Iran continues to actively cultivate ties among its allies in Latin America, including Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, a policy that some have warned could bring terrorism closer to U.S. borders.
Iranian media has been filled with reports over the past week touting the ten-day visit to Latin America by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs Majid Takht Ravanchi.
In Havana on Thursday, senior Cuban officials praised Iran and expressed interest in further strengthening ties with the Islamic Republic.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla said his country supports Iran pursuing civilian nuclear power.
“Rodriguez said the Islamic Republic has an absolute right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in line with international regulations,” Iran’s Press TV reported.
“He added that the Iranian government attaches special significance to strengthening relations with Latin American and the Caribbean countries and is prepared to take more steps towards the expansion of ties with those states,” it further reported.
Another Cuban official called Iran a “strategic partner.”
“Cuba is ready to take effective steps to expand [its] trade and economic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran as its strategic partner,” Cuba’s First Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investments Luis Antonio Karikarte Crown said according to Iran’s Press TV.
From Cuba, the Iranian official traveled to Venezuela then Bolivia.
During a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ravanchi said, “Relations with Venezuela are important for Iran and the (Iranian) government is determined to deepen mutual cooperation,” according to a report in Iran’s Fars News.
“Caracas supports Tehran's freedom-seeking aspirations,” Maduro was quoted as saying.
Iran’s Fars News reported that Maduro “described Iran as a great power that deserves special respect.”
“Last month, Iranian and Venezuelan officials reiterated that expansion of ties among independent states would not only bring about sustainable economic progress, but also end the hegemonic powers' monopoly on world resources,” Fars added.
Iran has said it seeks improved relations in Latin America both for reasons of trade and cooperation in the Non-Aligned Movement in which Iran currently holds the rotating presidency.
But some have warned that greater Iranian engagement in Latin American could also spur more terrorist activity from its proxy Shiite terrorist group, Hezbollah.
U.S. officials and national security experts told TheBlaze in September that they believe Iran is recruiting an “invisible army” of revolutionary sympathizers in Latin America to one day infiltrate the U.S. through the “soft belly” of the southern border.
As TheBlaze reported, “The Iranian regime’s conversion efforts are becoming increasingly aggressive, especially over the Internet, with the goal of conducting operations against United States interests in the Western Hemisphere, according to U.S. government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the nature of their work in the region.”
During a March hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Roger F. Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush, testified, “It is said that wherever Iran goes, Hezbollah is not far behind.”
“Hezbollah is not a lone wolf. In this Hemisphere it counts on the political, diplomatic, material and logistical support of governments – principally Venezuela and Iran – that have little in common but their hostility to the United States,” said Noriega, who is now with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.
The terrorist group uses smuggling, money laundering, and fundraising in collaboration with Latin American “well-financed narcotraffickers and guerrilla groups,” Noriega said. Furthermore, the Venezuelan state airline, Conviasa, runs regular flights from Caracas to Damascus and Tehran, “providing Iran, Hezbollah, and associated narcotraffickers a surreptitious means to move personnel, weapons, contraband and other materiel.”
“Today, Venezuela is a key ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is carrying its asymmetrical battle to our doorstep,” he added.