Recently Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Latin America – again. The main purpose of his visit was to attend the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio. He also made side trips to see Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s ailing President Hugo Chavez.
Much has been written about Iran’s strategic interests in Latin America and their extension across the region. A major part of its activity has focused on undemocratic ALBA countries: military deals with Venezuela, amilitary training school in Bolivia with suspected Iranian funding, oil and mine deals with Ecuador, and even a planned “dry canal” through Nicaragua to compete with Panama. But these are not Iran’s only friends. In recent years Iran has opened eleven embassies in the region and received important support from democratic leaders like Brazil’s Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva.
In this flood of realpolitik, Latin American leaders intent upon jockeying for position and confronting American leadership in what they perceive as a world in flux unfortunately ignore the real problem: Iran’s freedom deficit.
Iran is not a pariah because it has a nuclear program. Iran is an outcast because it is led by a predatory dictatorship that cannot be trusted to stick to a peaceful nuclear regime. The reason we know the regime is untrustworthy is the way it treats its own people.
The brutal crackdown in 2009 on the Green Revolution protesters, keen only to have their votes counted, showed Tehran’s contempt for its citizens. Abed Tavancheh was sentenced to a year in prison in 2010 for giving an interview to Germany’s Spiegel on the student protests. Mohammadi Ashtiani is one of many women sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery. Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor found guilty of apostasy for attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity, avoided execution after a massive public outcry earlier this year but nevertheless remains in jail. Tragically, there are thousands more examples like these.
When Latin American leaders ignore these realities in the attempt to win a cheap point against the United States, they do their countries a disservice. They stop representing the values that their constituents hold and that are enshrined in western hemisphere commitments like the American Convention on the Rights and Duties of Man and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. These are the same values that Iran is so busily subverting: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, equality of the sexes, and the right to pick one’s leaders democratically.
Next time Ahmadinejad comes to town, the region’s leaders should remember that the vast majority of their populations have tasted freedom and do not wish to make common cause with Iran’s undemocratic regime.
By: Joel D. Hirst
This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst