The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.
In September 2007, The Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer wrote:
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must love the tropics. He has spent more time in Latin America than President Bush over the past 12 months.
Given that the name of the former US president was never associated with a tradition of international travel, this was not an overwhelmingly surprising calculation.
It was reiterated, however, in a 2009 investigation by Ely Karmon of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, who additionally warned that Farsi was being taught at Venezuelan universities; that a number of Iranian engineers had acquired basic Spanish; and that the Latin American poor might respond favourably to “radical Shiite ideological teachings”.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s declaration during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Caracas later that year that “I am certain that the God in Iran is the same as the God in Venezuela” presumably did not assuage concerns.
US missing in action
Oppenheimer has revised his 2007 lede in honour of Ahmadinejad’s latest excursion to the region, which kicked off on Sunday in Venezuela and has included stops in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador. In a Saturday column entitled “Ahmadinejad’s Latin America ‘tour of tyrants’“, Oppenheimer observed:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be visiting Latin America this week for the fifth time since 2007 – as often as US presidents over the same period, and visiting more countries than them. He must have powerful reasons to spend so much time in the region.
According to Jose R Cardenas, a contributor to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute’s Venezuela-Iran project, relations between these two countries is indicative of “the growing menace of the radical Islamist regime in the Western Hemisphere”.
In a Foreign Policy blog post last month entitled “The US is MIA in Latin America“, Cardenas complained:
An end-of-the-year assessment of US policy towards Latin America could possibly qualify for the world’s shortest blog. For a President who has clearly established that foreign policy is not something that gets him up in the morning (or appears to keep him awake at night), Latin America must rank just above Antarctica in descending areas of interest.
It is not entirely clear, of course, how the US is “MIA in Latin America” when Ahmadinejad is not the one whose contemporary history includes activities such as militarising the region, inundating it with small arms, and facilitating the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Honduras. It is especially unclear how Cardenas can claim a lack of US interest beyond its southern border when he is an associate with the Washington, DC-based firm VisionAmericas – retained by the Honduran Association of Maquiladoras to lobby on Capitol Hill in support of the 2009 coup against Manuel Zelaya.
‘Tour of tyrants’
The phrase “tour of tyrants” referenced by Oppenheimer was coined by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – patron saint of Cuban exiles, sweetheart of the Zionist Organisation of America, and self-appointed bulwark against the Islamo-Bolivarian axis currently threatening life as we know it.
Discussing the purpose of Ahmadinejad’s impending reunion with the Western Hemisphere’s “anti-American despots”, Ros-Lehtinen surmised that the group would probably brainstorm “tactics for silencing free speech, suppressing the free press, and oppressing the people of these nations”.
I was blessed with the opportunity, in 2009, to witness firsthand Ros-Lehtinen’s commitment to combating oppression during her post-coup descent upon Tegucigalpa to reaffirm the righteous nature of the coup. In the same press conference in which she argued the illegitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s presidency given her contention that he had been elected by fraud, Ros-Lehtinen reasoned that, just because illegitimate coup president Roberto Micheletti had not been elected, this did not mean he had not risen to power in accordance with the law.
This was the same Micheletti, of course, who had the previous week forced two primary anti-coup news outlets off the air, and who was presiding over a regime dedicated to ongoing – and often lethal – repression of peaceful protesters.
Given Ros-Lehtinen’s assessment that the current “tour of tyrants” will result in the consolidation of “economic pacts [between Ahmadinejad and said tyrants], and various other schemes designed to increase their power and harm America”, it appears that “oppressing the people” can only qualify as democratic in locations that do not infringe upon US economic interests.
Click here to read the rest of the article at Al Jazeera.