Tuesday, January 21, 2014

GOP Presidential Candidates Play Up Islamic Terrorism in Latin America

article from November 25, 2011
by Julie R Butler

One of the best ways for candidates to look “presidential” is to tell everyone to be afraid, be very afraid, then assure the audience that they are the person who can keep everyone safe.

This technique was alive and well at the most recent GOP primary debate focusing on foreign relations. Unfortunately, the GOP is as out of touch with Latin America as ever, and most of the candidates put on display the same kind of enervating, arrogant attitude toward their fellow nations in the hemisphere that has long kept relations more chilled than they should be. If the US would treat relations with their neighbors more in the spirit of equal partnerships, as Obama spoke of repeatedly during his trip through the region, trade and real security might be easier to achieve.

But all of the presidential candidates are stuck in a Cold War mentality when it comes to Latin America, where the US must be aggressive in the region, assert its influence, and make sure that The Wall keeps out all the undesirables who would undermine US society. This Cold War “us vs. them” theme has, of course, merged with the other “us vs. them” that comes from the age-old Clash of Civilizations characterizing the post-9/11 world. And it all makes for good political theater.

Rick Perry responded to a question about border security by stating, “We're seeing countries start to come in and infiltrate. We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States,” adding that he thinks Iran has their largest embassy in the world in Venezuela.

Herman Cain claimed that “we know that terrorists have come into this country by way of Mexico.”

When asked what issue isn’t getting enough attention, Rick Santorum’s reply was that he is “worried about what's going on in Central and South America. I'm very concerned about the militant socialists and there -- and the radical Islamists joining together, bonding together.”

Mitt Romney agreed, pointing out that “we have, right now, Hezbollah, which is working throughout Latin America, in Venezuela, in Mexico, throughout Latin America, which poses a very significant and imminent threat to the United States of America.”

Nicely done, gentlemen. However, none of them have their facts quite straight. Where to begin...

...How about with Rick Perry’s suggestion about the embassy in Venezuela? I can’t verify if the embassy in Caracas is Iran’s largest, but in trying to find out, what I did discover was a Washington Post article from July 13 2009 titled Iran’s Rumored Nicaraguan ‘Mega-Embassy’ Set Off Alarms in the US that states,

“It is not clear where the report of the embassy in Managua began. But in the past two years, it has made its way into congressional testimony, think tank reports, press accounts, and diplomatic events in the United States and elsewhere.”

But there is no mega-embassy in Managua, Nicaragua. So was this mix up in locations of a rumored Iranian mega-embassy in one of those socialist Latin American countries, as part of a concerted whisper campaign, another “oops moment” for Rick Perry?

Speaking of think tank reports, when the folks at PolitiFact.com looked into the statements made by Perry and Romney, both campaigns gave them the same source for their allegations: an Oct 11 paper by the American Enterprise Institution called The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in LatinAmerica by Roger F. Noriega and José R. Cárdenas, who, according to Greg Weeks, Director of Latin American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, “routinely make stuff up.”

And here is what PolitiFact.com has to say about the AEI paper:

“But we spent a day digging into the claim and found the support was pretty flimsy. The paper actually provides little evidence that operational cells for Hezbollah are truly active in Mexico and Latin America.”

Their report concludes:

“While there's some evidence of Hezbollah sympathizers and fundraisers working in the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and perhaps even recruiters and trainers in Chavez-led Venezuela, there's little evidence for the group "working" in Mexico. Even less publicly supported is the idea of that presence amounting to a "very significant and imminent threat to the United States of America." The State Department confirms there are no known terror cells of al-Qaida or Hezbollah groups in our hemisphere.”

They rate Romney’s claim “Mostly False.”

As for Cain’s remark, a March 28 Houston Chronicle investigation found no evidence of any terrorism activities having been committed by anyone who crossed into the US via Mexico, while the Department of Homeland Security sites the US-Canada border as the bigger threat – and indeed, a plot coming out of Canada was foiled in 1999 by the FBI.

Ron Paul was the only candidate at the debate who had anything sensible to say about US relations with Latin America, calling for an end to the “war on drugs,” which is in line with the vast majority of Mexican people, particularly those involved in the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, as well as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who recently went as far as encouraging a serious debate about legalizing certain drugs, including cocaine.

I could go on and on about how the supposed plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US does not seem to be the work of the Iranians, and how international criminal gangs should not be conflated with the Al-Qaeda terrorists, who are radical Sunni Muslims rather than Iranian-backed Shiites, and they should not be confused with socialist megalomaniacs in Venezuela and Nicaragua (who should also not be confused with each other), who may not be our friends but do not pose an “imminent threat” to the security of United States... But I will conclude with the wise words of John Walsh, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, from an article in the Asia Times Online:

Walsh says that the US should exercise care that its rhetoric regarding Latin America's relationships with Iran does not become reductive. "There is a lot of talk in Washington that suggests a new Cold War mentality," wherein Latin American countries can easily be broken down and categorized by their political affiliations, he says, adding, "I think that the issue of Iran's relationship with certain countries is used to persuade people that that is the case. I think it is much more complicated.” He considers such thinking to be not just simplistic, but wrongheaded. "Just consider how Latin American countries view the Iranian regime, and how some [Argentina, for example] feel that Iran has supported terrorism on their own soil. So it is not like people are lining up to align themselves one way or the other."

[Image of Iranian Foreign Ministry - not in Nicaragua or Venezuela - via Wikipedia]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler