The issue of Latin American ties with Iran has been invoked in recent years to justify a variety of behavior on the part of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, such as the attendance by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon at the 2009 meeting of the Organization of American States in order to counteract Iranian influence in the region. This particular counteractive effort was apparently successful, as neither anyone from the Iranian Foreign Ministry nor anyone else not belonging to an American state showed up; as for Israeli government concerns regarding the existence of Iranian embassies in Latin America and one-stop flights between Caracas and Tehran, it has also proven historically possible to reach Israel from Latin American cities, hence the 1983 training on Israeli soil of future Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño Gil.
The link between Venezuela and the Islamic Republic has been publicized via the proliferation of photographs of presidents Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hugging, holding hands, grinning at one another, and engaging in any other sort of intimacy, which is perhaps what prompted Hillary Clinton to warn in December 2009 of the dangers of Latin American flirting with Iran. Other opportunities for Latin American flirting had meanwhile decreased earlier in the year when Chávez suspended Valentine’s Day on account of the fact that it fell on the eve of the referendum to decide whether or not Venezuelan politicians could run for indefinite reelection. (Following the vote’s positive outcome, Chávez declared a “week of love” as compensation.)
No holiday cancellations are foreseen this year, and Chávez marveled this past Sunday on his weekly television program “Aló Presidente” at the abundance of February celebrations. Out of the first four days of the month, for example, two were birthdays of national heroes and the other two held Chávez-centric significance; the compatibility between Venezuela and Iran is thus further underscored by the timing of the thirty-first anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, celebrated today.
Additional topics covered in last Sunday’s “Aló Presidente” included iguanas, the price of tomato paste, and the idea that Jesus Christ was an anti-imperialist who died on the cross as the result of the class struggle. The program lasted 6 hours, despite the appearance that Chávez was going to stop talking after 4, and was interspersed with impromptu presidential musical performances and orders to expropriate buildings around Caracas’ Plaza Bolívar; the effectiveness of religious imagery on nonbelievers of socialism was meanwhile cast into doubt by Venezuelan Energy Minister Alí Rodríguez’ recent prediction—given the scornful attitude of the anti-Chávez opposition to the arrival of a Cuban minister to help assess the national electrical crisis—that the same attitude would have been displayed toward the baby Jesus himself had he arrived from Cuba.
Previous theological analysis on the part of the Venezuelan administration was reported in a November 2009 BBC Mundo article, which described Chávez as clasping hands with Ahmadinejad during the latter’s visit to Caracas and pronouncing: “I am certain that the God in Iran is the same as the God in Venezuela.” It remains to be seen whether the fusion of deities will be deemed more or less of a threat to Israel than the fact that Farsi is now being offered at Venezuelan universities while a number of Iranian engineers have learned basic Spanish—data that has generated suspicions among analysts of Iranian penetration in Latin America such as Ely Karmon, Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya.
Iranian penetration of Venezuela became slightly less convincing the other day when while searching for the embassy of Iran in Caracas I was repeatedly directed to the embassy of Iraq. I eventually located the desired diplomatic headquarters and acquired three complimentary brochures, none of which addressed Chávez’ theory of divine overlapping and two of which addressed the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The third brochure consisted of Imam Ali’s seventh-century advice to governor of Egypt Malik Al-Ashtar, such as to fix a certain time to listen to his subjects’ complaints—an objective that might one day be achieved by “Aló Presidente” if audience members start complaining when Chávez interrupts them by singing.