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Iran’s influence in Latin America is a dangerous reminder for regional leaders

The attendance of AMIA bomb suspect Mohsen Rezaei at a Nicaragua ceremony is just one sign of Tehran's growing foothold in the region
Former chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezaei. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Former chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezaei. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

On January 10, 2022 Mohsen Rezaei, Iran’s Vice President for economic affairs, attended the inauguration of the autocratic Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega as a guest of honor.

Rezaei is a wanted man, subject to an Argentinean arrest warrant on the charge of being involved in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center of AMIA in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. With solid evidence pointing to his direct involvement, he is also subject to an Interpol Red notice which “instructs law enforcement agencies worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest that person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action.”

He is one of twelve officials in Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s government who are under international sanctions for terrorist crimes and other illicit activities. President Ortega, himself viewed as an authoritarian leader ruthlessly oppressing opposition groups in Nicaragua, welcomed Rezaei alongside the autocratic presidents of Venezuela and Cuba, to his swearing-in ceremony.

In the aftermath of Rezaei’s visit, the Argentinean Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning Rezaei’s travel to Nicaragua and reiterating its view that he must appear before the Argentinean judiciary. Yet one has to wonder if the foreign ministry was just paying lip service, considering that the Argentinean ambassador to Nicaragua apparently had no problem attending Ortega’s inauguration and failed to issue so much as a timely condemnation about the presence of Rezaei or even walk out of the ceremony as a symbolic act of disgust.

The AMIA bombing devastated Argentina and its Jewish community and remains one of the worst terror attacks orchestrated by Iran and its proxies. In addition to being the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history, it is also the deadliest attack against a Jewish communal facility anywhere in the world since the end of the Holocaust. The fact that no one has yet been brought to justice for the horrific bombing in Buenos Aires is a stain on the Argentinean judicial system as well as the international community. Rezaei’s visit to Nicaragua could have been an opportunity for Argentina to confront almost 28 years of impunity and take decisive action.

Hezbollah terror

While Iran’s desire for nuclear capability poses a grave and existential threat to Israel, the Middle East and beyond, the regime’s terrorist activities must also be of grave concern to countries and governments across Latin America. The Iranian regime has a long history of carrying out terror attacks in the Middle East and around the globe, often through its proxy Hezbollah. These include the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the deadly hijacking of a civilian airplane in Panama in 1994. There were also several other disrupted terror plots by Hezbollah targeting Jewish communities in Paraguay (1996), Peru (2014), and Argentina (2018) according to many credible news reports citing official sources.

Hezbollah’s criminal activity in the tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay has alarmed the Organization of American States, which has called on countries in the region to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Beyond its terror activities, Hezbollah has engaged in a range of other illicit activity across the region, including drug trafficking, smuggling networks, bribery, cartels, and associated violent crime, all of which serve to finance terrorism by one of the deadliest antisemitic organizations in the world today.

Iran’s nefarious foothold in Latin America is only growing, thanks to Venezuela’s Maduro recently announcing plans to finalize a 20-year strategic and economic agreement with Iran, which will likely be used to circumvent international sanctions. Their relationship also puts Jewish communities across the continent on notice for the threat of yet another Iranian-sponsored terror attack.

The Iranian regime’s destructive influence is not limited to terrorism, it also promotes and widely disseminates hate-filled propaganda across the globe.

The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, who has called for a “final solution” in seeking Israel’s destruction, has over a dozen Twitter accounts in a variety of languages, including Spanish. His regime also uses propaganda outlets such as HispanTV to reach Spanish-speaking audiences across the globe in order to spread antisemitic conspiracy theories and disinformation about Jews, Israel, and the United States.

Latin Americans across the continent should be alarmed by the growing presence and engagement of Iran in the region, and enforce Interpol Red Alerts against suspected terrorists. Those reckless governments collaborating with the Iranian regime and looking the other way as Hezbollah operates freely are playing a dangerous game that could have deadly repercussions for their own citizens and their neighbors throughout the Western Hemisphere. Argentina’s experience should be a lesson learned.

About the Author
Sharon Nazarian is Senior Vice President, International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League
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