Iran’s Latin American “Alliance” is a Joke

Ahmadinejad looks for allies across the Atlantic but finds very few friends there.

Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran meet, October 20, 2010
Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran meet, October 20, 2010 (Prensa Miraflores)

With his nation under pressure from international sanctions and facing a European oil embargo, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turns to a small and shrinking group of Latin American allies this week.

Ahmadinejad arrived in Caracas on Sunday to team up with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in denouncing America’s attempts at isolating Iran. He travels to Nicaragua on Monday to attend Daniel Ortega’s inauguration ceremony. The socialist leader won a third presidential term in November and has intensified relations with Iran and other anticapitalist regimes in recent years.

The Iranian president will also visit Cuba and Ecuador. Like Nicaragua, these nations belong to Hugo Chávez’ Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, an organization that rejects the expansion of free trade and efforts at liberalization that have defined South America’s other economies for the last two decades.

Outside of these pariah states, the Iranian leader hasn’t a huge fan base in Latin America. Despite her nation’s previous attempts at diplomacy with Iran, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has shown little interest in deepening ties with the Islamic republic and isn’t scheduled to meet Ahmadinejad. The Iranian did come to Brazil in 2009 when he last visited the region but promises made then have yet to be fulfilled — among them, pledges to build an oil refinery in Ecuador and a port in Nicaragua.

After it brokered a nuclear fuel exchange agreement with Iran in conjunction with the Turks almost two years ago and failed to convince Western nations of Tehran’s sincerity, the Brazilian government appears to have started moving away from its ideological commitment to nonalignment and conducted a pragmatic foreign policy with its own interests in mind foremost.

Brazilian trade with Iran has doubled in the last six years but the country is no ally of Iran’s. Rousseff even criticized her predecessor, the extremely popular Lula da Silva, for abstaining from voting on a United Nations resolution that condemned the Iranian regime for human rights abuses in the country.

Colombia, Chile and Mexico, economically and militarily among the strongest nations in Latin America, are allied to the United States while Argentina, in 2006, issued an arrest warrant for Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in relation to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people and was likely carried out by Hezbollah. There is little sympathy for Iran’s confrontational foreign policy in these quarters.

Outside of a few poor and decaying leftists regimes, Iran’s transatlantic support is limited indeed. It is doubtful moreover whether this supports extends beyond these nations’ eccentric leaders who talk a lot of challenging American “imperialism” in Latin America but amount to little more than a nuisance to the United States’ position on the continent. With Rousseff signaling a more pro-American policy and expressing no interest in expanding relations with the Islamic state, Ahmadinejad’s visit is actually a rather sad one this week.