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US Failures in Latin America and Iran’s Opportunities

Monday, May 12, 2008

Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki 

Most criticism of neo-liberalism in recent years has emanated from Latin America where poverty and injustice resulting from this idea has led to political, social, and economic instabilities. Economic collapse of those countries in addition to spread of poverty as well as unequal distribution of poverty has given rise to violent and angry generations. The situation, which is a direct outcome of regional interferences by the United States, has prompted local peoples to decide to get rid of those policies. They have found out that they can continue with their development drives without any help from the United States. Therefore, they are voting for independent, leftist governments which pursue to establish poverty and social justice in their societies.

Other means used by the United States in Latin America, that is, military intervention, is no more useful. The regional countries are also willing to establish new regional structures (both economic and political), to move toward a new social structure, and more importantly, to support emergence of a new multi polar world system through adopting active foreign policies. This situation has offered good opportunities to the Islamic Republic of Iran in a region which has been traditionally known as the backyard of the United States foreign policy. It will also be a gateway to strengthen Iran’s influence in the whole Third World. Relations between Iran and Latin America date back to 1902 when Eshaq Khan Mofakham-od-Dowleh, Iran’s minister plenipotentiary in Washington, paid a visit to Latin America and signed agreements with Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. Thirty years later when Reza Shah ascended to the throne, those relations led to establishment of political ties and inauguration of embassies. Under the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Latin American relations were influenced by the dominant international atmosphere of Cold War era as well as Iran’s position in anti-communism policies adopted by the United States. During those years, due to close relations between Iran and regional countries which were US allies, Latin American relations were of purely political nature. In economic sphere, Latin American countries eyed Iran’s oil revenues and, suggested by Washington, Iran embarked on investments in a number of regional countries including Brazil and Peru which sought to receive long-term credits from Iran.

As relations between Iran and the United States became critical soon after victory of the Islamic Revolution, the Latin American countries which were close allies of Washington suspended their relations with Iran (including Mexico and Chile) and others were less active. During that period, there was deep distrust between Iran and Latin America. As time went by and the imposed war with Iraq broke out (1980), Iran decided to end its political and economic isolation by strengthening ties with Latin American states. During the war and afterwards Iran had inaugurated its embassies in Chile, Uruguay, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Due to economic sanctions against the country, Iran decided to increase imports from Latin America and countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay became main import origins of Iran in Latin America. However, despite striking development of trade and economic relations, political ties remained below Iran’s expectations and could not meet Iran’s international interests.

With the end of the Cold War and changes in international system a new chapter was opened in Iran’s relations with Latin America and regional countries, which had got rid of predefined frameworks of eastern and Western superpowers, paid more attention to other parts of the world and this paved the way for further expansion of diplomatic relations.

During reconstruction period, cultural, trade, and economic relations with Latin America greatly increased. After election of president Khatami and during eight years of his presidency, Iran’s foreign policy in Latin America became more active. Examples of those developments include visits by Mr. Khatami to Venezuela and Cuba, (Vice President) Hassan Habibi’s trips to Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba, and visits to Tehran by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (twice), Fidel Castro (once), as well as foreign ministers of Venezuela, Uruguay, and Cuba, and Colombian Majlis speaker. Contacts between officials at international forums including meetings between presidents of Iran and Brazil in Jakarta (Non-Aligned Movement) and introduction of consultation mechanism with the goal of bringing Iran’s positions close to those of Latin American states are other examples.[1]

As leftist, nationalist parties rose to power in Latin American countries and set priorities for economic, social, political, and foreign policies of those countries, Iran’s relations with Latin America entered a new phase. One of the main characteristics of this period was strengthening of political and economic relations (especially with Venezuela). The new Iranian government led by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has traveled to Latin America many times and has frequently played host to Latin American officials, has caused that region to be a focus of attention for the Iranian foreign policy. Undoubtedly, fighting imperialism, especially the United States, and common economic as well as trade interests are enough to give more impetus to bilateral relations between Iran and Latin American states.

Fighting the United States has become the main motto for many Latin American leaders and this is an opportunity of which Iran can avail more than any other country. Efforts made by regional countries to get rid of the US hegemony, has caused them to feel the need for having good allies to accompany them in fighting with the United States. In addition, potentials in Latin America for changing the international system and pave the way for the establishment of a multi polar world system are totally in line with Iran’s objectives in this regard and allows both sides to work toward realization of the said goal through convergence in their foreign policies.

From an economic viewpoint, Latin America has enormous capacities in terms of such natural resources as oil and gas, minerals, industries and agriculture and can be a good partner to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Also, trade and investment opportunities can be added to this list. In addition to oil, Iran can export engineering and technical services, steel and copper products, petrochemicals, plastic products and so on to Latin American states. It can also play a great role in diversification of trade and economic relations with Latin American countries in view of its geostrategic position in the Middle East and its vast economic capabilities.

Endnotes:
1. Mohammad Ali Ziaei, History of Diplomatic Relations between Iran and Latin American Countries, Hamshahri Online, January 5, 2007

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