therefore it is possible to expect new premises in the Brazilian foreign policy. Dilma´s neolulism seems to be less pragmatic and more committed with more focus on human rights, for instance, of the women ones particularly. And Iran will be put as test of this post Lula-era.

Two given factors could lead to a clash with Tehran. Dilma, for example, was much tougher than their predecessor and mentor about the capital punishment imposed on the Iranian woman Sakineh Ashtiani convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. When she was candidate, Dilma said it was "unacceptable and medieval" and asked President Lula to order his ambassador in Tehran, Antonio Luis Salgado to meet with officials of the Iran’s foreign ministry to notify that Brazil was able to guarantee Ashtiani asylum. She went further saying it’s not her position when Lula order Brazil’s abstention at UN Human rights council votes on Iran after knowing Ashtiani´s sentence.

Once in office, Dilma congratulated herself to welcome in her country the Iranian dissident lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize holder 2003 Shirin Ebadi provoking distress at Iranian Foreign Ministry. Moreover, the short Dilma´s administration the Brazilian Ministry of Culture already had several folds criticizing the censorship of Paulo Coelho’s books in Iran.

Perhaps the most significant change occurred early 2011 when for the first time in 10 years, Brazil (together with Panama and Colombia and Cuba and Ecuador against) voted supporting a rapporteur to monitor the human rights in Iran proposed by the US. It was the first great divergence in foreign policy between the current administration and Lula’s. Moreover, Foreign minister Antonio Patriota told Folha do Sao Paulo mid September that Brazil held now “some suspicions that Iran´s nuclear program is not entirely for peaceful ends”, reducing its previous strong support[20].

Although, the readjustments of Brazil’s policy toward Iran won’t have a serious role in the frame of the Iranian goal to establish a foothold in the region, Ahmadinejad's administration is reacting cautiously toward these new signals. Tehran has already shown its discomfort but hereafter will pay more attention to exploring and to exploit new spaces and interstices in as much as Brazil doesn’t breakdown the relationship. According to this cautiousness, Tehran announced, for instance, it will establish a trade centre during the second half of 2011 in order to facilitate business between the two countries. Both are aware that the deterioration of bilateral relations will hurt both Tehran and Brasilia as well. It’s not to forget that for Brazilian business should be interesting not to jeopardize the triangulation of food, meat and sugar that are doing Brazilian companies installed in Dubai and the UAE.

Needless to emphasize, this readjustment will be politically monitored by Washington and other central powers. During 2010-2011 there have been several situations that could generate more concern. For example, according to late 2010 Wikileaks disclosures, the Iranian company Machine Sazi Tabriz (MST) has been buying dual-use material of the Brazilian Machines and Mello SA Equipamentos. In that case, Siemens succeeded to stop shipments to major Mello SA due that they could be submitted to MST[21].

Summarizing, the Brazilian-Iranian relationships are undergoing out-cooling moments due to internal political changes in Brasilia. In that score neither hard nor soft power drives will be there on the top of the agenda, but instead those of mixed features. Therefore, great attention should be paid on all kind of subtle Iranian movements.

Iran-Ecuador: scouting a Lilliputian

An important chapter in relations between Iran and South America during 2010-2011 was represented by Ecuador. Despite the ups and downs, this link moved through various levels showing clearly upward trends[22].

In February 2010, Ecuador was pushed to freeze a US$ 120 million loan granted by the Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) to fund bilateral trade due to the fact that the EDBI was sanctioned by US Treasury Department for helping to finance Iran’s weapons of mass destruction programs[23]. Additionally Financial Action Task Force (FATF, an organization that combats money laundering), warned Ecuador to include it in the List of Non-abiding body's recommendations. Some days earlier, the Ecuadorian central bank had had to dispel US concerns about the same matter.

Another high profile case committed President’s Correa advisor and foreign trade Deputy Minister Galo Borja, who was forced to resign after it was revealed that his private firm BorjaInBorja Co. was doing business with Iran[24].

These forced situations triggered off a rather important political debate inside Ecuador about features and scope of the bonds to Iran at large.

Despite these setbacks, President Correa said that he will not stop getting closer to Iran and has kept another controversial decision by opening an embassy in Tehran. The embassy opening was officially announced in April 2010, it was opened in July 2011 and Thomas Bliss named as first Ecuador’s ambassador to Iran.

A case of hard power signals was the Iranian proposal to fund with US$ 30 million several joint mining projects that appears to lay the groundwork for future extractive activities. A significant shadowy initiative seems to have been the proposal to establish a Chemical-Geotechnical-Metallurgical Research Centre to jointly implement a comprehensive study and topographic and cartographic analysis of Ecuadorean territory. It has been an outcome of an early January trip of the ministry of non-renewable natural resources´ officials to Tehran to check the implementation of 6 agreements signed 2008. A similar interest had previously shown Russia 2009. Parallel to that, the International Atomic Energy Agency unveiled plans to help Ecuador explore for uranium and study the possibility of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purpose.

