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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.
”]The following is an excerpt from my short piece for Guernica on the continued fabrication of Islamo-Bolivarian threats to U.S. national security. The piece begins:
I have been kept up at night by the Iranian presence in Latin America ever since Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned in 2009: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.”
The warning, which was intended as evidence of Iranian infiltration of the American continent, occurred in the context of Ayalon’s excursion to Honduras to attend the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. Of no concern, apparently, was the fact that it is also possible to travel by air with minimal difficulty from Caracas to places like New York and Tel Aviv (and that Israel does not technically qualify as an American State).
The Caracas-Tehran one-stop has since been adopted as a pet issue by neoconservative pundits like the American Enterprise Institute’s Roger Noriega—author of such gems as “Chávez’s Secret Nuclear Program”—who categorized the flight as a component of “Chávez’s Scary Anti-American Campaign.” Noriega reiterated the malevolent travel itinerary as part of his July 2011 testimony before a U.S.Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America— Implications for U.S. Homeland Security.”
Gracing the pages of various Spanish-language newspapers yesterday and today is an article entitled “Bin Laden in Latin America”. Written by exiled Cuban columnist and author Carlos Alberto Montaner, whose claims to fame include referring to Eduardo Galeano’s acclaimed Open Veins of Latin America as “the idiot’s bible”, it might be more appropriately titled “The idiot’s attempt to turn Hugo Chávez into bin Laden by way of an irrelevant Ethiopian”.
The article begins with the announcement that an Ethiopian terrorist engaged in the trafficking of illegal immigrants was captured in Ecuador and deported to the United States in March. Montaner himself states in the first paragraph that the man’s ties to Al Qaeda have not been confirmed, but declares in the second that the purpose of said trafficking was presumably to raise funds for the organization and to construct networks of potential collaborators.
Via this introduction, we somehow arrive at the revelation that the president of Venezuela is “an accomplice of all extremist and fanatically Islamic causes, including Al Qaeda”, though Montaner refrains from explaining whether the expulsion from Caracas of Israeli diplomatic personnel in response to massacres in Gaza qualifies as fanatical complicity. Montaner asserts that the reason for Chávez’ pro-extremist behavior is “not at all clear” but promptly goes on to state, quite clearly, that the Venezuelan leader—plus his counterparts in Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia—perceive Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah “as allies because they believe they have a common enemy: north American imperialism”.
In his recent review for The New York Times, Larry Rohter stages a valiant attempt to discredit the new Oliver Stone documentary “South of the Border”, which favorably portrays Latin American governments that enjoy considerable popular support. Among Rohter’s compelling evidence of the film’s “misinformation” is that Stone pronounces Hugo Chávez’ last name incorrectly.
As part of their rebuttal clearly proving that Rohter is the one peddling misinformation, Stone and the film’s screenwriters Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot detect a conflict of interest in the fact that the The New York Times review has been penned by the same author who wrote the following analysis after the 2002 coup d’état against Chávez:
Neither the overthrow of Mr. Chavez, a former army colonel, nor of [Ecuadorian President] Mr. [Jamil] Mahuad two years ago can be classified as a conventional Latin American military coup. The armed forces did not actually take power on Thursday. It was the ousted president’s supporters who appear to have been responsible for deaths that numbered barely 12 rather than hundreds or thousands, and political rights and guarantees were restored rather than suspended.”
Let us compare the introductory paragraphs of Reuters news articles concerning the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes of January and February 2010, respectively.
First, a Jan. 18 article on Haiti:
U.S. troops protected aid handouts and the United Nations sought extra peacekeepers in earthquake-shattered Haiti on Monday as marauding looters emptied wrecked shops and desperate survivors began to receive medical care and air-dropped food.”
Now, a Feb. 28 article on Chile:
Chilean rescuers used shovels and sledgehammers on Sunday to find survivors of a huge earthquake in Chile that unleashed a Pacific tsunami and triggered looting by desperate and hungry residents.”
Despite covering the same general topics, the introductions differ in the provenance of their protagonists—which in the case of Chile are Chilean and in the case of Haiti are U.S. troops and the U.N.—and in the fact that desperate Haitian survivors are an afterthought to marauding looters while Chilean looters themselves are merely desperate, hungry, residential and above all a product of the earthquake rather than of any sort of anthropological flaw.
Arriving to Toncontín airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras yesterday, I asked the customs official processing my US passport how long I was permitted to stay in the country. The woman looked up from her desk at me and replied icily: “One day.”
Fearful that this was a sign of diminishing US influence in Latin America, I squeaked: “Por qué?”, at which point the woman entered into a fit of laughter and welcomed me to Honduras for 90 days. Other versions of the Honduran welcome had been experienced by ousted President Manuel Zelaya in early July, when the Honduran military blockade of Toncontín airport had not been removed amid a fit of laughter and the military had instead fired at the crowd of Zelaya supporters that had gathered to watch his plane circle overhead.
Zelaya has since transferred his intended point of homeland penetration to the Nicaraguan border, where the “reckless” behavior of which he has been accused by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has included stepping briefly into Honduran territory. According to Clinton, an elected president’s attempts to remain president do not at the moment “contribute to the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.” She refrains from discussing whether the prohibition of public consultations on the issue of constitutional reform is a more effective contribution to democracy.
Walking down Avenida Figueroa Alcorta in Buenos Aires the other day, I came across a succession of posters advertising “la penetración iraní en América latina” and featuring Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clasping hands. When I then came across the Iranian embassy and a monument in a park labeled “Plaza Irán,” as well, I became momentarily convinced that the posters might have a point.
Some confusion arose from the date on the monument, May 12, 1965, which placed its origins in an archaeological period of penetración estadounidense in Iran. Things slowly began to make more sense, however, as I continued walking and noted that the Chávez-Ahmadinejad posters were interspersed with posters featuring an unoccupied bed with white sheets and the proclamation: “85 ‘HASTA LUEGO’ CONVERTIDOS EN ‘HASTA SIEMPRE” [“85 goodbyes to be remembered forever”], which I first assumed was a tribute to Argentine swine flu fatalities.
It turned out that the 85 “Hasta luego” were in fact the victims of the 1994 attack on the AMIA, the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, which was blamed with intermittent force on Iran in accordance with the current geostrategic interests of the United States. The fifteenth anniversary of the attack was to be commemorated on Friday, July 17, one day prior to the actual anniversary; passersby were invited to pursue further information at www.85vidasmenos.amia.org.ar/, in which the “85 vidas menos” translates as “85 fewer lives.” Not explained on the posters was whether their designer could not think of a more suitable image to commemorate bombing victims, whether viewers were meant to infer that their own beds could be penetrated at any moment by Iranians, or why there were no commemorative websites for recent events in Gaza, such as 1300vidasmenos.
I returned home to find that my own bed was still unmade, although it was presumably not the fault of terrorists, and that the AMIA link consisted of a black page with suggestions in white as to the variety of sentiments that might have been expressed by companions of the 85 victims had they known the 85 would never be seen again. Suggestions include “I love you,” “I hate you,” and “You have a nice smile.” To one side of the written suggestions is a YouTube video with additional suggestions of hypothetical situations tragically thwarted by the bombing, such as “un beso apasionado que nunca llegó” [“a passionate kiss that never took place”], juxtaposed with the sound of attack. The question is raised of whether this sort of commemoration would not have been more appropriate in the context of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which occurred on Valentine’s Day.