Latin America fast becoming Iranian “playground”

Posted on | april 14, 2011 | No Comments

Iran continues to expand its presence in Central and South American taking advantage of its already close relationship with Venezuela’s despot Presidente Hugo Chavez, a top U.S. general said Friday as he described developments within the U.S. Southern Command to U.S. Senators.

Air Force General Douglas Fraser, commanding officer of the U.S. Southern Command, said Iran has significantly increased the number of Iranian embassies in the region while building “cultural centers” and mosques in more than 15 Latin American countries.

Gen. Fraser reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee that military intelligence confirmed that Iran hosted heads of state from three countries: Bolivia, Guyana and Venezuela.

This was not the first time U.S. Senators from both parties were warned about Latin America’s vulnerability to radical Islam. In 2007, the Bush Administration’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, warned members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that elements of radical Islamic groups were active in South America recruiting and training terrorists.

Pace mentioned Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, yet the Democrat-controlled Senate ignored Gen. Pace’s warning. Three suspected al-Qaeda associates who were apprehended in West Africa by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents during an international anti-drug operation, were extradited to New York and appeared in federal court in Manhattan earlier this year, according to reports obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police’s Terrorism and Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs committees.

The operation confirms the suspicions of terrorism experts that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are involved in narcotics trafficking to fund their terror operations.

Fraser described a close relationship between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They have had at least nine visits during Chavez’s 12 years in office. Fraser said the alliance remains largely for diplomatic and commercial purposes but said there still were too many unknowns.

“There are flights between Iran and Venezuela on a weekly basis, and visas are not required for entrance into Venezuela or Bolivia or Nicaragua. So we don’t have a lot of visibility in who’s visiting and who isn’t, and that’s really where I see the concerns,” said Gen. Fraser.

There have also been intelligence reports that allege the Iranian-supported terrorist group Hezbollah, is also a presence in Latin America. Fraser stated to the ties between the two countries are based on several shared interests, such as access to military and petroleum technologies and avoiding international isolation.

Iran’s growing influence in Latin America is a “potential risk” to the region, the head of the U.S. Southern Command continues to warn U.S. lawmakers and the Pentagon.

Fraser, who heads U.S. military operations in 31 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, expressed “real concern” about the Islamic Republic’s links with “extremist organizations” in the region. Fraser said, “It is a concern, and it is an issue we will continue to monitor for any increasing activity.”

AUTHOR: Jim Kouri
URL: http://www.renewamerica.com/
E-MAIL: COPmagazine [at] aol.com

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