The Imagined Iranian Threat in Latin America


Reading the text of a bill that was recently signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama should instill fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Apparently, barbarians coming from distant lands are at work. They are gathering at the U.S.-Mexico border, cutting fences, and are ready to wreak havoc on an otherwise serene American landscape.

Never mind that crazed, armed to the teeth, homegrown American terrorists are killing children and terrorizing whole cities. It is the Iranian menace that we are meant to fear, according to a new law. When compounded with the other imagined threats of Hezbollah and Hamas, all with “sinister” agendas, then the time is right for Americans to return to their homes, bolt their doors, and squat in shelters awaiting further instructions for, evidently, “The Iranians are coming.”

It is as comical as it is untrue. But “The Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act,” as of December 28, is an official U.S. law. It is riddled with half-truths, but mostly complete and utter lies. Yes, Iran’s influence in Latin America is on the rise. However, by U.S. standards, the expanding diplomatic ties, extending trade routes, and such are considered a threat to be countered or, per Forbes magazine’s endless wisdom, “confronted.”

Language in politics can be very dangerous as it can misconstrue reality, turning fictitious scenarios into facts. Despite its faltering economy, the U.S. continues to experience a sharp growth in its think tank industry—men and women whose sole purpose is to invent and push political agendas, which often belong to some foreign entity—in this case, Israel. Ian Barman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council reflected that sentiment in a recent article in Forbes.

Only, in the past year, “policy- makers in Washington have woken up to a new (Iranian) threat to U.S. security,” he wrote, citing an alleged Iranian assassination plot in Washington. According to Barman, that was the wake-up call leading to a “deeply worrisome” reality. In a moment of supposed level-headedness, he writes: “Exactly how significant this threat is represents the subject of a new study released in late November by the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. That report, entitled ‘A Line In The Sand,’ documents the sinister synergies that have been created in recent years between Iran and Hezbollah, on the one hand, and radical regional regimes and actors—from Venezuela to Mexican drug cartels—on the other.”

According to Agency France Press, reporting on the new law on December 29, “Washington has repeatedly stated it is closely monitoring Tehran’s activities in Latin America, though senior State Department and intelligence officials have indicated there is no apparent indication of illicit activities by Iran.”

Indeed, on the issue of Iran’s influence in Latin America there are two contradicting narratives. One that merely acknowledges Iranians growing diplomatic outreach in Latin America since 2005 and another that speaks of massive conspiracies involving Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, drug cartels, and, yes, even underground music piracy groups.

The alleged conspiracy is not only far-fetched, it is purposely fabricated to further punish Iran, on behalf of Israel, for its nuclear program. The panic over Iran’s “infiltration” of the U.S. “neighborhood” in Latin America didn’t start a year ago (as Barman alleges), but rather coincided with old Israeli-Western propaganda which painted Iran as a country ruled by religious fiends whose main hobby is to assemble bombs and threaten western civilization. When pro-Israeli think tank “experts” began floating a scenario of “What if Iran and Hezbollah join forces with Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel?” a few years ago, the idea seemed too absurd to compel a rational response. Now it is actually written into the new bill turned law as if it is a fact (Section 2, Findings 12).

The bill not only lacks reason, proper references, and is dotted with a strange amalgam of politically-inspired accusations, it also relies on wholesale allegations of little, if any, plausible foundation whatsoever. For example, “Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies with a presence in Latin America have raised revenues through illicit activities, including drug and arms trafficking, counterfeiting, money laundering, forging travel documents, pirating software and music and providing haven and assistance to other terrorists transiting the region” (Section 2, Findings 8).

Of course, since the whole exercise is fueled by Israeli anxiety, Hamas also had to somehow be pulled in, if not indicted through the same inexplicable reasoning: “The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration concluded in 2008 that almost one-half of the foreign terrorist organizations in the world are linked to narcotics trade and trafficking, including Hezbollah and Hamas” (Section 2, Findings 10).

U.S. author and journalist Belen Fernandez, has been looking into this matter for years. In all of her writings on the topic, she seemed to trace the very thread that unites the invented upheaval over Iran’s supposed takeover of the Western Hemisphere. In an article entitled, “Distorting Iranian-Latin American Relations” written nearly two years ago, she wrote: “Iranian ‘penetration’ in Latin America has in recent years become a pet issue of Israeli Foreign Ministry officials and American neoconservative pundits, many of whom take offense at the perceived failure of the U.S. government to adequately appreciate the security threat posed by, for example, the inauguration of a weekly flight from Caracas to Tehran with a stop in Damascus.”

The issue for Israel and its U.S. conduits is entirely political. Iran is indeed expanding its political and diplomatic outreach, but entirely through legal and official means, something that the U.S. has failed to do since the Monroe Doctrine gave the U.S. exclusive hegemony over Latin America, starting in December 1823. But much has changed since then, especially in the last two decades when the U.S. swung towards disastrous Middle East foreign policies, much to the pleasure of Israel. The suffering endured by Arabs and Muslims was the needed break for some Latin American countries to challenge U.S. policies in their respective countries. This period was the era in which powerhouses like Brazil rose and popular governments took the helm. U.S. policies in Latin America are not failing because of Iranians “sinister” plans, but because of something entirely different.

Demeaning Latin America as a hapless region waiting for U.S. saviors and pinning U.S. political stocks on Iran might serve immediate Israeli purposes, but it will certainly contribute to the growing political delusion that permeates Washington. Just examine the author of the anti-Iran bill, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), who joined Congress in 2011 and sponsored the bill on January 3, just a few days before the Iranian president went on a major diplomatic tour in Latin America to expand his country’s international relations. That alone was unacceptable, for Latin America has long been designated as the U.S. “backyard,” per the belittling perception of U.S. mainstream media.

Duncan might have been a novice, but on May 20, he proudly posted a statement on his House of Representative webpage that censured his own president’s remarks on Israel, while fully supporting the political stances of the leader of another country, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He decried Obama’s siding with the “Hamas-led government,” thus “undermining Israel’s position in the negotiation process.”

“President Obama’s statement that Israel should retreat to its impossible to defend 1967 borders breaks a promise to one of our strongest allies, threatens Israel’s security, and jeopardizes the future of democracy in the region,” he wrote. Of course, Duncan wholeheartedly agreed with Netan- yahu’s right-wing policies: “(The Israeli) Prime Minister understands the hard reality of Israel’s precarious security situation and daily threats of terrorism. I agree with the Israeli Prime Minister that President Obama’s position is simply unrealistic.” He concluded with a very telling statement: “As a Christian, I ask Americans to continue lifting up the people of Israel with prayers for safety and the hope for a lasting peace.”

This strange attitude towards politics and American national security is the real threat, not Iranian embassies and water purification projects in some Latin American countries. But considering the rising religious zealotry, the Israeli lobby, and the numerous think tanks of catered wisdom, there is little space for pragmatic politics or a sensible approach to anything that concerns Israel. Thus, Obama enacted the bill into law and funds have been secured to evaluate Iran’s growing threat can be so that proper measures are taken to counter the frightening possibilities.

What Duncan doesn’t know, however, is that Latin America is no longer hostage, either to the whims of Washington, or to his district in South Carolina. And that the Western Hemisphere is no longer defined by the confines of U.S. foreign policy, which seems to be narrowing each year to meet Israeli expectations—and not those of America.

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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is a syndicated columnist and editor of Palestine Chronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).