Demonstrations in Iran that erupted in September 2022 over the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly, rapidly expanded into a movement calling for the ousting of the theocratic regime in place for more than five decades. While the regime has been brutally cracking down on the uprising, Iranian leaders have been eyeing countries in Latin America as a safe haven in case of a revolution, London-based news platform Iran International reported.
“They have very fertile ground [in Latin America] to mobilize if they have a serious crisis in Iran,” Jorge Serrano, a security expert and member of the advisory team of Peru’s Congressional Intelligence Commission, told Diálogo on January 27. “The Iranian presence began to be felt in our hemisphere in the 1990s, during the criminal attacks against the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) and the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, perpetrated by the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which is endorsed, financed, and trained by Tehran.”
According to Iran International, the Islamic Republic has initiated negotiations with its Venezuelan ally to secure passports and ensure that regime officials and their families would be offered asylum if the situation were to worsen. British newspaper Daily Express reported in late October 2022 that high-ranking officials of the Iranian regime were reportedly making irregular money transfers to friendly Latin American countries. The regime also changed security details at the airport to move family and friends directly to international flights, Daily Express reported.
In an opinion piece for Arab News, Iranian-American political scientist Majid Rafizadeh warns that the Iranian regime, concerned that the demonstrations could potentially endanger its power hold, is looking to expand its influence abroad and export its fundamentalist ideology.
“The regime’s key mission is even incorporated in Iran’s constitution, which states: ‘The constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the revolution at home and abroad. In particular, in the development of international relations, the constitution will strive with other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community,’” Rafizadeh wrote.
Some 14,000 people have been arrested and hundreds have been killed so far during the protests as the Iranian regime attempts to crush the uprising, according to the United Nations. Four men were hanged in less than a month, after Iran hastily sentenced them to death for taking part in the protests, many more are awaiting the same fate.
The Iranian regime not only routinely harasses, arbitrarily detains, and executes its citizens for exercising their human rights, it is also the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, having conducted terrorism attacks and assassinations in more than 20 countries since the 1979 revolution.
In an October 2022 report for the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (IEEE) of the Spanish Ministry of Defense, Alberto Priego Moreno, an international relations expert at the Comillas Pontifical University in Spain, stresses that Iran has been expanding internationally, with Latin America as its main destination. According to Priego, the proximity of the United States and the region’s international importance have made it critical for Iran to export its ideology there, with the support of its primary allies in the Americas: Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
According to Priego, Tehran’s main goals in Latin America are to increase its international influence, destabilize the United States, get foreign currency (both by laundering and generating assets), seize natural resources to produce nuclear weapons, and recruit people to train them for violent purposes.
To achieves these objectives Iran does not hesitate to use its diplomatic delegations; Lebanese diasporas; and religious, social, and cultural centers.
“Its embassies are centers of the VEVAK [Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security],” Serrano said. “Latin America gains nothing by having Iran as an ally. It’s not an economic power; it contributes nothing. Iran comes only to create problems here.”
For Rafizadeh, “it is critical to examine and counter the Iranian regime’s efforts to export its fundamentalist ideology not only in the Middle East but also beyond.”
“Europe, the United States, and other democratic countries need to establish concrete and more drastic sanctions against nations that establish links with Iran, otherwise […] it will continue to expand in Latin America with impunity, which will lead to more violence and terror,” Serrano concluded.