Small Wars Journal

Latin American Leftists and the Protests in Iran

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Latin American Leftists and the Protests in Iran

Penny L. Watson

The protests in Iran have been a source of contention for more than just the Iranian government and the people of Iran.  They have become a fulcrum in a multi-faceted political struggle between President Trump and various other leaders around the world.

What is a protest by the Iranian people against the oppressive fundamentalist regime, has a much more diversified group of world actors.  Although it is unlikely that the Trump administration is the moving force behind the protests in Iran, it seems likely that the U.S. will not hesitate to use them as leverage in their pursuit of regime change, just as other regimes will strive to keep the current regime in place.  It is essential that the Trump administration continue to support the Iranian people in their quest for regime change and continue to seek out methods that enable the U.S. to offer more strength to their efforts than just words of encouragement.  Regime change must begin from within but may be aided from the outside.

President Trump has voiced his intention of removing, or at the very least, altering the Iran nuclear agreement, since his presidential campaign.  However, this seems to be a cloak for regime change instead.  According to Michael Crowley in Politico, the Trump administration believes that the only way to deal with the long-term threat of Iran is regime change. Back in July 2017, when Secretary of State Tillerson stated that Iran was in compliance with the deal, President Trump became frustrated, making it necessary to seek another way to justify interference in Iran’s political system.  At the same time in Iran, the hardliners were utilizing Trump’s rhetoric to stir up nationalist sentiment.  However, those same words, also let pro-democracy and anti-fundamentalist groups in Iran know that the U.S. is supportive, although to what degree that support will manifest remains to be seen.  The U.S. is not the only country with a stake in this game.  Anti-American regimes in Latin America also have a vested interest in this outcome.

There is great irony in that the Iranian people are protesting against the high inflation and economic difficulties which are plaguing their country, and some of the supporters of the fundamentalist regime, under the guise of promoting the welfare of the Iranian people, are Latin American regimes which have contributed through their exports to Iran, to the economic difficulties faced by the Iranian people.  Paradoxically, these Latin American supporters of the fundamentalist Iranian regime are Marxist and Leftists, and Iranian Marxists, Leninists, and Leftists are opposed to the Iranian government and are in support of the political protests.

Since the 1980’s, but particularly since then-President Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), Iran has been involved in Latin America through its military, diplomatic, and cultural presence there.  Iran has closely aligned itself with Brazil, Ecuador, Cuba, Columbia, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.  They have also formed many mutually beneficial companies and have invested in each other’s resources.  This unity presents a geostrategic alliance between unlikely allies united by their common anti-American sentiments.  This alliance has manifested itself again in the statements issued by several Latin American leaders regarding the protests.  Two of Iran’s closest allies in Latin America are Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

President Maduro on January 3, 2018 denounced the Trump administration efforts to “encourage and force, artificially, destabilizing actions to the detriment of the sovereignty and independence of the people.”  Maduro called for the international community to respect the sovereignty of the Persian country. He further expressed his “profound solidarity to the people and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  Maduro stated that the violent manifestations which were occurring in Iran were “initiated from the outside in order to destabilize the inner peace of the Iranian sister nation.”  He says that the U.S’ and Israel’s destabilizing actions in Iran are similar to what the U.S. did in Venezuela.  The statement issued by President Morales on January 3, 2018 was also strong in his condemnation of the U.S.  Morales “accused the U.S. of instigating these violent protests with the help of Saudi Arabia and Israel against the government of Iran.”  He further condemned the U.S.’ interference and aggression against the people and government of Iran.  These statements parrot those of Iranian officials such as first vice-president Eshagh Jahangiri.

It seems that to further Trump’s agenda in Iran, the U.S. called an emergency U.N. session to discuss the situation in Iran.  Trump espoused the U.S.’ support for the protests and sought the backing of the U.N.  However, the voting block of U.N. Security Council members this year might be more supportive of Iran than the U.S.  Russia has strongly opposed meeting to discuss the internal affairs of Iran.  Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, "We see no role for the United Nations Security Council in this issue."  Bolivia is a member of the UNSC this year and has deep ties to the current Iranian regime.  Bolivia’s representative called the request “a blatant attempt by some missions to bring to the attention of the Security Council to issues that do not fall into the purview of this body,” as the events in the Islamic Republic of Iran “do not pose a threat to international peace and security.”  It seems that with such supporters of non-interference, the U.S. is unlikely to garner sufficient support to pursue its agenda through the U.N. channels.

In the global struggle, a strange alliance has emerged between ultra-right-wing Islamic fundamentalist groups and far left regimes in Latin America against American hegemony.   

According to The Economist (October 23, 1982), during the Reign of Terror between June 1981 and June 1982, the fundamentalist regime in Iran executed over 12,000 leftists and Marxists.  According to Ramy Nima, in The Wrath of Allah: Islamic Revolution and Reaction in Iran, that number is 20,000.  The regime also executed about 5,000 leftist and Marxist political prisoners during “The Massacre of 1988” when thousands (some just students in their teens or early twenties) of Mojahedin and Marxist groups (e.g., Pro-Moscow Tudeh party, the Marxist-Leninist Fadaiyan Khalq Organisation, and the Maoist Peykar) were mass executed.  It is ironic that these leftist and Marxist regimes in Latin America have formed alliances with the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Iran, which has executed so many for their leftist and Marxist beliefs.  With the common geostrategic goal of countering the U.S. uniting Iran and these Latin American regimes, it is all the more imperative that Trump provide even more support to the Iranian people in their regime change endeavors, lest the U.S. find itself dealing with Iran’s proxy forces in its Latin American backyard.

About the Author(s)

Penny Watson M.A. is pursuing her PhD at The University of Houston. She received her Master's in Political Science at Sam Houston State University (TX). She is an adjunct professor at both Lone Star College and Sam Houston State University.  While pursuing her MA, Penny published an article titled “Iran's Latin America Strategy: 2005 to Present” in the peer-reviewed journal Democracy and Security, and she’s currently working on another article. She completed her thesis on “Explaining Iran's Involvement in Latin America.”  Penny grew up overseas and speaks Spanish, some French and Japanese, and is currently studying Farsi.  She enjoys kayaking and soccer.