Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited four countries in Latin America last week. The five-day trip — postponed from September because of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s cancer therapy — brought Ahmadinejad through Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. Although the trip was overshadowed by the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist last week in Tehran, Ahmadinejad’s visit provoked a round of discussion in the United States about Iranian intentions in the region. The leaders of each country visited by the Iranian president pledged to support Iran’s nuclear program.
According to Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, the relationship between Iran and its Latin American allies constitutes a “marriage of political convenience,” he said. “In other words, they need each other.” In Latin America, an anti-imperialist bloc led by Chavez sees Iran as a partner in a common front against the United States. For Ahmadinejad, Latin American nations are partners to help Iran break out of restrictive international sanctions.
What’s not known, however, are the terms and extent of Iranian involvement in the hemisphere. Announcements regarding military and economic deals are common, but it’s difficult to ascertain how much cooperation is substantial or just talk. Also notable: Ahmadinejad skipped Brazil. Analysts have interpreted this as a sign Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has downgraded Brazil’s relationship vis-a-vis Iran in contrast to former President Lula da Silva.
In related news, the United States expelled the Venezuelan Consul General to Miami, Livia Acosta Noguera, after allegations the diplomat planned a cyber attack with help from the Venezuelan, Cuban and Iranian governments. The alleged attack would have targeted computer infrastructure belonging to the FBI, CIA and the White House.
The allegations are difficult to prove, however, and analysts have interpreted the expulsion as a means for the Obama administration to signal disapproval with Ahmadinejad’s visit to Venezuela. Caracas has since withdrawn its remaining Miami consular staff.
Finally, Chavez reshuffled his cabinet, “choosing military men with business ties over Socialist Party loyalists,” reports Americas Quarterly. Former top spy Henry Rangel Silva, who has been accused of cocaine smuggling by the U.S. Treasury Department, was picked to head the defense ministry.
Colombia has begun implementing its land restitution program. Under the plan, which became law last summer, farmers and families displaced by drug traffickers and paramilitary groups will now resettle in subsidized areas seized back by the government from militants. The first plot: “Las Catas,” an estate in Cordoba department once controlled by traffickers associated with Pablo Escobar. More than 300 families have reportedly been resettled.
The government is targeting areas formerly controlled by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group which demobilized in 2006 (although many AUC militants continued working in the drug trade), and BACRIMs, a term used for the autonomous criminal groups which were spawned in the wake of the AUC’s departure.
“However, it is likely that in these areas [Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos] will face his biggest challenges both politically and logistically, especially in former paramilitary-controlled areas that have large, legitimate business interests,” writes Edward Fox. “There — as well as displacing alleged ‘guerrillas’ from their land, securing drug trafficking routes and extorting local industry — the AUC introduced a form of pseudo-legitimacy to the displacement of small land owners by in some cases working in conjunction with these big businesses.