The Chilean Election Gives Iran a New Foothold in South America

December 29, 2021 | Emanuele Ottolenghi
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The Islamic Republic has long been involved in Latin America, and its presence there made possible its current good relations with Venezuela, as well as the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. With the election last week of the far-left politician Gabriel Boric to Chile’s presidency, Iranian influence can be expected to expand. Emanuele Ottolenghi writes:

President Boric’s progressive domestic agenda will have to contend with his lack of a parliamentary majority. There will be no similar constraints on foreign policy, where his leftist instincts, backed by a strong anti-Israel domestic constituency, will likely put him in sync with Iranian influence operations in Latin America.

Iran has two cultural centers in Chile. The one in the capital, Santiago, is run by a Hizballah cleric . . . with family ties to sanctioned Hizballah financiers and strong personal connections to Hizballah’s West Africa fundraising and recruitment operations.

Hizballah’s illicit finance networks also operate in Chile, facilitating drug trafficking and money-laundering operations. Despite a well-documented presence there for nearly two decades—including U.S. Treasury sanctions against Chile-based, Hizballah-run companies—the South American country has until now refrained from designating Hizballah a terrorist organization. There was hope this could change, after Argentina, Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia did so between July 2019 and January 2020. With Boric in power, this is now unlikely to happen.

Owning and championing Palestinians’ most radical demands is at the core of Iran’s revolutionary agenda and the Trojan horse it has often used to gain supporters across Latin America. Chile has always offered a propitious terrain, given its large Palestinian diaspora. And now, the rise to power of a millennial politician wedded to these same radical anti-Israel views offers Iran a great opportunity.

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