The Obama administration must take note. Ahmadinejad's regime promises to have strategic repercussions in America's neighborhood. The expansion of Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere — diplomatic, economic, military and terrorist infrastructure — has been rapid.
In little more than two years, the number of Iranian diplomatic representatives in the region has increased from six to 11 and the number of diplomatic personnel has grown proportionately. This multiplication of Iran's ties with Latin America has been the result of a strategic convergence.
Tehran sees its penetration in the region as essential to its efforts to weaken Washington international influence. The radical leftist governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua view Iran as a partner with whom they share common ground: hostility towards the U.S. The result is an anti-American alliance in the heart of the Western Hemisphere.
The growth of political ties has been followed by an expansion of economic interests. Iran has invested in a huge array of industries in Venezuela, ranging from car factories to cement production plants. The Islamic Republic has agreed to build a refinery and a petrochemical plant in Ecuador. Tehran is also making efforts to increase its commercial and cooperation ties with Mexico and Brazil.
Furthermore, Iran is seeking to develop military ties with Venezuela. In 2007, Tehran signed an agreement to collaborate on defense matters, which has already resulted in the provision of a dozen Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). At the same time Tehran has become a key partner in the development of the space program and the nuclear projects of Caracas and announced plans to build a munitions factory in the Venezuelan state of Carabobo.
The most worrisome Iranian activity in Latin America, however, is the establishment of terrorist infrastructures linked to Iran. Tehran employs a combination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — Vahidi was the head of IRGC's Quds Force — and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah in its covert operations. The presence of both organizations in Latin America has substantially increased in recent years.
For example, the IRGC is cooperating closely with Venezuelan intelligence agencies. Tehran sent observers to military exercises organized by Caracas in 2008. Hezbollah has built a network of relations with Venezuelan citizens, making Caracas Hezbollah's gateway into Latin America. As the U.S. Treasury Department denounced, one Venezuelan diplomat accredited in Beirut, Ghazi Nasr al Din, provided support to Hezbollah, including help with setting up its fund-raising apparatus in Latin America.