“When Americans – leaders and led – process incoming information to make it intelligible in American terms, many not only fail to clearly understand what is going on abroad but, more ominous, fail to accurately gauge the severity of the danger these foreign events, organizations, attitudes and personalities pose to U.S. national security…”
– Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War On Terror , by Anonymous – p. 167
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave this response at a 27 January Senate hearing when asked about Russia’s joint naval exercises in the Caribbean last November with a couple of Venezuelan navy missile frigates:
“…if it hadn’t been for the events in Georgia in August, I probably would’ve tried to persuade the president to invite the Russian ships to pay a port call in Miami, because I think they would’ve had a lot better time (in Miami) than they did in Caracas. But basically I think at $40 dollar (a barrel) oil, the Russian navy does not bother me very much. It’s important for us to keep perspective about their capabilities. When they complained about our escorting their Blackjack bombers to Venezuela (in 2008), I wanted to say that we just wanted to be along there for search and rescue if they needed it.”
But on a more serious note, Gates accused Iran of engaging in “subversive activity” in Latin America, saying Iran’s expansion into the region concerned him more than Russia’s recent naval exercise in the Caribbean.
“I’m concerned about the level of frankly subversive activity that the Iranians are carrying on in a number of places in Latin America, particularly in South America and Central America,” Gates told US lawmakers. “They’re opening a lot of offices and a lot of fronts behind which they interfere in what is going on in some of these countries.”
Gates gave no specifics to support his accusation, but from Caracas it’s easy to spot Iran’s footprints in the region, since they coincide perfectly with President Hugo Chavez’s key strategic partners including Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Nicaragua. In fact, last week Bolivian President Evo Morales rebuffed a question from a CNN correspondent about his government’s alleged secret ties with Tehran.
Odd that Gates should joke about the Russia-Venezuela joint naval exercise, considering that Moscow also has good relations with Tehran.
It’s true that the battle cruiser Peter the Great which the Medvedev/Putin regime deployed to the Caribbean is a floating rust bucket. It’s also true that only one Venezuelan frigate, out of three assigned to the joint exercises, was able to leave port under its own power; that the joint exercises were suspended after less than 24 hours; that Chavez’s security guards brawled with Russian sailors; and a group of senior Russian officers lodged at a five-star Bolivarian hotel were robbed of all the valuables they foolishly left in their rooms.
However, the network of strategic alliances between Chavez, Moscow, Havana and Tehran is not comedic. Iran’s government is a known sponsor of terrorism, supporting both Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which have a significant presence throughout Latin America in Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina.
President Chavez has been the great facilitator of Iran’s geopolitical expansion in Latin America, helping bring Tehran closer to the Castro, Morales, Kirchner, Correa and Ortega governments. The public diplomacy links between these countries are easy to discern. However, what goes on behind the public façade?
When Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Caracas last November, one of the agreements he signed with Chavez pledges Russian support for the development of a peaceful nuclear power program in Venezuela. Moscow also has supplied (or committed to supplying) President Chavez with close to $6 billion in weapons since 2005.
Iran also has acquired billions of dollars in Russian conventional weapons, and nuclear technology it is using to develop nuclear weapons. Iran also has significant long-range missile launching capabilities of its own. And Venezuelan Defense Ministry sources tell Caracas Gringo that the Chavez and Ahmadinejad governments quietly signed a nuclear protocol about two years ago committing Tehran to helping the Bolivarian revolution create a native nuclear technology capability.