Saturday, May 3, 2008

Iranian Threat Already in the US’ Backyard

By Nicole M. Ferrand.*

While some world leaders are extremely concerned about the real threat Iran poses for world peace, with Ahmadinejad announcing just recently on January 29, 2008 that it was close to its target of producing nuclear energy by saying: “We are moving towards the summit on the nuclear path,” the Tehran menace is much closer to the US than ever: in Nicaragua. Iran has been slapped with two sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and a third package is currently being considered by the Security Council. The West fears that Iran is using its nuclear drive to try to build atomic weapons, a charge Tehran has consistently denied, saying it is aimed at generating electricity. Uranium enrichment is a process which makes nuclear fuel but can also be diverted to produce the fissile core of atomic bombs. The Security Council held informal talks on a third sanctions resolution, a draft of which was agreed by the five veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and United States plus Germany. The proposed new measures include an outright travel ban by officials involved in Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs and inspections of shipments to and from Iran if there are suspicions of prohibited goods.[1]

We have been following closely the Iranian President’s movements in Latin America during 2007, when he visited Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador while developing ties with these countries’ leaders, specifically with Hugo Chavez (read ‘The Americas Report’ from January 19, 2007: “Chavez and the Iranian connection.” By Luis Fleischman).




Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Source: El Nuevo Diario.

Diplomatic Relationship between Ahmadinejad and Ortega
Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is the one that opened Latin America to Iran by signing multiple accords with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including bilateral deals on oil, tractors and bicycles. The relationship between these two leaders is first of all geopolitical and then economic.

In January 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led a five-day official visit to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. His visit coincided with the inauguration of Nicaragua’s newly-elected president Daniel Ortega where Ahmadinejad was a guest of honor. At the inauguration ceremony, the Iranian president was awarded two state medals.

Iran recently established an embassy in Managua and the new envoy is Akbar Esmaeil-Pour. This compound, in an upper-scale neighborhood in Managua is said to be huge and lies behind twelve-foot-high concrete walls. Diplomats have immunity coming and going and the building is protected against espionage. Such an embassy in Managua is definitely of concern to US national security interests. Since the Iranians are allowed to come and go as they wish and there is no surveillance by the Nicaraguans as to what goes on inside this compound, it is easy to imagine that this new embassy might be used for smuggling of weapons and development and execution of plans to attack American interests. Ortega shares an ideological affinity with Iran including a hatred of the West so he is all too happy to use his territory as a jumping off point for terrorism.
Even more dangerous is the fact that on July 2007 it was discovered that Ortega permitted 21 Iranians to enter the country without visas.

Here is the link to the official document: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/images/graphics/20071216MigrationDoc.pdf.

The letter is addressed to the CEO of TACA, Juan Salguero. TACA is the flag airline of El Salvador, comprised of a group of five combined Central American airlines. The company is owned by the Kriete family of San Salvador. Originally an acronym of Transportes Aéreos Centroamericanos (Central American Air Transport), it now stands for Transportes Aéreos del Continente Americano (Air Transport of the American Continent), reflecting its expansion to North, Central and South America. It flies to about 50 different countries. The five airlines are: Aviateca (Guatemala), Lacsa (Costa Rica), NICA (Nicaragua), Taca (El Salvador) and Taca de Honduras (Honduras). It comes from the Nicaraguan immigration offices and reads as follows: After revising the resolution number 347-07-2007, the following Iranian citizens are allowed to enter Nicaragua without visas arriving at the Cesar Sandino Airport via Lacsa, flight number LR-718 departing from Costa Rica arriving in Managua on July 31, 2007 at 9:15am. Then there is a list of names and last names of the “tourists.” The document is signed by Pamela Aguilar Mora, the Nicaraguan head of immigration.

This clearly shows that the Ortega regime is eager to allow Iranians in and out of Nicaragua and terrorists might find it extremely easy to come to the region to carry out terrorist attacks against the US or other countries in Latin America. Iran could stage strikes on American or allied interests from Nicaragua, deploying the Iranian terrorist group Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guard operatives already in Latin America. They could easily go to Mexico and then illegally enter the US.

Commercial deals between Nicaragua and Iran
Tehran is launching new cultural exchange programs in Nicaragua to encourage trade and investment. Nicaragua has signed contracts with Iran worth hundreds of millions of dollars. President Daniel Ortega has agreed to trade bananas, coffee and meat in exchange for Iranian help with infrastructure projects. They have signed agreements for bilateral cooperation in 25 sectors.

In return for Nicaraguan agricultural goods, Iran is to help fund a farm equipment factory, 4,000 tractors, five milk-processing plants, a health clinic, 10,000 houses and a deep-water port. In November Iran is also expected to choose a site for a 120 million dollar hydroelectric power station, with another three plants potentially to follow. The Sandinista leader has upgraded ties with Cuba and North Korea, and in June visited Iran, Algeria, Libya and Cuba in a jet lent by Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi.

Bill Weinberg, editor of the online journal
World War 4 Report and a co-founder of the National Organization for the Iraqi Freedom Struggles recently wrote a very interesting article titled: Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Nicaragua to scout “Dry Canal” project?, which talks about how Nicaragua’s Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, Iran and Venezuela have announced the financing of a $350 million deep-water port at Monkey Point on the wild Caribbean shore, and then plow a connecting “dry canal” corridor of pipelines, rails and highways across the country to the populous Pacific Ocean.


