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The Tehran, Havana, Caracas axis in Latin America

 

José Azel, in The Miami Herald   

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency warns, in its recent report, that Iran appears to have conducted advanced research on a miniaturized warhead that could be delivered by medium range missiles. The implications for U.S. foreign policy extend beyond the Middle East.

 

Iran is an increasingly important politico-economic player in Latin America. Its influence transcends geography, language, culture and religion. At the heart of this growing Iranian influence is a peculiar trilateral political configuration with Cuba and Venezuela. The basis of this eccentric alignment is not East-West political philosophy, or a coalition based on congruent economic models, or North-South ideological affinity.

 

Even more perplexing, it is a strategic alliance that transcends profound theological differences. What, then, brings together Fidel Castro, a Marxist-Leninist atheist; Hugo Chávez, a putative socialist Christian; and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a product of Islamic fundamentalism? What allows the Iranian theocracy, so removed from Latin America by ethnicity, customs and values, to play an increasingly influential role in this hemisphere?

 

If we answer these questions in terms of the growing economic ties among these countries, and there are many, licit as well as illicit and covert, we would be basing our analysis on strict Western economic rationality. We mistakenly would be extrapolating our logical model to Castro, Chávez and Ahmadinejad.

 

A second analytical mistake is to scrutinize Iran’s influence in discrete country-by-country terms rather than in terms of the synergies and symbiosis of the Tehran-Havana-Caracas alliance.

 

We would further compound our error if we formulate U.S. foreign policy in similarly disconnected terms. As world events have repeatedly demonstrated, we eventually gain the Socratic insight that we know very little of the logical reasoning models of autocratic leaders like Ahmadinejad, Castro and Chávez.

 

Although it may seem that way to us, these countries do not pursue an irrational foreign policy. The analytical challenge for the United States is how to understand, in our cultural and analytical milieu, actions arising in another.

 

In the case of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, the unifying point seems to be virulent hostility toward the United States, liberal democracy and market economies. In other words, the Ahmadinejad-Castro-Chávez nexus is fundamentally an anti-American political alignment. As such, it follows its own logic and rules of engagement. Recall, for example, that in 1979, with the victory of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Fidel Castro abandoned his support of the communist Iranian People’s Party (IPP) and embraced Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic anti-communist regime. In Castro’s logic the Ayatollah’s anti-Americanism trumped his anti-communist ideology.

 

The growing Iranian influence in Latin America, together with its Cuban and Venezuelan connections, should be understood in this context of an anti-American alliance determined, above all other considerations, to undermine U.S. national interests.

 

For example, Cuba and Venezuela have become the most strident defenders of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the three countries have formed a strategic partnership to evade U.N. and U.S economic sanctions. Cuba’s sophisticated intelligence and counter intelligence capabilities are reportedly shared with Iran and Venezuela. Moreover, the triumvirates’ influence has expanded now to include Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

 

Increasingly, the Tehran, Havana, Caracas bloc speaks with a unified anti-American voice in a concerted effort to undermine U.S. influence by any means at its disposal. The geopolitical alignment of Tehran, Havana and Caracas, if it can be described as ideological at all, is based on an ideology of hate towards the United States and democratic governing principles.

 

Often, the formulation of U.S. foreign policy is imbued with inherent tensions between policies anchored on our democratic principles and policies based on our national interests. In this case, a rare congruence exists for clarity of purpose in a coordinated U.S. foreign policy that blends our support of democratic values and human rights in Iran, Cuba and Venezuela with our national security concerns.  

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José Azel is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of the recently published book, Mañana in Cuba.