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The Future of Latin American Relations with Iran

This week Iranian President Ahmadinejad toured Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela in a push to expand Iran’s international relationships as well as to establish Iran in America’s backyard. With recent tensions being ramped up exponentially between the US and Iran, world focus on any actions made by Iran receives a fair amount of attention. There are many theories on how Iran can benefit from an extended relationship in Latin America, but the clear absence of a visit to Brazil on this trip reflects the limitations of a Latin America saddled with Iranian interests. After Turkey’s and Brazil’s attempt to deflate tensions in the region regarding Iran’s nuclear program nearly two years ago, a strong relationship with Latin America as a whole may not be in the cards for Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The absence of a visit to Brazil shows a clear move by Brazil to avoid tying itself further to Iran. There are reasons of economic ties to the US as well as the lack of benefits Brazil has in slowing its economy and relations with the rest of the world for the sake of Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Brazil as the world’s top ethanol producer also places Brazil at odds with Iran and its oil, especially since Brazil is a seller of oil itself and has no benefits linking itself to a foreign power that would likely enter into a hot conflict with many of Brazil’s future customers. A middle position allows Brazil to mediate and promote its exports globally as well as in the Middle East and Iran.

Some argue that Iran in Venezuela and Cuba is not so much of a move from Iran to pursue economic and political ties close to the United States, but is a failure of the last few administrations to take advantage of changes in those countries; recently a physically weak Chavez and the opening of the Cuban market. The United States’ lack of initiative in Latin America has allowed for an opening in America’s backyard and has created a signal to foreign commercial interests from China, Russia, Europe and Iran to come into the region and establish them in a region that was always considered a main source of commercial ties for the United States. Iran creating closer ties in the region goes beyond commercial interests as seen by many analysts on Latin America and Iran. Iran’s links to past attacks in the region as well as moves by the Iranian government to establish its military intelligence in Latin America may be a move to counterbalance US actions in the Middle East. While the actual abilities for Iran to strike the US from Latin America or hurt the US inside of the region may be limited, the presence of Iranian agents in America’s backyard may do its job in striking fear into American’s daily lives by inciting a new type of missile crisis into the minds of Americans.

While Latin America has welcomed Iran to some degree in the region, it should be noted that intentions to assault the United States or become part of the Axis powers in a war with Iran and the West is likely not in the cards for any country in Latin America. Latin American countries benefit little from a strong relationship with Iran and often try to maintain its economic ties while still being able to dent the United States’ reputation. While it is clear that historically the US has not been the best hegemony for many Latin American states, there is a limit to how far countries like Cuba and Venezuela will go in poking at the US for the sake of Iran. Regarding a US hegemony in the Middle East, critics of US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan often do not lodge the same criticisms with possible future actions taken against Iran, and blocking the Strait of Hormuz and 40% of the world’s oil exports is likely the line for many. With a strong and battered opposition in Iran’s massive youth population and Iran’s government balancing political legitimacy with internal challenges in its own government, a hot conflict with Iran may fracture its society and send its allies running from the fallout, possibly that of a nuclear conflict. Latin Americans will surely take care of themselves first and avoid tying themselves to conflicts in the Middle East that have no end and no solutions. It is up to the United States to create an ease of amicable ties beyond Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia that will close the gap in Latin America.

 

Author

Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration

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