This is part II of an article translated from El Paiz by Michael Laudahn.
On an intermediary level is where the iranian diplomats are acting, who have multiplied their activity and presence. This is particularly the case in Bolivia, where Iran has 145 diplomats accredited, more than the rest of the [total] diplomatic corps accredited in La Paz. Spain, with all of its historic relations and its commercial interests has a representation oscillating between 8 and 10 diplomats. Western diplomatic sources estimate that the number of iranian diplomats accredited to Venezuela is even larger.
What is more important, the visits of high-ranking iranian officials to the subcontinent are constant, and often are accompanied by economic advantages for the countries visited. Last wednesday, iranian president Mahmud Ahmadineyad participated at the Sustainable Development conference in Rio de Janeiro, only to supplement his visit by a mini-roundtrip of South America, announced a few days ahead. It is his second such tour in six months, and the fourth of a high-ranking iranian official during this same period.
In january, the iranaian ruler already visited Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua. In may, it was the turn of vicepresident Ali Saeidlo who made the same tour, on top including Bolivia. During their nicaraguan stopover, the iranian diplomats announced the cancellation of a debt which Managua had with Tehran.
Days earlier, iranian defence minister Ahmad Vahidi had visited Bolivia, who inaugurated the Escuela de Defensa de la Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas (ALBA), the organism of regional integration established through the personal initiative of Hugo Chávez.
An international arrest warrant is hanging over Vahidi, for his implication in the 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires attacks against the embassy of Israel and the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which resulted in a total of 115 deaths. During their visits, the iranian representatives are being accompanied by Kanbiz Jalali, a diplomat possessing a vast experience of Latin America and being the responsible of the Directorate General for Latin America, created by the iranian foreign affairs ministry.
Tehran is emphasising especially the subject of defence. In less than 24 hours, it signed a treaty on military aid with Bolivia and tolerated Chávez’ announcement in a sense that Venezuela is constructing unmanned planes, under the supervision of iranian engineers. Ramin Keshavarz, prominent member of the iranian Revolutionary Guard is charged to supervise the project.
Tehran, however, is not finding facilities for its diplomatic offensive in all the countries [of the region]. Ahmadineyad’s visit to Brasil caused polemics in the south american country, where some deputies demanded that the entry of the Persian ruler be barred. ‘This is not possible. This is not a question of the brasilian government, but an act of the United Nations. It is exactly the same like when Ahmadineyad travels to New York to the general assembly of the UN’, explained a brasilian diplomatic source, who underlined that ‘the policy of president Dilma Rousseff regarding Iran has not changed’. One of the first presidential acts of Rousseff – in office since january 2011 – was to distance herself drastically from the iranian regime, thereby breaking with the policy of rapprochement initiated by her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In fact, the brasilian president refused to meet Ahmadineyad in private, despite iranian insistence.
Brazil is not the only obstacle. The embassador proposed for Colombia could not obtain the approval of Bogotá, while in Argentina the official iranian representation limits itself to just two diplomats without embassador status, owed principally to the arrest warrant issued by the argentinian judidiciary against iranian high-ranking officials, among whom the cited Vahidi and ex-president Alí Rafsanjani. This diplomatic frostiness, however, has not impeded the commercial interchange to pass from zero to 400 million dollars in only four years, or that Iran since 2010 has been the second global purchaser of argentinian soy.