Route of “Dry Canal.” Source: Nicanet.org.

Ahmadinejad also promised that, along with Monkey Point, the will include fixing the Pacific port of Corinto. Also in December 17, 2007 Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported a visit to Managua by Ezzatollah Zarghami, president of Iranian state radio and television, who pledged to make programming available for local broadcast.

Monkey Point is inhabited by the Rama and Creole communities who live in isolation and are people of predominately African ancestry who subsist on fish and jungle animals. The Iranian presence in Nicaragua became news in December 2007, when some angry Rama Indian and Creole villagers complained about two helicopters landing in their territory. Rupert Allen Clear Duncan, a leader of some 400 Creole who live along the shoreline, confronted the foreigners dressed in suits and military uniforms and demanded to know the purpose of their aerial trespasses. “This is our land; we have always lived here, and you don’t have our permission to be here,” Duncan got angry when these people refused to give an explanation. Then Duncan threatened to destroy the aircraft and that is when he and his followers learned, in astonishment, that some of the men were from the Islamic Republic of Iran and had come promising to establish a Central American foothold in the middle of their territory.
[2] Days later a Nicaraguan website, Nicaragua Hoy, called the Iranian team that visited Monkey Point “advance parties of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

Ortega immediately reacted saying that the Iranians were there as part of a cultural delegation. Weinberg also states that a feasibility study for a Bluefields-Nueva Guinea highway has been completed by the Danish development agency DANIDA, linking two towns in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), with a further link foreseen to Monkey Point (which lies south of Bluefields, the RAAS seat). The Spanish national port authority completed a similar study for the Monkey Point dredging project in 2000. The report says the Venezuelan Army Corps of Engineers is now studying construction of a highway between Puerto Cabezas in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and Rio Blanco in the central department of Matagalpa, also to be integrated into the network linking to the Dry Canal. The report also claimed Nicaraguan army Chief Omar Halleslevens Acevedo is seeking to purchase helicopters, patrol boats and arms from Iran.[3]

Since being elected President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega has developed extremely close relationships with US foes adopting the same populist-socialist-leftist rhetoric of his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, and his recent actions suggest that he wants to consolidate power and back Chávez’s 21st century socialist vision for Latin America. Ortega dreams of a long run as president of Nicaragua. His renewed anti-American rhetoric, destabilizing economic policies and friendship with Chávez and Ahmadinejad has not been welcomed by Nicaraguans or Americans. Since Ortega took office, the economy has slowed, and his approval rating has dropped. In the June 2007 CID-Gallup poll, only 26 percent of those surveyed approved of Ortega’s performance, a sharp drop from his 61 per­cent approval rating in February.[4]

But the problem doesn’t end here. The Menges Hemispheric Security Project has been warning about the presence of Hezbollah in Latin America. Hezbollah has fronts all over the region. (Please read “The Americas Report March 28, 2007 titled: The Radical Grassroots: a danger on the Horizon.” By Luis Fleischman and Nicole M. Ferrand and “The Americas Report April 11, 2007 titled: The Radical Grassroots Part II.” By Luis Fleischman and Nicole M. Ferrand). Iran and Hezbollah are now present in Argentina, the tri-border region between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua. It may be even the case that they are already present in Cuba.

On March, 2007 Iran Air, Iran’s national airline, had completed its first direct flight to Venezuela. This weekly, commercial flight linking Tehran and Caracas stops in Damascus, Syria, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Travelers from those countries to Venezuela are visa-exempt, raising concerns that terrorists may attempt to exploit weak Venezuelan immigration controls to undertake acts of terror in the U.S. or elsewhere in the hemisphere. Other nations like Qatar, Syria and Poland are interested in using Venezuela as a new commercial route for their businesses.

Iran now has fully operational embassies in Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Nicaragua with plans to strengthen its diplomatic presence in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay. Given the growing presence of radical, anti-western Iran in Central and South America, the threat to the national security interests of the United States and the region is a very real concern. How the United States Government chooses to respond to this threat has tremendous implications for our future survival.


*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. (www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org). She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.


[1] Avanzadilla de la Guardia Revolucionaria Iraní en Monkey Point. December 22, 2007. Nicaragua Hoy.
[2] “The Honeymoon Is Over: Ortega’s Job Approval Crashes,” Public Opinion Survey: Nicaragua. June 2007.
[3] Iran making push into Nicaragua. December 18, 2007. Todd Bensman. Express-News.
[4] Iran’s vows to win nuclear tussle with West. January 30, 2008. AFP.


1 comment:

Alvaro said...

In a mean time...what is the Obama administration doing to push the Iranian influence in South and Central America? Are we waiting for another September 11 to happen? There is irrefutable evidence about Chavez's ties with Hezbolla, the terroririst group farc in Colombia and others. Chavez finances these terrorist groups and according to Colombian sources Hezbolla already has terrorist cells in the northern department of La Guajira, Colombia. Could this be another intelligence failure by a U.S. Administration as described by Richard Clarke? (former advisor for Reagan, Bush, and Clinton). What's going to take for Obama to pay attention to this threat?