The Iranian regime seeks to expand its Islamic revolution globally and continues its push in Latin America. As part of that strategy, it is promoting the memoirs of its leaders to engage local actors, Washington-based nongovernmental organization Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) indicated in a report.
So far in 2023, according to MEMRI, Tehran launched an extensive massive campaign to disseminate the Spanish translation of its leaders’ memoirs, such as the book Cell No. 14, which recounts the experiences of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei during his detention and exile in Iran before the Islamic revolution (1979).
“For decades, Iran has had a plan in place to infiltrate Latin America, to expand radical Islam and prepare terrorist cells,” Jorge Serrano, a security expert and member of the advisory team of Peru’s Congressional Intelligence Commission, told Diálogo on September 16. “Promoting their culture and radical literature is part of this plan.”
Following a 1982 seminar in Iran, which brought more than 300 clerics from 70 countries to discuss the ideal Islamic government, the theocratic dictatorship’s goal to export the Islamic revolution using culture and politics, as well as the terrorist group Hezbollah, to spread radical Islam and attack the West and Tehran’s enemies came to light, Serrano said.
Cell No. 14 is the product of an alliance between Lighthouse International Publications and the Shahid Soleimani organization, a nonprofit sponsored by the Iranian Embassy in Colombia, MEMRI indicated. The publishing house Lighthouse International (Fanoos Daryaei in Farsi), belongs to Khameini, and its Spanish language Colombia branch, El Faro Internacional, is run by alumni of Al-Mustafa International University in Qom, Iran, which is a known tool for indoctrinating foreign clerics.
“All Iranian embassies around the world, like the embassies of Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, and China, have a purpose beyond their expertise. Their real function is to operate as intelligence centers, carrying out clandestine activities in the host country,” Serrano said. “In the framework to promote radical Islam through culture, the embassies become a significant ally in this effort.”
Lighthouse International is also linked to Islam Oriente, a website run by Al-Mustafa University and headed by Mohsen Rabbani, who was implicated in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, when a car bomb slammed into the Jewish community center.
In June, Iranian Ambassador to Nicaragua Majid Salehi, told the Islamic platform Rahyafteha that Cell No. 14 is “a guide for the youth of Latin America, to learn about the struggles, resistances, and actions of young Iranian revolutionaries.”
“This is a danger because it is a radical and fundamentalist branch of Islam,” Serrano said. “Iranian embassies offer educational scholarships to attract young Latin Americans to Tehran, where they become radicalized in Islam. Some become potential suicide bombers with timing devices. Cultural and literary themes facilitate this.”
Young converts return to their home countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela, to act as local agents of radical Islam. They know the terrain, master the language, and go unnoticed, Serrano added.
They also return to lead Iranian-funded centers and mosques to spread the Iranian revolutionary message in various institutions, influencing cultural, social, and political networks. Several of them are extreme leftist activists or come from neo-Nazi movements, Philadelphia-based think tank Middle East Forum indicated.
Iran’s system of influence and soft power operates through its cultural centers and subsidiaries, present in practically all Latin American countries. In addition to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the Iranian network extends into Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, and Peru.
“In the 2011 presidential campaign in Peru, the presence of a cell linked to Iran was identified, which distributed religious materials and the ideology of Iranian clerics, in a remote province in the interior highlands of the country, close to the VRAEM [Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers],” Serrano said.
Iran’s presence brings nothing positive to the Latin American peoples. Its actions also seek to empower dictators as in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, promote shady deals and engage in high-voltage geopolitics. Iran is advancing unchecked in the continent, according to U.S. daily The Hill.
“It is essential to disrupt and hinder the expansion of Iranian influence in the region,” the Cambridge, England-based Manara Magazine reported. “This means putting an end to the use of cultural, educational, and religious centers to spread their ideology and expand their criminal networks.”
“To counter the long-term strategy of Iran, a criminal and terrorist state, awareness and understanding of what Tehran is doing is crucial. Without understanding the threat, it is impossible to develop an effective short- and medium-term plan to address Iran’s actions,” Serrano concluded.