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Center for Culture and Security holds lecture on Transnational Criminal Organizations in Latin America: The Iranian Connection

On Wednesday, November 2, 2011, Dr. Maria Velez de Berliner, Managing Partner of Intelligent Decision Partners, and Amir Fakhravar, Research Fellow at IWP, discussed “Transnational Criminal Organizations in Latin America: The Iranian Connection” at IWP.

Dr. Berliner began by explaining the rationale for Iran’s apparently inexplicable interest in Latin America.  Most important is Iran’s need for funds.  Since Iran has been largely blocked from the international financial system by sanctions, it sorely needs a proxy banking system.  Accordingly, Iran’s investments in Latin America are almost exclusively for the purpose of money laundering.  This is particularly evident in Venezuela, where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez have formed a deep and abiding alliance, further cemented by Chavez’s long-standing affinity with the sister-totalitarian ideology of Islamism.

Dr. Berliner observed, moreover, that many countries ranging from Mexico to Argentina provide fertile ground for international criminal organizations. Most Latin American economies have proved incapable of producing sufficient housing, education, and infrastructure for the majority of their citizens, while their governments have failed to secure their citizens against crime and corruption. It was not difficult for Hezbollah to infiltrate these societies by providing some much-needed social benefits, and begin establishing itself as a “government within a government,” as have the drug cartels, using similar tactics.

Dr.  Berliner noted that the Venezuelan militias have been trained for asymmetrical warfare by their Islamist partners, and are now very well prepared.  The Bolivian and Columbian governments are following suit. Working in tandem with these military forces, Hezbollah alongside powerful cooperating transnational criminal organizations constitute an increasingly formidable threat to the United States from nearby Latin America.  Most people, even so-called experts, are quite unaware that these different elements all work together, yet they are indeed cooperating around the globe.  Globalization is not limited to the economic sphere; it has also reached the criminal sector, with devastating consequences.

Amir Fahkravar agreed wholeheartedly with Dr.  Berliner, adding another explanation for Iran’s rapprochement to Latin America.  He explained that he, like all Iranians, was taught in school that the United States is the “Great Satan,” and Israel is the “Little Satan.”  The U.S. was seen as the principal adversary, whose destruction was Iran’s main obsession.  In no way has this brainwashing worked, commented Mr. Fakhravar – on the contrary.  He underscored that the vast majority of Iranians, especially the young people, who constitute nearly three quarters of the total population, oppose the government, which they see as corrupt and oppressive, but unfortunately, they are essentially powerless.

Mr. Fakhravar explained why the Iranian regime, which ultimately seeks to export the Islamic revolution globally, has historically focused largely on the “little Satan,” Israel.  In the first place, it is much closer than the U.S.; and second, Israel is the scapegoat of choice for Muslims. Mr. Fakhravar then noted an interesting experience going back as far as 1998, when he had started organizing a student opposition movement in Iran: one of his young students mentioned casually that her father took regular trips to Venezuela, because he was working on the “Big Satan.” Mr. Fakhravar further revealed that he learned about the existence of a top secret daily flight from Caracas to Tehran.  No one can book this flight expect government officials. 

Dr. Berliner confirmed that she had also been informed by trusted friends about this flight, adding that it is clearly intended for nefarious purposes.  They both cited confidential evidence that Iranians are building schools and factories in Venezuela and elsewhere.  Iranians in increasing numbers are marrying Mexicans in order to obtain dual citizenship which facilitates their hostile activities against the United States.  In brief, the situation is becoming increasingly alarming.  The U.S. government ignores it at its peril.