Summarizing, despite the enormous imbalance between the two countries, the active and fruitful bilateral relationship during 2010-2011 helps to explain the Iranian efforts to intensify the relation trying to find out new areas for further cooperation and carrying on to use the 2009 provided US$ 120 million loan.

Iran-Venezuela: anchoring the outpost

Steps taken by the two countries during 2010-2011 might be taken as a test of the Iranian’s deployment deepness throughout the region[25]. Hitherto, the relation between the two countries features itself as driver of a foothold in South America. Nevertheless, the worsening of President Chavez health could emerge as a black swan factor in the trend.

The most relevant hard power signal of Iranian penetration is a report from the German newspaper Die Welt related to the building of an Iranian missile of both short and medium range base on the peninsula of Paraguaná[26]. According to the report, the decision is based on a bilateral strategic cooperation agreement signed secretly on October 19, 2010 during a visit of President Chavez to Tehran, the ninth during his tenure[27]. In May 2011, both countries decided the location and started the construction phase. The operation should have been authorized personally by Air Force Pasdaran´s commander Amir al-Hadjizadeh. That gives itself a solid proof of the meaningfulness of this deployment for the Ahmadinejad’s administration.

Paraguaná is roughly 60 miles from the border with Colombia. According to Die Welt, the location was selected by military engineers of the Khatam al-Anbia, a conglomerate belonging to the Pasdaran, who paid visit Venezuela for this purpose in February 2011. The base will harbour Pasdaran´s specialists and will be equipped with missile Shahab-3 (range between 1300 and 1500 kms.) Scud-B (285-330 km) and Scud-C (300, 500 and 700 kms). Venezuelan officials should have congratulated themselves of such step, due an additional protocol envisaging "technology transfer" aiming to develop a joint surface missile of medium range.

Another drive of hard power is the agreement signed during the 2010 visit of President Chavez which creates a jointly outlet of the firm IRISL Group for the maritime transport of crude oil not only between the two countries but also to and off third countries.

Toward these shadowy developments, the US administration doesn’t remain unmoved. Some counter-measures were taken. The most retaliation-marked one entered into force in May 2011 when the State Department applied sanctions to the state oil company PdVSA, referring to the 1996 regulations. Hereafter PdVSA won’t participate in any contract directly with Washington and won’t have access to financing programs for export and import of licenses for American oil technologies as well. As a warning, these sanctions could be severe in the coming months if there is no change in behaviour of PdVSA[28].

Last but not least, during 2010-2011, the Chavez government took another step highly significant to understand how deep the bilateral relationship is. According to the consultancy Stratfor, the personal guard of President Chavez was undertaken by Pasdaran´s personnel[29]. The roughly 300 members or IRGC-QF should be focused on intelligence operations, paramilitary training for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and security assistance for the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Although the abrupt end of the uncontrolled flights between Caracas and Tehran via Damascus in September 2010 triggered some hearsay, the consultancy Stratfor revealed that this Conviasa/Iranair connection service was just temporarily suspended. The Airbus 340 serving the route is undergoing maintenance and spare parts are being not always available.

Finally, in July 2011, US representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Connie Mack and David Rivera sent a letter to the Secretary of State requesting information about some suspected projects in agricultural sector funded both by the Argentinean and Iranian governments and weren’t executed. According to the suspicion, they may have served as means of payment for Iranian acquisition of dual-use technology. Suspicions are oriented on over-funding these programs aiming primarily to modernize nuclear power plants in Argentina (Atucha I and Embalse) but incidentally to acquiring too know-how or dual-use materials which have been diverted to Iran.


  1. Amid its nuclear ambitions and strategic competition with the U.S., Iran has developed a complex strategy toward Latin America, focused on five South American countries. Its deployment includes both, hard and soft power drives, as well as others of mixed features. All used in a cunning combination regarding the specific realities of each country.
  2. Being Pasdaran the strongest shackle of its deployment the building up of a deterrence force seems to be its main objective. Iran is aiming to possess a vast network of resources with counter-strike capabilities if the conflict between the West and Tehran regime deepens.
  3. The most significant outcome of the Iranian activities carried out during 2010-2011 in South America was the highly receptivity in order to establish a foothold there. In this context, building trust and articulating complicities with South American countries are becoming vitals. Both in qualitative and quantitative terms, Venezuela and Bolivia are the most receptive countries. Venezuela could be depicted as an up-building foothold meanwhile Bolivia is on the way to.
  4. One Interesting question is why the Iranian deployment in South America, despite evidence, ranks relatively low on the Obama’s agenda. One possible explanation is that attitudes and tougher action might aggravate the already deteriorated relations with Venezuela and Bolivia, with the consequent impact on other member countries of ALBA and thus, implicitly, severe the hemisphere’s policy.


