Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) , Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, held a hearing on Oct. 27 to investigate his "serious concerns about expanded Iranian influence in the region." Engel believes Iran's diplomatic and commercial relations with a number of Latin American countries is a threat to the region, and more importantly to US security and stability.
Testimony heard at the hearing repeatedly singled out Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and to a lesser extent Brazil.
Despite Iran not having any military presence in the region, Norman A. Bailey, former head of intelligence for Cuba and Venezuela under the Bush Administration, told members of Congress that, "It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the principal motivations of all this activity [by Iran] is to be able to retaliate against the United States if it is attacked."
Eric Farnsworth, Vice President of the Council of Americas, said he believes that Iran may be looking for uranium, possibly in Venezuela. But Time Magazine reported in an Oct. 8 article that "experts say it's hardly certain Venezuela even has much, if any, uranium to provide Iran or anyone else." Farnsworth also claimed Iran's improved diplomatic relations with countries in Latin America is a boon for its intelligence capabilities.
Dina Siegel Vann, another "expert" who testified at the hearing, cited a U.S. State Department Terrorism report published in April that stated the Tri Border Area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil is a hub for Hezbollah and Hamas sympathizers-something that has been widely disputed. Vann, Director of the Latino and Latin American Institute at the American Jewish Committee noted that the report also cited Bolivia as a possible site for terrorist activity.
"Concerted and decisive action is needed to closely monitor the activity of Iran and the groups it subsidizes, to correctly assess their potential for mischief, and to establish mechanisms to prevent potentially dangerous scenarios," said Vann.
Coincidentally, these attempts to designate parts of Latin America as potential threats and conduits of terror attacks are in countries that have democratically elected left and center-left governments. And all of this comes as Washington's controversial military base deal with Colombia awaits approval.
Garry Leech, editor of Colombia Journal, noted on Nov. 6 that "nowhere in the agreement does it actually state that U.S. military operations launched from the Colombian bases are to be restricted to Colombia," contrary to claims made by both the Obama and Uribe administrations. Furthermore, the text of the agreement states that Colombia's Palenquero Air Base "provides an opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America."
The deal also gives diplomatic immunity to US military personnel and private defense contractors.