If there’s one topic that the world outside Venezuela seems curious about, it’s the Iran-Venezuela-Russia (and maybe China, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and/or Cuba) group that by some accounts are trying to destabilize the U.S. and its allies. It’s a hot topic. April 13, the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress:
The Qods Force maintains operational capabilities around the world. It is well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela. As U.S. involvement in global conflicts deepens, contact with the Qods Force, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.
Luckily the head of the U.S. Southern Command came out yesterday and clarified what the Pentagon report meant:
We see a growing Iranian interest and engagement with Venezuela. … It’s a diplomatic, it’s a commercial presence. I haven’t seen evidence of a military presence.
Boris Saavedra, Retired Brigadier General of the Venezuelan Air Force, tosses out tidbits about Iran and Venezuela. I paraphrase here what I consider to be his strongest points:
Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez both use anti-U.S. rhetoric and ties to China and Russia to bolster their domestic success. While they don’t have specific policies in common, both are tending toward centralized state economies and reduced civil liberties, while talking of democracy. They have created a $2 billion bank, but there is no way to know what is happening with that money. They are also doing joint industrial projects, such as a tractor factory in southern Venezuela, with no record of production. Meanwhile Iran has, for no obvious reason, more than 100 staff at its embassy in Nicaragua. Iran may be receiving plutonium from North Korea and shipping it to Venezuela, and thence to the FARC, Colombia’s biggest and oldest guerrilla group, using direct Iran-Venezuela flights as a conduit.
The only problem with all this stuff is that there’s nothing scary about any of it until the last part, and he has no evidence for that. It’s pure speculation.
Alberto Bolívar, a Peruvian from the Hudson Institute then comes on and says that the friendliness between Iran and both Cuba and Venezuela will give a door for covert action by Iran in the hemisphere. “What are we seeing in the region? Those countries that are not with Venezuela, with Bolivia, are being undermined. We have seen it in Peru in the last election process in 2006, we saw the active, overt participation of agitators, financed by Venezuela, but directed by Cubans. It was luck by Peruvians that Alan Garcia won…what we saw was lots of covert action, lots of money.”
So the great threat of Iran in Latin America is that they will help Cuba agitate to get people elected? Have supervillains really fallen this low? I mean, I don’t support international interference in elections, but if this is the worst thing you can come up with…
Well ok, in the Q&A he comes up with better stuff: Shining Path use of RPGs to take down Peruvian helicopters. That’s a Mujahedeen technique that was used in Mogaishu by Al Qaeda, and the FARC has also used the technique, and now the Shining Path, showing possible links. “Very tenuous for the moment, but links,” he says. There are radical Islamic preachers in the jungles of Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil, and they may be developing codes using indigenous languages, according to “a Powerpoint” that he says he received, without saying what was the source or evidence.
Manochehr Dorraj, of Texas Christian University, says Iran has a long history of cooperation with Venezuela, that it grew into some political and military cooperation because of the “muscular” stance of the Bush Administration, and now Iran and its South American friends are trying to figure out what to do. They have nothing in common ideologically, and most of their so-called agreements are really memorandums of understanding, and have never gone to Iran’s parliament, so they have never been implemented. Much of the relationship is very personal between Ahmadinejad and Chavez, so relations between Iran and Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador are unlikely to continue beyond Ahmadinejad’s term in office.
What’s weird is that nobody even brought up the supposedly weapons-related shipment from Iran to Venezuela that Turkey busted in a “tractor parts” container last year. Seems to me like the single most damning tidbit in the Iran tractor project in Venezuela, but whatever. It sounded like bullshit at the time, and maybe it was.
This whole debate is part of a human tendency to be stupid. People who dislike Chavez for whatever reason are eager for any evidence that he is in league with an established “enemy” of the U.S., such as drugs, Iran, Al-Qaeda, you name it. It’s the same as how those who support Chavez have a hard time accepting evidence of his failures. In both cases, critical thinking and logical progressions of reasoning are far too often discarded.
To be clear: It’s entirely possible that Chavez is planning some sort of aid to Iranian terrorists. It’s possible that Iran is using Latin America as a base of scary operations. It’s possible that some Venezuelan high-ranking officials are narcotraffickers. It’s also possible that the Jaktars of Planet Ectron are using Ptare Tepuy as a landing pad for their flesh-eating MongoDroids.
Sadly, humans don’t actually like logic and evidence, they like scary stories. So what’s already happening is that by force of repetition, the Chavez=Iran=nuclear terrorism trope is taking root. This is classic pre-propaganda.
Soon it becomes conventional wisdom that Hugo Chávez is a despot in league with anti-Jewish terrorists. Confirmatory details make headlines while contrary evidence gets ignored. It’s just a matter of weeks til you hear how Chavez “only understands force.” (Psst: CLICK THAT LINK.) Discovery Channel specials about how Venezuelans eat ants go into heavy rotation, and the jokes start about the anteaters. Theologists and sociologists appear to say how Caribbean promiscuity shows a lack of respect for individual life. An ex-military dude gets on CNN saying that the only way to deal with the Venezuelans is through strategy X.
You know the drill, anyone born in the 1970s or before has been through this game a half dozen times already. Granada, Panama, Nicaragua, Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, and now Iran — it’s always the same script. To stop it, you need to deal with these tropes now, early on, before they become the “but of course” of everyday speech.