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This post originally appeared on www.freedomcollection.org. There’s no more serious geopolitical issue today than the global crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. To be clear, Iran is not a pariah state because it is seeking nuclear energy. The regime is ostracized because it has not lived up to its responsibility to protect its own citizens and their fundamental human rights. Iran is also a pariah because of its ongoing state sponsorship of terrorism. Once again, this discussion has proved more than academic; it’s deadly serious. Three weeks ago on the Bulgarian Black Sea a bus filled with Israeli tourists headed for a resort exploded, targeted by what the Israeli government believes was an Iranian-organized Hezbollah-operated plot. Naturally, this makes the debate over Iran’s role in Latin America, with Venezuela at the center, more urgent. The facts are now well known, but a quick summary is important. In 2010 the Pentagon issued an unclassified report to Congress stating that Iran is placing Quds force sleeper agents in Venezuela. In 2011 the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held hearings entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America,” listening to evidence of the threats posed especially from Venezuela. As an American Enterprise Institute article also noted at the time, Hezbollah’s main safe haven had moved from the Tri-Border Area between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil to Venezuela’s Margarita Island. This February the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened hearings about Iran in Latin America at which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated, “‘Iranian officials – probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khameni – have changed their calculus and are now willing to conduct an attack in the United States.” The impact on human freedom is significant. Venezuela and its ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for Peoples of Our America, a regional bloc established by Chavez) allies are providing Iran not only material and diplomatic support but also a foothold in the Americas. The Iranian regime continues to oppress its own people and target Israeli and Jewish communities abroad. And Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is using neo-populism to deepen an authoritarian political project that oppresses his own people while bringing the country foolishly into the world’s most dangerous conflict. With Venezuela’s recent admission to the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), Chavez has now brought his irresponsible activity closest to those in the hemisphere who have suffered worst at the hands of the Iranians: Argentina’s Jewish community. Taken together, the tragic events in Bulgaria and the evidence of Iran’s activities in the Americas are an urgent reminder of the real threat to our peace, security, and liberty. This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst
Before joining the George W. Bush Institute, Joel Hirst was a recipient of the prestigious International Affairs Fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he researched the Cuba/Venezuela-sponsored Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. He worked for six years with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives in Uganda, focusing on post-conflict transition in Lord’s Resistance Army–affected areas. In Venezuela, he worked for four years on democracy promotion, elections, civil society, and human rights. Prior to this, Hirst worked as a humanitarian relief worker with World Vision in countries such as Pakistan, Venezuela, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Honduras, and Nicaragua. He writes and appears frequently in the media.
To find out more about Joel, you can also visit his personal website.Full Bio