A Forgotten Truth, Iran in Latin America

(FILE) A man walks over the rubble left after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994, killing 85 people and injuring about 300 others in the worst attack of its kind in the South American country. AFP PHOTO / Ali BURAFI
(FILE) A man walks over the rubble left after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994, killing 85 people and injuring about 300 others in the worst attack of its kind in the South American country. AFP PHOTO / Ali BURAFI

The 1990s was a remarkable decade for globalization. The communications technology revolution changed the way people communicate and interact with one another. The communications revolution gave economic access to the nations of the developing world and the ability to exchange information and resources like never before. In addition, the 1990s and the early 2000s saw a new unprecedented threat to the national security of sovereign states. Most notably, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States ushered a new era of combating terrorism around the world.

Nonetheless, the September 11 attacks weren’t the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. On July 18, 1994, a car bomb destroyed the Jewish community center headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The attack killed 85 people, injured hundreds and remains today as Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack to date, a mere two years after the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 30 people. Over the years, the investigation of these attacks has been shadowed by accusations of cover-ups, corruption, and conspiracy. Today, the attacks remained unresolved with strong allegations against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah.

While Latin America has not been a pivotal region of interest to combat global terrorism, the region has increasingly gained the attention of international terrorist organizations and the states that support them to profit from the fragile governmental institutions that exist throughout the region. The rise of Iranian influence, a state known for sponsoring terror organizations, is undeniable in Latin America. Therefore, a regional call for stronger governmental institutions and security relations with countries like the United States and Israel can prevent the next battleground of global terrorism.

Iran’s sphere of influence over Latin America has been developing for a while when then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) increased ties between Iran and Latin America, especially with the oil-rich nation of Venezuela. This approach to Latin America by Iran was seen as an alternative for the Iranian government to go around international sanctions for its nuclear program. Today, “Iranian President Rouhani has pledged to increase economic, scientific, and cultural ties with Latin America”[1]. While Iranian influence in Latin America is incomparable to its interventionist policies in the Middle East where Iran has played a major role in Syrian, Lebanon, and Yemen, the concern over Latin America must be focused in Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy.

“Hezbollah, which, along with Iran, reportedly is linked to two bombings against Jewish targets in Argentina in the early 1990s. In recent years, U.S. concerns regarding Hezbollah in Latin America have focused on its fundraising activities among sympathizers in the region”[2]. In particular, the tri-border geographic area where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay share borders. This area is known for drug trafficking, smuggling, and money laundering and where Hezbollah operatives have been involved in efforts of financial motives than ideological.

The United States has recently brought awareness of Iranian influence over the region and of its involvement in the unresolved terrorist attack over Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina. In 2016 two resolutions were introduced in the U.S. Senate that called for an international investigation on the AMIA bombing and called for the President of the United States to monitor Iranian activity over Latin American and the Caribbean. Even more recently, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner visited the reconstructed Jewish center in Buenos Aires to pay tribute to the victims. Nonetheless, the region must do more to hinder international terrorism to make ground in a continent filled with too many challenges. The AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires must not be forgotten. Latin America as a whole must not be forgotten.

[1]Sullivan, M. P., & Beittel, J. S. (2016, December). Latin America: Terrorism Issues. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/key_workplace/1057/

[2]Sullivan, M. P., & Beittel, J. S. (2016, December). Latin America: Terrorism Issues. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/key_workplace/1057/

About the Author
Juan Gilces Coronel is currently an International Relations professional in Boston, MA and pursuing a Master of Science degree in Global Studies & International Relations at Northeastern University. Prior to this position, Juan worked for The David Project of Hillel International as a Senior Campus Coordinator, working with both students & professionals in strengthening the relationship between Israel and U.S. college campuses. Juan was born in South America to a family of Spanish & Portuguese Jewish background, grew up in South Florida and attended Florida International University where he earned a BA in International Relations. In 2012, he visited Israel for the first time as a non-combatant volunteer for the Harel Brigade, part of Israel’s Northern Command. Ever since then, Juan has visited Israel multiple times, from staffing birthright and other campus-based trips to visiting relatives and friends.
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