Friday, January 13, 2012

Putting Iran's Influence into Perspective

The coverage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Latin America has largely been viewed in the context of two things: fears over a potential Iran-linked Hezbollah terrorist network in the region and the deepening political ties between Iran and Latin America governments. However, the evidence for either trend is scarce.

As I detail for InSight Crime, there is little reason to believe claims that Hezbollah is developing ties to organized crime groups in the region. While U.S. authorities have charged a number of individuals in Latin America with using drug and money laundering profits to fund the group, nothing suggests that Hezbollah is actively directing major criminal enterprises in the region. This funding largely comes in the form of donations from individuals who are sympathetic to the cause of spreading Islamic revolution, many of whom are among the Lebanese migrant communities in the region.

As for Iran’s influence in the country, there is evidence to suggest that it is actually decreasing. This week’s issue of the Economist notes that “[Ahmadinejad’s] hosts this time are confined to members of Mr Chávez’s anti-American ALBA alliance. In 2009 Mr Ahmadinejad also visited Brazil. But Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s new president, has been far more critical of Iran than her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.”

With tension heating up between Iran and the U.S. over the Middle Eastern country’s recent announcement that it would shut down the Strait of Hormuz in response to increased U.S. sanctions, many analysts are starting to seriously consider the prospects of a conflict breaking out between the two.

In the unlikely event of a U.S.-Iran war, however, it is even less likely that a Latin American country would risk international isolation by siding with Iran, even amongst the members of the ALBA bloc.

News Briefs:

·         In the fourth stop of his Latin American tour, Ahmadinejad reiterated claims that the country will continue its atomic energy program, despite mounting international pressure for it to cease. AFP reports that the Iranian president, called the issue “a political excuse,” "saying Iran is not so foolish as to spend money on something it would not use.” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa endorsed this claim, saying he believed Iran was developing nuclear technology for civilian purposes only.

·         Sandra Avila Beltran, who gained fame in Mexico as the “Queen of the Pacific,” has foiled attempts by Mexican prosecutors to extradite her to the U.S. for a second time. According to El Universal, a judge ruled that the alleged drug trafficker would be facing the exact same charges in the U.S. on which she was acquitted in Mexico.

·         The LA Times profiles popular Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who is making waves in the country for writing a bizarre open letter to drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in which she expresses sympathy for him and calls on him to start “trafficking for the good.”

·         James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz offers a useful rundown of the 2011 homicide rates in the most violent countries in Latin America. Honduras, El Salvador and Venezuela top the list, and are also the three most violent countries worldwide.

·         Prensa Libre reports that a judge has barred the ex-first lady of Guatemala, Sandra Torres, from leaving the country due to an ongoing investigation into allegations that she misused government funds intended for a federal anti-poverty program. As the AP notes, the court order comes just two days before her ex-husband Alvaro Colom leaves office and Otto Perez becomes president.

·         AP reports that El Salvador has received a request from Spain for the extradition of 13 former military officers who are accused of killing six Jesuit priests and two others in 1989. Last year the apprehension of the 13 men was blocked in the Supreme Court because the country hadn’t received an extradition request yet.

·         After the Venezuelan police agency CICPC released its homicide figures for 2011 which indicated that 18,850 had been murdered, the leaders of the Venezuelan Catholic Church have called on the Chavez administration to do more to crack down on organized crime.

·         Elizabeth Dickenson has written an interesting analysis in The Washington Monthly of the U.S.’s attempts to export the “Colombian model” used by Alvaro Uribe to Mexico and other countries which are threatened by organized criminal and armed groups. According to her, “Uribe’s ideas and tactics have spread to every corner of the globe marred by the drug trade and nearly every institution that is fighting organized crime. Which means that if those ideas are misguided—or, perhaps more dangerously, misunderstood— then so too is nearly every fight in the drug war.”

·         Yesterday was the second anniversary of the earthquake which devastated much of Haiti in 2010. The New York Times takes a look at how the incident is being honored on a national holiday.

·         As mentioned above, the latest issue of the Economist explores Iran’s influence in Latin America. The magazine also takes a look at the trade relationship between Brazil and China, which has been growing more tense. Additionally, it includes articles on the new Metro system in Lima, Peru and organized crime in Colombia.

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