Iran-Venezuela after Chávez, still an indissoluble bond?*

by Antonella Vicini from*



There was national mourning and a ceremony in a Catholic church in Tehran to sanctify the ties with the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, the president who, according to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “was the symbol of those who want justice, love and peace in the world.” This was an ‘anti-imperialist and anti-American axis’ created in the last 12 years and strengthened after 2005 by the victory of the current Iranian president. Chávez and Ahmadinejad were the enemies of the Great Satan as well as diplomatic, economic, trade and ideological partners. One has left the stage because of natural causes, and the other will soon have to depart his political residence in Pasteur Square. What will become of the relations between the two countries?

It is a fact that the current position of the Iranian president is coming to a close in Iran and it is not a given that his friends are also friends with the rest of the establishment. This is proven by the clergy’s criticism of manifestations of despair over Hugo Chavez’s death, which have been judged as excessive. In particular, he did not convince anyone when he compared Chavez with Christ and the 12th Imam. “I have no doubts that he will return, standing next to the virtuous Jesus Christ and the Perfect Man,” said Ahmadinejad, who insulted Shia Islam by comparing a man, charismatic as he may have been, but always a man, with the saviour of the Shiites. Disagreements with ayatollahs like Ahmad Khatami and Mesbah Yazdi are embedded in the divide between those close to the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei, and those close to the president. It is an internal clash between conservatives who are in competition in the presidential elections of June 14.

The election campaign that will take place in Venezuela in four weeks is fundamental for the future of the two allies. Chávez never scrimped in displays of support for Ahmadinejad’s Iran and immediately recognized the legitimacy of his second term as president and supported Tehran’s nuclear policy. Again, after Israel’s violent operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, Chávez broke diplomatic relations with Israel. Chávez never spared criticism for what he considered to be a “very aggressive” small “country with an atomic bomb” that “invaded the Golan Heights.” A country “that massacred entire families” and is a “warmonger.” His death has ended what Ely Karmon in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz a few days ago called “a love story” or better “a symbiotic relation that grew out of visceral anti-Semitism.”

It is the same alliance that U.S. Naval Commander Kavon Hakimzadeh in 2009 called the Axis of Annoyance, a counterbalance to the Axis of Unity within OPEC.

The object of Chávez’s Bolivarianism was to create an ideological basin spreading from the Caribbean Sea to the Persian Gulf. It is a role that Iran is trying to carve out for itself amidst the undercurrents  engulfing his part of the world and the need to show that Iran is not isolated internationally. While relations with the West are deteriorating because of sanctions imposed due to its nuclear policies, Tehran is not only looking the East, but also to the Southern Hemisphere.

Beyond congeniality and a personal relationship, substantial relations between Iran and Venezuela have grown over the past few years. Beyond cooperation in the oil and petrochemical sectors, Iran has signed agreements covering tourism (a visa is no longer needed to go to Caracas from Tehran, now joined by two round trip flights a week, the only direct link between the Middle East and South America), science, energy, technology, agricultural machinery (Veniran tractors can be seen working on nationalized farmland) and car manufacturing (Iranian industry is working on creating a low-cost car for about $7,000). Venirauto Industrias C. A, a joint venture that began in 2006, has not yet borne the hoped-for fruit because of the embargo imposed on Iran by component suppliers. It has been in the construction sector, more than anywhere else, that the relationship between the two countries has flourished. Cheap housing ordered by the Venezuelan government as part of welfare policies for the poor started at the beginning of the Chavez presidency is being undertaken by the Iranian company, Kayson Company.

Housing for 10,000 people in the most depressed areas has been agreed on and completed, with housing for 10,000 more to be built. An Iranian plane bound for Caracas was stopped at Dusseldorf airport carrying Tahmaseb Mazaheri, Iran’s former foreign minister and governor of the central bank, who was carrying 300 million Bolivars, about $70 million, in a suitcase. The money was needed according to Kayson construction company representatives to pay the salaries of workers involved in the grandiose construction project.

Doubts about the solidity of relations between the two countries were raised in 2008 by the U.S. Department of State, which began to speak of dangerous tied linked to terrorism and hypothesized the presence of Hezbollah in South America, through Iran, and more recently of Iranian missile bases in Venezuela, of which there is no evidence. In 2011 sanctions were imposed on PDVSA, the Venezuelan oil company, for links with Iranian companies on Washington’s black list. The same happened with the Banco Internacional de Desarrollo, a subsidiary of the Export Development Bank of Iran, which has continued to operate in spite of sanctions. Beyond the accusations of terrorism, which smack of political-instrumental statements, economic joint ventures serve to circumvent sanctions thanks to a game of Chinese boxes. It is a method not new to Tehran and not exclusive to Caracas.

In Venezuela, on the other hand, the objective is to start industrial production that will make the country less dependent on the U.S. market. It is an objective that Mercosur and ALBA are also aiming at, but on a much more ambitious scale.

Now that the father of the Bolivarian Revolution is no longer with us, the hope of the United States is that it can once again manage relations with what has historically been its “front porch” weakening others. On the other hand, there are ties that bring in about $5 billion a year. The results of the Venezuelan elections will play an important role in relations not only with its neighbours and allies in the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, but also with partners who do not belong to the alliance. One must always remember that over the past few years, Iran has figured out how to exploit the Chavez name to strengthen relations with the new Latin American left.

Translated by Francesca Simmons


Una risposta a “Iran-Venezuela after Chávez, still an indissoluble bond?*

  1. Blog fatto davvero bene. Se posso permettermi di dare un piccolo consiglio, cercherei di implementare meglio la funzionalit dei feed RSS, dato che per quanto mi riguarda sono una consistente fonte di traffico. Ancora complimenti per il sito.


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