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The Iranian Threat in Latin America

10:46 AM, Jul 15, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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In recent years, Iran has embraced several anti-American governments in Latin America, including the populist, autocratic regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. (There has also been a rapprochement between Tehran and Buenos Aires, which explains why Argentine president Cristina Kirchner refused to let Nisman testify at a U.S. congressional hearing last week.) The Islamic Republic has used these relationships to expand its hemispheric footprint, get around international sanctions, and bolster its nuclear program. To cite just a few examples from the past four years:

* In 2009, the Associated Press reported (based on an Israeli foreign-ministry document) that Iran was receiving uranium from Venezuela and Bolivia. Several months later, former New York City district attorney Robert Morgenthau gave an important speech at the Brookings Institution detailing the various ways in which Venezuela was helping Iran evade global sanctions.

* In 2010, a Pentagon report stated that the elite Iranian Quds Force (the “extraterritorial” branch of the IRGC) was increasing its presence in Latin America, and especially in Venezuela.

* In 2011, U.S. authorities linked the Quds Force to a shocking assassination scheme, in which Iranian officials were attempting to use a Mexican drug cartel to bomb a Georgetown restaurant and kill the Saudi ambassador. Meanwhile, the German daily Die Welt reported that Iran was building rocket launch bases on Venezuela’s Paraguaná Peninsula (which juts out into the Caribbean); a retired Peruvian general named Francisco Contreras told the Jerusalem Post that Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups were expanding their operations in South America; and a Univision documentary reported that Venezuelan and Iranian officials had been conspiring to launch cyberattacks against the United States.

* In 2012, the Washington Post reported that Iran (1) had “dramatically expanded its diplomatic missions throughout the hemisphere” and (2) was filling its Latin American missions with Quds Force members. A few weeks later, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the 2011 Georgetown assassination plot demonstrated that “some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.” Gen. Douglas Fraser, the head of U.S. Southern Command, subsequently told reporters that Iran was trying to build unmanned aerial vehicles for the Venezuelan military.

* Earlier this year, analysts Douglas Farah and Pamela Philips Lum published a study that documented how Iran is attempting “to use a little-known Ecuadorean bank in state receivership, known as COFIEC, to open correspondent accounts with sanctioned Iranian banking institutions through a state-owned Russian bank.”

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