[1] Discussed by Caro Isaac and M. Isabel Rodríguez in “La presencia de Irán en América Latina a través de su influencia en los países del ALBA” Atenea N° 500, p. 22, Santiago de Chile, 2009 as well as by Ortiz, Roman “Iran y el terrorismo en América Latina: ultimo aviso”, 18/X/2011, “Obama, Irán, América Latina”, 21/III/2011, Infolatam´s Op-Ed, and finally by Bailey, Norman “What are the Persians doing over here?”, Center for Hemispheric Policy, University of Miami, Miami, FL, 2010.

[2] Charts and comments on Pasdaran´s organizational structure in Bednarz, Dieter y Erich Follath “Iran, die Schattenkrieger”, Der Spiegel N° 7, 2010, Hamburg.

[3] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps´ Quds Force (IRGC-QF) members usually are stationed in foreign embassies, charities and religious or cultural institutions as intelligence officers to develop ties with the Shiite diaspora and other potential allies. More in Sullivan, Mark “Latin America: terrorism issues” Congressional Research Service, Washington DC, 2011 and Wehrey, Frederic y Jerrold Green et al “The rise of Pasdaran”, Rand Corporation, Sta. Monica CA, 2009.

[4] 31/03/2011 .

[5] Deep discussion about historical development of bilateral relations in Witker, Ivan “Iran’s Expansion in Latin America and its Security Implications for Chile and Argentina”, Research from the Field quarterly, May 2010, Buenos Aires and as well in Witker, Ivan “Los guiños de Mefisto: la expansión de Irán en América Latina y sus implicancias para la seguridad de Chile y Argentina”, chapter of Bartolomé, Mariano (ed.) “Seguridad y Defensa en tiempos del Bicentenario”, CHDS-NDU, Washington DC, 2010. Spanish edition: Instituto de Publicaciones Navales, Buenos Aires, 2010.

[6] Eliaschev, Pepe “El gobierno negocia con Irán dejar de lado la investigación de los atentados”, Perfil 26/III/2011, Buenos Aires

[7] Trade between the two countries has markedly increased during 2010-2011 mainly due rising Iranian imports of Argentinean soybeans. More in Guelar, Diego “Qué pasa con Irán. Política dura y comercio fácil con Argentina”, La Nación 21/IX/2011

[8]Hulse, Janie “Argentina reaches out to Iran despite AMIA charges”, Research from the Field quarterly, Buenos Aires, May 2011

[9] Agencia de Noticias Fides “Ministro de Comunicaciones de Bolivia: Presidente de Iran visitará Bolivia”, ANF 20/09/2011, La Paz

[10]Jorisch, Avi “Why Iran and Bolivia are in business”, LADDO´s Op-Ed, 12/V/2011

[11] “First Iranian ambassador presents credentials to Bolivian President Morales”, MercoPress 08/09/2010

[12] “Bolivia construirá planta nuclear con Irán”, El Nuevo Herald 31/10/2010 and “Iran to help Bolivia develop N-program”, PressTV 30/10/2010 http://presstv.con/detail/148959.html

[13] “Iran ´partner´ in the industrialization of Bolivia´s lithium reserves”, MercoPress, 30/10/2010

[14] “Bolivia comprará aviones militares a Irán”, Infodefensa 03/11/2010

[15] “Larijani louds Bolivia anti-West stance”, PressTV 28/10/2010

[16] An outlook on bilateral developments occurred quite recently before 2010 in “Brazil – Iran Foreign relations”, Iran Tracker 27/02/2010

[17] Aguirre, Mariano “Brazil-Turkey and Iran: a new global balance”, OpenDemocracy, 09/06/2010

[18] “Lula da Silva asks Unsasur and Mexico support for his Iran uranium agreement”, MercoPress 27/05/2010

[19] “An Iranian banana skin, Brazil´s foreign policy”, The Economist 24/06/2010

[20] Brandt, Fábio “Irã deve provar que programa nuclear é pacífico, diz ministro de Dilma”, interview with Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, Folha de Sao Paulo, 16/IX/2011

[21] Ferrand, Nicole “The growing concern of Brazil & Iran”, The Americas Report, 25/06/2011

[22] “Ecuador closer to Iran which promised US$ 200 million loan” MercoPress 19/1/2009

[23] “Ecuador strongly defends relations with Iran, in spite of black list”, MercoPress

[24] “Iran´s man in Ecuador”, Americas Forum, 15/II/2011

[25] An outlook on bilateral developments occurred quite recently before 2010 in Bailey Norman “Iranian penetration into the Western hemisphere through Venezuela”, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Washington DC, 27/X/2009.

[26] Wergin Clemens y H. Strausberg “Iran plant Bau einer Reketenstellung in Venezuela”, Die Welt, 25/X/2010 and “Iranische Raketenbasis in Planungsphase”, Die Welt, 13/V/2011

[27] “Venezuela e Irán arman una base militar”, Perfil, Buenos Aires 15/I/2011

[28] “US imposes sanctions on Venezuela´s PDVSA for engaging in trade with Iran”, MercoPress 24/5/2011

[29] “Quds force in Iran”, 22/IV/2010

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).