With Anti-U.S. Iran,
Chavez Plays with Fire
"By using anti-Americanism to get closer to Ahmadinejad, the Venezuelan leader risks bringing the tensions that exist in the Middle East to South America."
*By Valladão Alfredo
Translated By Kate Brumback
January 29, 2007
France - Liberation - Original Article (French)
The tour of Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just completed is not insignificant. It shows a desire to build bridges between two political radicalisms on the basis of anti-Americanism: the Shiite fundamentalism of the Iranian President and the Bolivarian populism of the Venezuelan head of state. The two flatter themselves by claiming to represent the most radical wing of OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries].
But the most immediate consequence of Ahmadinejad's tour of the New World is undoubtedly something else: it is likely to plunge South America into the Middle East conflict and all the complications that this entails. This is in a region that has always been removed from the planet's greatest wars and areas of tension. Admittedly, South America has known its share of local conflicts, especially in the 19th century: the War of the Triple Alliance, where Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay confronted Paraguay; the War of the Pacific, between Peru, Bolivia and Chile; or Chaco's War, which pitted Bolivia against Paraguay during the 1930s. Still, though this region has always seen lots of social violence, wars between nation states are sufficiently rare that peace is the norm.
Certain South American countries - most notably Brazil - as part of a task force participated marginally in the two biggest wars of the 20th century. But the continent's first great imbibing of an outside geopolitical conflict took place during the Cold War, with Cuba's alignment with the Soviet bloc. For two decades, South America was hostage to the confrontation between Soviet communism and Western liberal democracy. Each had its local partisans and the West didn't hesitate to support a disastrous military dictatorship in Chile, as the best example of how to resist its adversaries. The fall of the Berlin wall, however, seriously reduced the space within which the ideological extremism of the left and the justifications for violence put forth by the right could be expressed. Until the rise to power of Colonel Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the region, tired from the vicarious horrors of the Cold War, seemed to have chosen peace, democracy and moderation.
But the new Bolivarian messiah exhibits little in the way of democratic values. What he is doing is dragging the region into the worst geopolitical swamp on the planet: the Middle East. To embrace the Iran of the ayatollahs and promote a bringing together of other countries in the area with the regime of Ahmadinejad - who is at the height of his nuclear confrontation with Washington and Europe - can only create tension with the entire Democratic world. But the greatest danger remains a risk of provoking the same tensions between and within South American nations.
The government of Ahmadinejad, which regularly declares that Israel should be wiped off the map and questions the existence of the Holocaust, is using certain Lebanese and Palestinian extremist groups (Hezbullah and Hamas) as instruments of its foreign policy. But nearly all South American countries have large Jewish populations and populations with Syrian-Lebanese origins (Maronites, Sunnis, Shiites) that have always lived in harmony. Consequently, by importing Iranian influence and the problems of the Middle East, Chavez is simply introducing the seeds of discord between these communities and, in the long term, undoubtedly, violence. The more Ahmadinejad is glorified in South America, the more Jewish communities or Christian or Sunni-Lebanese communities or Palestinian communities opposed to Hamas - will feel rejected and threatened. That is to say, the importation of the bloody Middle East conflict to the south of the Americas will not be without consequence on the equilibrium and domestic security of several states in the region.
Admittedly, we are not completely there yet, even if there are suspicions of Hezbullah financial support networks in the Tri-Border region between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. But the refusal of Argentine president Nestor Kirchner to attend the inauguration of Ecuador's new president, Rafael Correa, so as not to have to meet his Iranian counterpart, is significant. The Argentine effectively accuses Tehran of being behind the 1994 attacks against Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires. Furthermore, within Venezuela itself, the Jewish community has already begun to denounce the coming together of Caracas and Tehran.
To creating this kind of internal tension is already quite serious, especially if this generates additional problems with the rest of the democratic world. In the event of an escalation of tension with Tehran, the European Union and United States will not fail to register concern with the position taken by South America with regard to Iranian provocations and ambitions, particularly the Mercosur countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela). The Arab states, none of which look kindly on Iran's rising power, some of whom have important commercial ties with South American countries, will end up demanding that Latin Americans take a position with regard to the Ahmadinejad regime.
Consequently, stepping into the bloody Middle East imbroglio in the name of fighting interference from the "empire," as Hugo Chavez is doing, is not the most sensible option, either for promoting Latin American interests in the world or for guaranteeing peace within the region's countries and in the region in general. This is even more the case since, in matters of interfering in the domestic affairs of their neighbors, the "revolutionaries" of Iran and Venezuela can learn few lessons from others.
* Alfredo Valladão is director of the Mercosur chair at the Institut d'études politiques in Paris.