As Iran prepares to re-enter the international arena, burnished by the nuclear pact and emergence as a regional power in the Middle East, it is crucial to understand its motivation and tactics. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the world has witnessed atrocities far and wide, facilitated by Iran’s proxy terrorist army Hezbollah. In Latin America in particular, the atrocities in Buenos Aires in the early 90’s demonstrated the revolution’s global reach and its commitment to mass murder as a political tool. Having established a presence in the tri-border region (Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay) since the early 1980’s, Hezbollah was more than prepared for the gift that followed in the new millennium: an ideologically friendly regime that swung open its doors and facilitated numerous illicit activities in the name of anti-Americanism: Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
Here we must pause and ask: what could an ethnically Persian Islamic Shia theocracy have in common with a traditionally Catholic Latin American nation? Aside from both being founding members of OPEC: not much, on the surface. Although Venezuela is a country of immigrants with a large Arab community, some of whom are Shia, the Iranian presence was always minuscule. That is, until Chavez’s ascent to power in 1999 and the implementation of “21st Century Socialism,” a hodge-podge doctrine of classic economic Marxist central planning, repression of all dissent, asymmetric warfare, and a strident anti-Americanism. Buoyed by oil prices well over $ 100 a barrel, Venezuela bought influence and spread large sums of money to keep the Cuban economy from collapse, as well as building its ALBA alliance as a counterweight to American interests in the region.
While a vast cultural, religious, and ethnic divide separate Iran and Venezuela, the early 2000’s saw an ideological pairing under the guidance of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who positioned themselves as anti-imperialist revolutionaries resisting American aggression. While the Islamic revolution is predicated on achieving victory over the infidel (which Venezuela by definition is), the Venezuelan government merely stripped it of its religious connotation and cloaked it in basic secular Marxist-Leninist thought for domestic consumption. An alliance of convenience was established under the tried and true methodology of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
This alliance would start to bear fruit as hundreds of Hezbollah operatives were given Venezuelan identity documents and passports, while establishing a base of operations in the tourism and free economic zone hub of Margarita island, where they could easily move to other Caribbean and Central American countries, such as Nicaragua, which is also a member of the Venezuelan-led ALBA alliance. Recent testimony gleaned from defections by top-ranking Venezuelan security officials paint a much more sinister picture: multi-million dollar schemes from drug trafficking by Venezuelan government officials, movement of Hezbollah operatives throughout Latin America and Canada using Venezuelan documents, and money laundering of Iranian funds to defeat the sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.
One might think that with the death of the highly charismatic Chavez and the end of Ahmadinejad’s term in Iran, the alliance would falter. In fact, it has only strengthened as Maduro, while beset by multiple political and economic crises, and Rouhani, preoccupied with the nuclear deal, both are quietly working to preserve a partnership. Case in point, the recent Venezuelan offer to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees. Closer to home, a camera crew from Hispan TV, a satellite channel funded by Iran to spread its point of view across Latin America, has correspondents on Capitol Hill covering the nuclear agreement.