Iran in Latin America: views from the Defense Department

Latin America and the Caribbean
Middle East

Here are two top Defense Department officials’ recent statements on Iran’s influence in Latin America.

Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander, U.S. Southern Command, testifying in the House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012:

Primarily I see diplomatic as well as commercial interests, economic interests, and that’s how their relationship has been growing. There is connections, and that is our concern as we watch this, the connections with Hezbollah and Hamas, who have been in the region for a number of years, primarily still focused on supporting — conducting illicit activity to provide funding support and logistic support back to parent organizations within the Middle East. That is still the relationship that I see today. I don’t think that President Ahmadinejad had the impact that he was looking for, except with the ability to continue to strengthen his anti-U.S. connections in the region.


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, aboard an aircraft en route to Colombia, April 23:

Well, we always have a concern about in particular the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the efforts by the IRGC to expand their influence in — not only throughout the Middle East but into this region as well.  And, that, in my book, that relates to expanding terrorism.  And that’s one of the areas that I think all of us are concerned about.  And I hope that we can work together to make sure that all the steps are taken to ensure that anything that encourages terrorism can be fought against.


Fraser talks about diplomatic and economic contacts, and possible Iranian “connections” to fundraising for terror groups’ activities in the middle east.

Panetta, on the other hand, sees the IRGC potentially “expanding terrorism” right here in the hemisphere.

The two Defense officials don’t quite contradict each other, but the difference in emphasis — especially on a topic as important as Iranian influence in Latin America — is still worth noting.